Monday, December 08, 2008

Making It Legal Still Doesn't Make It Right

One of the arguments made by those who favor legalization of drugs and prostitution is that doing so would eliminate the criminal element that tends to run said activities when they are banned. Last Saturday, Mitch and Ed spent the second hour of their NARN Headliner show making this very argument.

The problem with such an approach however is that if you look at places where it has been tried, the results are often not what had been predicted.

Amsterdam to close many brothels, marijuana cafes:

Amsterdam unveiled plans Saturday to close brothels, sex shops and marijuana cafes in its ancient city center as part of a major effort to drive organized crime out of the tourist haven.

The city is targeting businesses that "generate criminality," including gambling parlors, and the so-called "coffee shops" where marijuana is sold openly. Also targeted are peep shows, massage parlors and souvenir shops used by drug dealers for money-laundering.

"I think that the new reality will be more in line with our image as a tolerant and crazy place, rather than a free zone for criminals" said Lodewijk Asscher, a city council member and one of the main proponents of the plan.

Coffee Shops, Bordellos to Close in Amsterdam Crackdown:

Prostitution was legalized in the Netherlands in 2000. The consumption and possession of less than five grams of cannabis were decriminalized in 1976, although its cultivation remains illegal.

While liberal-minded Dutch have tolerated this contradictory system of cannabis being grown and dealt illegally to legal vendors, the planned Amsterdam closures -- and a spate of other measures taken by smaller town councils around the Netherlands to close all cannabis coffee shops -- mark a growing concern that the system is breeding crime.

"Money laundering, extortion and human trafficking are things you do not see on the surface but they are hurting people and the city. We want to fight this," Amsterdam deputy mayor Lodewijk Asscher told news agency Reuters on Saturday, Dec. 6.

The "soft" approach to drug enforcement--including giving heroin users a place to shoot up--also hasn't exactly been a roaring success in Vancouver either:

Simply put, Robertson doesn't get it. The Downtown Eastside requires a cultural revolution, not more government enabling. The seven years since Owen ushered in his Four Pillars strategy have been a disaster. By all accounts, things get worse every day. The open drug market thrives. Chinatown is under siege. Homelessness has doubled, a trend owed not only to a lack of housing but to the Downtown Eastside's courtship of drug users.

Which leads back to Insite. Most Insite users typically shoot up elsewhere at some point during the day. And Insite accounts for less than five per cent of all injections in the neighbourhood. Still, proponents claim Insite reduces overdoses, needle sharing and public injections. But they don't consider the cultural consequences.

Why do people come to the Downtown Eastside? Because that's where the drugs are. Insite removes yet another impediment for drug abuse and surrenders the moral ground to drug dealers. Insite perpetuates a culture of drugs and excess--the two staples of addiction. And as with B.C.'s reckless methadone maintenance program, Insite offers no mandatory treatment. For every heroin addict Insite "helps," countless others are spawned in the dreary environment Insite helps create.

Having had some personal experience with Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, I can say that the neighborhood's squalor, indigence, and decay is hardly a convincing argument for more lax drug laws. Fear, anxiety, and hopelessness hung heavy in the air as we walked the streets and it was among the most depressing and foreboding environments I've ever experienced. And we were there in the middle of the day.

The War in Drugs may not be winnable and some of its policies probably should be reexamined. But before we start down the road toward legalization, we would do well to consider what the results have been when it's been tried elsewhere. Legalizing drugs or prostitution often doesn't eliminate crime as much as encourage it.

As the writer on Vancouver notes, once the government loses the moral ground by implicit endorsement of drug use through legalization, it's very difficult to get the genie back in the bottle. Look what's happened with the expansion of gambling with government involvement in lotteries. Is our society better off because of it? I would argue no.

Despite what the sophistic arguments against "legislating morality" say, the reality is that our laws do exactly that. There are legitimate societal concerns with legalizing drugs, prostitution, and gambling and government should weigh them carefully before choosing the all too easy path towards liberalization.

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