Trinidad & Tobago Express
Sunday, May 28th 2006
The Ministry of Health has recently been placing excellent ads in the print media which quote, among other things, the fact that the World Health Organisation reports that world wide, someone dies from tobacco use every 6.5 seconds. Also that smoking for 20 years will cause death for smokers as much as 25 years earlier than someone who never smoked. Yet tobacco use is legal.
In developed countries tobacco use is dropping significantly through a combination of severe health warnings, taxation and the prohibition of advertising on television and other types of media. Tobacco companies are now concentrating on finding a growing number of new victims in Africa, Asia and eastern Europe.
WITCO in Trinidad, seemingly "smelling the coffee" some years ago, decided to diversify out of tobacco and invested some of their significant profits in a massive orchid farm. At the time I thought this was taking the concept of vertical integration a bit too far-first you kill them with cigarettes and then you sell them the flowers for the funeral!
In spite of its awful ill-effects, tobacco is still legal, but the fight against tobacco is gaining ground. You cannot smoke on a BWIA plane, or in most restaurants. However, possession and use of other drugs such as marijuana and cocaine are illegal.
Let me make it clear-I hate drugs. I have never tried drugs. I hate what they do to individuals and their families and friends. And most of all, I hate the fact that they make criminals rich. But let us face facts-we have lost the war on drugs. We are like resistance fighters picking off the occasional occupying enemy infantry, one at a time, while the Mr Bigs grow richer. So what do we do?
I say change the war. Open a new front, so to speak, by altering the economic fundamentals and taking the massive profits out of drugs. The truth is a kilo of cocaine in the jungles of Colombia and Bolivia costs US$500 a kilo to produce but by the time it reaches the streets of Miami its street value is US$60,000 a kilo. That is why we have lost the war on drugs. Making it illegal has created enormous profits for criminals at all levels.
ght the expanding use of drugs, estimated to be worth US$400 billion a year by the United Nations, we need to go back to square one and admit that Prohibition, making it illegal and making criminals out of otherwise decent citizens who use drugs, has not and will not work.
Civil society is being seriously eroded because drugs are not legal. Making drugs illegal has not removed the demand for them but has driven it underground and made criminals into multi-millionaires.
If we change the law, chronic users can be encouraged to come out in the open and be helped to fight their addiction. We will have removed all the criminals from the supply of drugs. After all, WITCO already sells people deadly tobacco-why not ask them to market and distribute these drugs but with all the controls required to treat users, and block the criminals out of the huge profits they are currently making, while engaging in a massive education campaign. Let's try to make the use of drugs as "yucky" as smoking cigarettes. Only three weeks ago the Mexican Parliament passed a new law legalising the possession of small quantities of almost all illegal drugs. It was designed to avoid clogging prisons with drug addicts and freeing police to go after the big-time criminals involved in distribution. As President Vicente Fox was about to sign the bill into law, he received certain warnings from the US Government and a day later shelved the legislation.
It seems the US has not learnt any lessons from the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s which spawned dozens of criminals like Al Capone. They have forgotten that Coca Cola got its name from the fact that cocaine was part of the formula until it was changed.
And by the way, it was Pope Leo XIII who endorsed the use of cocaine and commended the manufacturer as he carried this "tonic" in a personal hip flask to fortify himself in those moments when he felt prayer was insufficient.
The Government needs to appoint a task force to study the Mexican legislation, among others, and to come up with new strategies to fight the difficult war on drugs -one that removes the profit margin from the criminal elements in our society.