We are half a step forward here on the subject of the legalisation of drugs. Part of the Millian thesis seems to be getting through, we should not ban behaviour which harms only the person undertaking that behaviour. Similarly, the pragmatic point that illegality doesn't in fact work has been understood. Sadly, the logical loop hasn't been completed for there's still a misunderstanding about regulation. The point being that there must be regulation, there must be regulation about everything.
Who does the regulating being the important thing:
All drugs should be decriminalised, Britain’s leading public health experts say ina landmark intervention today.
The law is failing to protect drug users or society and police involvement in drug-taking must end, according to the Royal Society for Public Health and the Faculty of Public Health.
The two bodies, which represent public health experts working for the NHS and councils, are the first leading medical organisations to come out in favour of radical drugs reform.
In their blueprint for an overhaul of Britain’s attitude to substances — ranging from class A drugs such as heroin and cocaine to cannabis and so-called legal highs — they argue that addiction must be regarded as a health problem rather than a crime.
Possessing drugs for personal use would no longer be punishable under the reforms but the health chiefs stop short of proposing that the state should regulate sales. Anyone making or dealing drugs would still face prosecution.
It's that last sentence which is the problem. There has to be some regulation of purity, concentration, strength and so on. And it's fine that the State doesn't do that. But we do still need to have regulation of those things - and that should be being done by the consumers.
By analogy with the past the great clean up of the food supply was in the latter half of the 19th century. And that clean up came not as a result of regulation by government - most of the egregious middle Victorian (or, if you prefer, early industrial age) abuses had already been dealt with by the market itself. Brands appeared, promising quality, and those that did so prospered, pushing out of the market the more adulterated offerings. An inverse Gresham's Law, good food pushes out bad. As an example, canning was in its early days and it was all too easy for those not very good at it to poison large numbers of people (badly canned fish has killed people through botulism poisoning in our own lifetimes). The brands that started and then survived to our own day, the Heinz, Campbell's sort of stuff, were rather more adept at not poisoning their customers than others.
And so it will be with legal drugs. As we say, it's just fine that the State won't be regulating purity or sourcing. But someone has to, somewhere, for there must be regulation and pressure upon suppliers,. And that can only be done if supply is legal so that consumers can indeed regulate through their behaviour - and, of course, the usual exigencies of tort and consumer law.
Legalising drug consumption is something we've been arguing for for decades. But along with that must come legalisation of supply. Only then can brands, reputations and a holding to account become possible.
That the regulation comes from "Which Drug?" with monthly publication of which brand is cutting with rat poison, which with brick dust and which is offering the actual drug in a reasonable state of purity is what will drive the dust and the poison out of the market. And that's why drug supply must be legal: because there must be regulation and that consumer choice is the most effective form there is.
Legalisation of drug consumption is a good idea but we'll only really have solved the problem when we can hold Bayer to account for the purity of its heroin by buying it or not buying it according to our perception of its quality. Which means that we must be able to identify the vendor and that means legality of supply.