Born in 1971, I can hardly be considered a youngster. So you can imagine my surprise when Youth Rise asked me to write an article.
I don’t know a lot about drugs. I drink alcohol from time to time, but that’s basically the extent of my experience. When it comes to the effects of drugs, I am a novice. But if you ask my opinion about drug policy, I am resolute. Prohibition is the worst kind of policy possible.
I have been serving as a police officer for more than twenty years now, and I have fought the drug-war on the front lines. I have dealt directly with the public disorder caused by drug addiction. As a criminal investigator, a leader of special forces and a local chief of police, I have arrested dealers, carried out raids on stash-houses, and been involved in shootings.
I loved that kind of police work, though it could be difficult and frustrating. Surveilling boats carrying bananas and bricks of South American cocaine, hoping for some dealers to appear and pick up the precious cargo, or following criminal targets for days without any result. At times it could be awfully boring, but we made a decent living out of it. The times we could intervene and arrest the bad guys, we knew it was worth the effort, and we forgot about the endless hours of watching nothing.
I had entered the military at 15 and was trained in the military academy, and later by the special forces of the Belgian police. I was a good soldier, loyal to my government. I didn’t consciously reflect on our actions. I was convinced that we were making the world a better place by chasing down drug dealers who sold dirty dope to young people. I believed our tactics saved these young people from addiction’s trap. And then the enemy hit home. My brother died of an overdose at 28 years old. He started smoking joints at 14, and ended up with a needle in his arm, using heroin, cocaine, alcohol and prescription medications.
One of the principal arguments to defend prohibition is the protection of young people. Any liberal drug policy would cause a lot of harm to the youth.
I believe this is false and naive. It wasn’t policy alone that killed my brother, but it certainly played a part.
Young people want to experiment. I surely did myself, thirty years ago. So why would things have changed ? Let’s face reality. Young people will experiment, with drugs or with specific behaviors. It doesn’t matter what they experiment with. What should matter is that this experimental behavior is discouraged – yes, we don’t need to promote experimental behaviors or drug-use – but if it occurs, we must try to ensure it does so in safe circumstances, to both avoid accidents and prevent harm. Current prohibition all but ensures that this cannot happen. Drug-dealers are in the business of money: they couldn’t care less about the health of the young people using their drugs.
I recently received a call from a friend whose son was asked by a supposed friend to sell cannabis. My friend’s son, who is 14 years old, was thrilled. What an excitement. Doing illegal things. Selling cannabis. Damn. What a kick. Take that society!
My friend asked my advice. Being a police officer, I might have reacted with the blunt logic of prohibition. I could have said, ‘Give me the name of your son’s friend and we will hunt him down and arrest him. He is a drug dealer and must be stopped.’
But I didn’t tell him that. I asked him to talk to him, and explain the risks of his behavior. If he got caught, it could jeopardize his future. Is it worth risking your future for a few euros and a dose of adrenaline?
Imagine if cannabis was sold in a shop, well regulated with qualified staff. No one would be asking impressionable young people to deal cannabis. It would be laughable, on par with the notion of dealing alcohol on the street. Why buy unattributed legal wares from a guy on the corner when the corner store behind him sells name-brand quality?
Will drug use rise when it is legally regulated ? Perhaps slightly, but over the long term, evidence suggests not. Will there be drug problems in a society that regulates them? Yes, definitely. But the more negative consequences of prohibition would disappear. Drugs would be sold in licensed shops, their quality tested. The illegal market’s persistent strive for more potent drugs not yet included on the schedules of international drug conventions would halt. Drugs would no longer be adulterated with extremely dangerous contaminants.
The illicit world can be craven and horrifying, but it also holds intrigue. It is a rebellious underground, disapproved by the establishment. For a wayward youth, it can appear exciting, promising the thrill of the forbidden, its corrosive qualities not apparent at first. If we are to de-glamourise drug use and make it patently uncool, then we must first make drugs themselves uncool; another product in a shop. If our policy makers really want to protect young people and protect public health, they must urgently reconsider their current destructive policies. As both a police officer and the brother of a victim of addiction, and unlike a lot of the bureaucrats sitting in huge meeting rooms at the United Nations, I have seen the costs and devastation of prohibition first-hand. Invest in harm reduction and prevention and things will be better. Trust me on this. I know what I am talking about.
Take care and be safe!