The BBC World Service broadcast an interesting programme on the effect of Portugal’s 2001 policy to decriminalise all illicit drugs, from cannabis to heroin. Far from what you might expect from your local politician, the effect was rather positive. As also recounted in a recent article for Time magazine, drug use has actually dropped.
Recreational drugs are a fascinating area precisely because the political view and the health view are so completely out of whack in most countries.
As we have reported several times in the past, the UK has a regular public ritual where the government commissions a panel of scientists to report on the health dangers of drugs, and then completely ignores them when they point out that the current policies make no sense and don’t reflect the actual impact of the substances.
This week’s Bad Science column has another example, where a now leaked 1991 World Health Organisation report [pdf] on the impact of cocaine was suppressed by the US government because it pointed out that it’s not as intrinsically poisonous to health or society as it’s made out by drug war propaganda.
This political double book-keeping is probably why the severity of drug laws around the world have virtually no relation to the drug use of the population.
I’m morbidly curious about how we’ve arrived at this odd situation where one of the culturally universal human activities, modifying our consciousness with drugs, must be looked down on publicly to the point where our politicians are free to ignore evidence when it suits them.
It’s a conspiracy of ignorance that would be unthinkable if it was applied to swine flu but perfectly acceptable for something that already kills thousands upon thousands of people every year.