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By Leanna Ganga
Trinidad and Tobago
April 18, 2017
Imagine a society where all drugs are legal and persons can openly purchase any drug of their choice from licensed and regulated distributors, just like they already purchase cigarettes and alcohol.
One may think of such a society in a state of what sociologists call anomie and deviance, with lots of intoxicated people committing criminal acts and the majority of citizens being addicts. This thinking, however, would be inaccurate.
Empirical evidence demonstrates human societies have always had cultures of intoxication and used mild to strong hallucinogens. For example, from ancient civilizations to pre-20th century USA, and even pre-1960 Trinidad, the evidence shows that marijuana/ganja was used for recreational, medicinal, religious and other purposes. Dr. Peter Hanoomansingh, for example, documented a time in Trinidad and Tobago when you could still buy ganja over the counter. In these eras, there is strong evidence that we did not have societies plagued by violence, corruption and other drug-related problems, which many researchers indicate is a direct consequence of the war on drugs.
As Raffique Shah mentioned in his column recently, many of us know people who use drugs occasionally and are functional, contributing members of society including lawyers, doctors, and students. However, persons from upper and middle-class communities are not targeted for drug use as are members of the lower classes. This also relates to the inherent racism of the drug war that predominantly targets brown and black persons.
The rationale for a society without drug dealers and, therefore less crime, is spelled out by Johann Hari in Chasing the Scream: The First and Last days of the war on drugs.
In his book, there are several well-documented experiments across the globe with reported successes including legalizing and decriminalizing drugs from marijuana to heroin. These experiments have been carried out in places such as Washington, Uruguay, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Colorado. These experiments resulted in lower crime rates, decreased addiction, help for drug addicts, taxes from drugs sales to build schools and launch anti-drug educational campaigns, thereby freeing up the criminal justice system to focus resources on other pressing issues.
Drugs being illegal keep gangsters and corrupt officials in business. If drugs were legal, there would be no need for drug pushers, or for people endangering their lives to purchase drugs.
Without drug dealers, there would be no need for constant police raids which mostly target lower class and predominantly black communities. As Hari demonstrates, the global drug war fuelled by the USA, was founded on racism. This same system of racial and socio-economic hierarchy has been imported to our own war on drugs.
A second war is the war for drugs. Since drug dealing is illegal, the theft of drugs cannot be reported to authorities. To protect their livelihoods, and also to instil order, drug dealers use violence and a culture of terror to maintain order. As the anthropologist, Phillipe Bourgois illustrated in his ethnography amongst drug dealers, this involves committing brutal acts to establish a fearsome reputation, the result of which can lead to more violence. The illegal drug trade also gives rise to other problems, some identified by former AG Ramesh Maharaj, such as sex crimes, drug addiction and drug-related corruption of law enforcement and public officials.
One way to address all these issues is to legalize drugs, an admittedly arduous task which would require much research and policy planning.
I propose serious discussion and consideration of the legalisation of marijuana which could address some of the issues facing us today. There also exist legitimate arguments highlighting the various medicinal uses and other benefits that should be considered. Moreover, the declogging of the courts and prisons can also be accrued with the decriminalisation of drugs. It has been reported that in Trinidad and Tobago three-quarters of all cases in the magistrates’ courts involve marijuana possession. Attention should be paid to all these arguments.
Decriminalisation of drugs would result in the reduction of criminal records but it still does not address its illegality and its resultant culture of violence. Legalization, takes this industry away from the underground economy.
The argument I present here is this: legalize drugs to reduce the crime rate, especially violent crimes, gang warfare, drug possession, illegal firearms, white collar crime and corruption in Trinidad and Tobago. Also, if drugs are made legal, more control can be placed to ensure better quantity and purity of these substances.
It is impossible to address the current crime situation without taking steps to legalize drugs.
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