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Sunday, 10 May 2015

The Conservative Standpoint Part 1: A Cursory Look at Drugs

Author Cole D. 

This Post is Part of the serial post "The Conservative Standpoint"

First among the policy issues that cause confusion among the opponents of conservative principles and policy is drugs. Why drugs? Because on a basic level drug policy addresses individual autonomy in relation to collective responsibility as well as the necessity of a virtuous populace who must carry out the functions of democratic government.

Drug apologists come from two general standpoints. One of which, is that the suppression of drugs in a free society is an affront to John Stewart Mill's harm principle: this is the libertarian consensus—whether they are aware of this principle or not. The second argument is that it would both generate 'government' revenues and cut legal expenditures while reducing the revenue of the traffickers.  By extension, the apologists also conclude in many cases that legalization would necessarily prevent the incarceration of those who are not violent offenders.

The conservative standpoint, the standpoint of what the left considers the reactionary prohibitionists... Is often both misarticulated and misunderstood by those who wish to maintain illegality and those who wish to see all ingestible substances made legal. The conservative standpoint as I understand it originates in a number of different places. 

Firstly, and most important is that drug use seemingly impedes upon the ability of the citizen to remain both morally and intellectually engaged in self-governance and collective government. Irving Kristol among many others has recognized that our governing institutions in the western world, as articulated by the American founding fathers, and similarly in the commonwealth nations were either designed or evolved under the assumption that a certain form of virtuous citizenship was imperative to a healthy democracy. As Peter Hitchens astutely points out, ‘citizens have no right to self-stupification,’ and it is detrimental to the good society to engage in drug use. Just like in Canada you are legally prevented from engaging in self harm you are likewise, theoretically, prevented from legally ingesting patently harmful substances.

Concurrent to this analysis is recognition of the fact that supply and demand is only pertinent to drugs in the most abstract fashion; this is because unlike your typical consumer good or perhaps more accurately consumable food product, drugs, including tobacco, which most apologists jump to point out is also addictive but not illegal are extremely inelastic when it comes to demand. This is because most drug consumers are not acting rationally when they choose to use these substances the absence of rationality prevents market incentives from acting in an efficient and predictable manner on drug users. Drug users do not respond to price like rational actors, which partially explains the widespread destitution of our drug consuming population. Therefore, open commerce in drugs would likely open up the consumer to exploitation, despite the fact that traffickers are no longer the ones exploiting compulsive drug user the poverty would theoretically continue.

Secondary to the argument is that we ideally would like to prevent the expansion of demand for illicit substances both domestically and abroad. Drug trafficking is of immense harm throughout the world. Latin America being the centre of much of the world's drug trade has suffered immensely from the scourge of first world hedonists consuming drugs. The privileged in the developed countries of the world are disconnected from the harms they cause in the places where the real drug war is being fought. The concern among conservative is through outright legalization whether of marijuana or other psychotropics is that we provide moral license for the consumption of substances, which will expand demand both for those legally allowed to consume and those who choose not to, or care not to pursue the substances through legal channels; any expansion to demand will cripple the ability of foreign governments to fight drug insurgencies in good conscience.

Others have pushed for decriminalization or outright legalization of marijuana beyond is already, loosely defined medical purposes. This expansion of the legal access to drugs would be of no-concern if national governments had a history of limiting the programs in which they initiated, however governments like our galaxy expand in perpetuity, and their desire for change never ceases. Therefore, in all likelihood we could end up decriminalizing access to one relatively mild substance with the expectation that we would end our demand for liberalization… Only to find that calls for further measures become the norm. Those who want legal cannabis, at least from my anecdotal encounters, see no reasons for prohibition of a broader number of alternatives: to drug apologists all substances are harmless only the individual is responsible for their state.

This conclusion does not satisfy the conservative: a question must be answered then; what would a potential conservative drug policy look like? Key to any approach taken by conservatives is the idea that we must not provide social sanction to individual who chooses to take drugs, but we must also be aware that our legal system currently punishes drug consumers in a way in which is out of proportion with the direct harm they cause to our society. 

A initial policy option would first of all be to base any solutions in disincentives punitive fines would go a long way to addressing the consumption problem. We must combat demand for drugs:  a significant fine and a confiscation would enable the police to restrict demand and still screen potential drug users for warrants and prior convictions yet limit the bureaucratic excess that comes with pressing charges… currently the only option for police in Canada.

Instead of jailing our addicts, when possible, we should initiate compulsory hospitalization for people who are drug dependent. Key to this would be enabling the police to detain individuals for drug addiction and bring them to a local hospital to be processed and then located at a rehabilitation centre or mental health facility depending on circumstance. A framework of this sort already exists in Canada under the Mental Health Act an equivalent for those who engage in frequent heavy drug consumption is feasible.

Finally, to continue to reduce demand is not enough. We would also have to curtail supply

while  avoiding undue harm to our society. Acting in solidarity with international police agencies and border services to interdict supply must continue. Our counterparts in the drug source countries must not be  left to battle alone.