Sunday, 17 March 2013

Keeping up with the Czechs?

Clichéd, I know, but Christoph Scheuermann's article on the 'losers' of Czech liberalisation has inspired me to imitate the majority of amateur political bloggers and wade into the murky debate on drug policy and the potential benefits of liberalising recreational drug use.

The Spiegel article focusses on the social consequences of the Czech Republic's decision to legalise possession of small amounts of drugs (both hard and soft) while continuing to prosecute those who carry large supplies or deal. Inevitably it stresses the plight of individual 'losers' who have been harmed by this policy.

Such anecdotal cases have little value to any real understanding of any issue, despite their attraction to investigative journalists. However, they do reveal genuine tragedies caused by addiction to drink, drugs or gambling. I would only quibble with the connection that is drawn between these sad cases and Czech legislation. You could write an identical article with similar tales about drug use in the USA, UK or dozens of other countries.

The writer's case is also markedly inconsistent  He briefly discusses the plummeting price of drugs and the claims of native dealers that the marijuana business is now in the hands of Vietnamese immigrants to the Czech Republic.

He doesn't dwell on the fact that this suggests some positive effects of the legislation. If Czech dealers are making little profit then a source of revenue for illegitimate use has completely dried up. The American war on drugs has done little to stop Colombian paramilitaries or Mexican narcotics gangs from using drug trade profits for other political, criminal and violent activities. By contrast, if times are bad for Czech dealers there is little reason or opportunity for criminal gangs  to set up shop in the country.

Perhaps realising this flaw in his argument, Scheuermann then switches his focus to the border problems caused by the flow of drugs from the Czech Republic to its neighbours. However, he continues to rely on weak assumptions. The existence of a cross-border trade cannot be laid purely at the feet of the Czech government. There is only regional drug flow because of the differing harshness of legislation in the different Central European countries. If prices are low and production is relatively easy in the Czech Republic then it makes sense for dealers to try to muscle into nearby markets. All it would take to remove this incentive is some coordination between enforcement agencies or, more radically, the adoption of similarly liberal drug regulation by surrounding European nations.

No comments:

Post a Comment