Cathy Nugent reviews “Cocaine”, Channel Four, and “If… drugs were legal”, 12 January, BBC2
In the Peruvian Andes, a young woman dances in a seedy night club. Little by little she is slipping towards becoming a sex worker. Her father is a coca farmer, but lately his precious leaves have been damaged by US-financed crop-sprayers. He can no longer afford to pay for his daughter’s education. She must find money where she can.
The pink fungus spray that kills the coca crop also sometimes kills children. And damages the “alternative” crops, avocados and bananas, that the farmers have been told to grow. There is no market for these crops in any case. But that’s not true of coca, so the farmers stubbornly carry on growing it.
The leaders of the farmers are called “drug barons” by the government. But it is clear from Angus McQueen’s Channel Four documentary that all of these farmers are dirt poor.
If the government cannot or will not subsidise or suggest better alternatives, the farmers may turn back to the guerrilla forces of Sendero Luminoso for protection. And
these are people who kill anyone who does not do their bidding.
What a world…
If… focused on the “drug problems” of the developed world. Not the problem of drug addiction, but the problems of poverty and crime that are the result of an illegal global drugs trade. A dramatised scenario showed a future Britain where some drugs are legalised and sold openly (cannabis, ecstasy, other pills), and some are regulated and prescribed for users at special clinics (cocaine and heroin).
These two programmes demonstrated graphically the global reality of the prohibition on drugs, and the insanity of dealing with problematic drug use through the criminal justice system.
The problems of drug prohibition are totally out of control.
Dealing: the chains of violence and intimidation that go with an illegal trade are now drawing in very young children.
Crime: one half of all poverty crime is committed to fund drug habits. Cheap or freely available drugs would dramatically reduce crime, improve the lives of people affected by crime, and reduce the prison population dramatically.
I don’t see how all these things would be “cured” by legalisation. For instance, If… highlighted how pharmaceutical companies could get in on the legal trade, creating designer pills, pushing up overall consumption as they strive to make profitable commodities.
Essentially, problematic drug use — a habit that gets out of control so much that it destroys health and welfare — is something that ought to be dealt with by trained and specialised health professionals. There is no point in being moralistic about drug use, anymore than there is about, say, over-eating or unprotected sex. Concern, however, is right. People do need advice and health care.
So why doesn’t society deal with drugs in this way? Of course people worry about their children and undoubtedly some drugs are frighteningly addictive (e.g., crack cocaine). But plain political reaction plays a part as well. There is a growing lobby for drug legalisation/regulation in Europe, but it will not soon be an acceptable idea in the US, the place where most drugs are consumed but where rational thinking on this and many other issues does not hold sway.