Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
28 March 2007

Pharmaceutical Calvinism or rational drugs policy?

There has been some lively discussion below following my post suggesting that alcohol is far more harmful than dagga or ecstasy and that the Constitutional Court might have been mistaken to deny Mr Prince’s claim that his religion should allow him to smoke dagga. In the past, I have argued that South Africa’s drug policy is based on Pharmaceutical Calvinism – drugs are legal unless they might be enjoyable…

The study I quoted from was published in the respected British medical Journal, Lancet (not that that should be conclusive), and used three factors to determine the harm associated with any drug: the physical harm to the user, the drug’s potential for addiction, and the impact on society of the drug’s use before calculating the drugs’ overall rankings. It is therefore clear that the researchers did not only rely on whether the drug would kill you or not.

I don’t want to sound like President Mbeki with his Aids denialism… but the report on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news website continued:

Heroin and cocaine were ranked most dangerous, followed by barbiturates and street methadone. Alcohol was the fifth-most harmful drug and tobacco the ninth most harmful. Cannabis came in 11th, and near the bottom of the list was ecstasy.

Tobacco causes 40 per cent of all hospital illnesses, while alcohol is blamed for more than half of all visits to hospital emergency rooms. The substances also harm society in other ways, damaging families and occupying police services.

While experts agreed that criminalizing alcohol and tobacco would be challenging, they said that governments should review the penalties imposed for drug abuse and try to make them more reflective of the actual risks and damages involved.

I suppose those who warn that dagga causes Schizophrenia will argue that if it was freely available it would become just as dangerous and harm just as many people as alcohol or cigarettes. Which begs the question of why alcohol and cigarettes are legal and part of a multi-billion dollar industry, while dagga is produced by poor black people in Transkei…. Well, make up your own mind.

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