Saturday, 27 February 2016

Opium prohibition 'didn't work out badly'

Ruth Malone, the editor of Tobacco Control, has been promoting prohibition under its latest euphemism of the 'tobacco-free generation' ie. banning anyone born this century from ever buying tobacco.

This received a predictable, but reasonable, response..

Which, in turn, received an unpredictable and rather less reasonable response...


What?! The prohibition of opium didn't work out too badly? For whom? The Taliban? Pfizer?

Er, Afghanistan? Y'know, the place they grow it, process it and export it to the rest of the world as heroin.

It certainly has been discussed by historians. Here's a potted history for the benefit of a twenty-first century would-be prohibitionist like Malone:

Opium was banned in the USA in the nineteenth century, leading to an upsurge is morphine consumption.

Morphine was then banned - as, indeed, was alcohol - thereby leading to an upsurge in heroin use.

Heroin was then banned and no one ever took opiates ever again. Since 1915, every generation has been an opiate-free generation. The rest of the world followed the US's lead and the global war on drugs ensued, leading to people consuming drugs safely, if at all.

No wait, that's not quite right is it?

What actually happened is that opium, morphine and heroin were banned, leading to a hundred years of heroin use because it's the strongest, most compact and most profitable opiate product.

Consumers take it in impure form in unpredictable quantities via hypodermic syringes, leading to overdoses and infection of diseases like HIV and hepatitis.

The manufacturers and retailers cannot use courts to enforce contracts and so they settle their disputes with indiscriminate violence.

So Ruth is right to say that there is very little opium smoking these days. Whether the prohibition of opium 'didn't work out badly' is more contentious, to say the least.

This has been discussed by historians. Let's read some of them before we do this all again.

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