When discussing the liberalization of our drug policy it is common to hear many concede that in regards to some drugs, cannabis in particular, the UK should move towards a more permissive policy. However, many people are more reluctant to advocate an equally permissive policy for drugs like crystal meth (methamphetamine). This reluctance is ill-founded, as when one examines the history of crystal meth it becomes evident that it is a creation of the drug war, as moonshine was a creation of alcohol prohibition during the prohibition years in the United States. Controlling it will simply lead to an even stronger drug being developed.
There can be no doubt that crystal meth is an extremely unpleasant drug. Crystal meth is highly addictive and one of the most dangerous of the illegal drugs to quit and has a high relapse rate. Users develop extensive neurological and physiological damage; one of the most debilitating and damaging of these effects is what is known as ‘meth mouth’ which results in the deterioration of the gum and teeth loss.
Despite its reputation and prevalence today, methamphetamine has been around since the nineteenth century in medicine and is still used in some medications today. But its use as a recreational drug is a relatively modern phenomenon. Why then, when there are less dangerous drugs with similar effects, is crystal meth even on the drugs market? The answer is that crystal meth is a creation of the drug war.
In Mark Thorton of the Ludwig Von Mises Institute’s article, What Explains Crystal Meth?, he says:
…crystal meth is a cheap date; it has been referred to as the poor man’s cocaine. Cocaine and meth are both stimulants, so it is reasonable to assume that they appeal to the same subset of drug users. During cocaine’s heyday, meth was nearly extinct on the illegal market.’
However, during the drug war this changed as it became cheaper and safer for those who traded in cocaine to switch to a cheaper product. And so was born the drug we know today as crystal meth.
This is a pattern in other prohibitions. The prohibition of a substance does not eliminate demand, it only changes the nature of the market. During the prohibition of alcohol in the United States moonshine became a substitute for previously legal alcohol. Although having the same desired effect of alcohol before prohibition moonshine contained higher levels of toxins and was regarded as more dangerous previously available alcohol. Like many government policies, the prohibition of illegal drugs is motivated by good intentions. However, the unintended consequences have been disastrous with more potent and dangerous drugs entering the market.
The government should move towards a policy that allows for the free trade of substances that are currently prohibited – however brutal those substances are to their users. Such a policy, which moves towards total legalisation, would be effective in reducing crime and breaking the monopoly criminals have on the drugs trade, and reduce the tendency toward ever-stronger substances. A more realistic policy decision would be to move towards a system of decriminalisation as currently used in Portugal. A more liberal policy would allow for a safer environment for those who use the drugs, remove many stigmas currently attached to drug use, and make it easier for addicts to seek treatment.