Vote Libertarianz! - Transitional Drug Policy

Richard Goode's picture
Submitted by Richard Goode on Thu, 2008-01-03 13:24

The article below was published in the latest issue of the stalwart magazine whose cover you see on the left. Subscribe now!

Libertarianz Transitional Drug Policy

"The first casualty when war comes," said Hiram Johnson, "is truth." Indeed, truth was always a casualty in the now decades-long War on Drugs™. Debate on drug policy these days is characterised by disinformation and fear. Even the chemical arch-demon of our time, methamphetamine, or "P", is far less dangerous than you have been led to believe. New Zealand's drug czar, Jim Anderton, once described methamphetamine as "pure evil". But the fact that in the U.S. methamphetamine, under the brand name Desoxyn®, is prescribed to children with attention deficit disorder, must give pause for thought.

Nonetheless, in a climate of disinformation and fear, Libertarianz drug policy - which is, basically, to legalise all drugs (yes, even "P"!) - is routinely met with horror and incredulity. The implementation of Libertarianz drug policy, absent the sky falling, is simply inconceivable to many people. This is why we need a transitional policy - not as a compromise proposal, but as an exit strategy for those currently pressing the War on Drugs™.

Libertarianz transitional drug policy is to legalise all drugs safer than alcohol. The motivation for this is the government's own stated National Drug Policy: harm minimisation. Many people prefer drugs other than alcohol. Where those other drugs are safer than alcohol, the application of legal sanctions against the use of those alternatives is inconsistent with the principle of harm minimisation.

Libertarianz transitional drug policy is to legalise all drugs safer than alcohol, but the policy package contains a number of other measures. These include a moratorium on arrest for simple possession (or manufacture or importation for personal use) of any drug, and a downgrading of remaining penalties from the draconian to the merely harsh. (All drugs which remained illegal would be reclassified as Class C. This means, for example, that the maximum sentence for manufacture of methamphetamine would fall from life imprisonment to 8 years imprisonment.)

This policy is not, of course, the "tax and regulate" policy favoured by many drug law reformers, most often proposed as a model for the legalisation of cannabis. As legal products, drugs would be subject to any taxes, such as GST, which apply to goods and services in general, but would not attract any special taxes. In fact, part of the transitional policy package is to remove excise tax on alcohol, and reduce tobacco tax to a level where smokers pay for no more than their own health costs. Currently, it is estimated that tobacco smokers pay 3-4 times more in tobacco tax than it costs the public health system to treat their smoking related ailments. Thus, in line with a "user pays" philosophy, tobacco tax would be no more than a third what it is now, effectively halving the retail price of tobacco.

As for regulation, the only special regulation which would apply to newly legalised drugs would be an R18 age restriction on their sale - but this restriction would be properly enforced, as is meant to be the case with already legal drugs alcohol and tobacco. As with any other product, the sale of legal drugs would be subject to the provisions of existing legislation to protect the rights of the consumer, such as the Fair Trading Act 1986 and the Consumer Guarantees Act 1993. For example, the packaging of legal drugs must not falsely state their ingredients, and the drugs themselves must be fit for their particular purpose. A manufacturer who claimed his drug gets you high when it only gives a nasty headache would be breaking the law.

Who would decide which drugs are safer than alcohol, and how would they decide? In a widely cited paper published in the Lancet earlier this year, David Nutt and colleagues showed that the UK's classification of illegal recreational drugs into three categories of harm (similar to the ABC classification in our own Misuse of Drugs Act) is only modestly correlated with expert ratings of the drugs' actual harms. They asked experts in psychiatry, pharmacology, and other drug-related specialties to (re-)rate a selection of 20 common recreational drugs on three major dimensions of harm: physical health effects, potential for dependence, and social harms. The experts, who showed reasonable levels of agreement in their ratings, ranked heroin, cocaine and pentobarbital as more harmful overall than alcohol, but ranked MDMA ("ecstasy"), cannabis, LSD, GHB ("fantasy"), methylphenidate (Ritalin®) and khat as less harmful overall. I mention this list for indicative purposes only. How to decide the dimensions of harm which ought to be considered and the relative weighting to be given to scores on those dimensions, and, consequently, the final ranking of drugs on the list according to overall harm is yet to be determined, but the methodology is sound. Ultimately, the decision would be left to the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs. For a change, the EACD would no longer determine how to classify new recreational drugs, but determine instead which existing recreational drugs to declassify. If their past performance is anything to go by, their judgements would err on the conservative side.

Libertarianz transitional drug policy is a partial implementation of Libertarianz drug policy. It is a step in the right direction, and potentially quite a big one, depending on how many drugs turn out, on assessment, to be safer than the drug of choice of most New Zealanders. Is it too big a step? Will it frighten the horses? To reassure even the most fearful, I propose a pilot of the Libertarianz transitional drug policy - to test the dihydrogen monoxide, as it were - which would run as follows.

Before legalising all drugs safer than alcohol, just two drugs safer than alcohol would be made widely available. One would be a mild stimulant and one a mild psychedelic (people who like depressants are fortunate in that a major representative of the class, alcohol, is already legal). Both drugs would be relatively safe, but might have some unwanted side effects which, to some extent, would serve to discourage widespread and/or excessive use. These two drugs would be made widely available for a period of, say, 3-5 years, after which time a "sunset" provision would come into effect and the trial would end. At this point, the social experiment would be assessed. Did the sky fall? Did hundreds die or spiral into addiction and crime? Was there more carnage on our roads and violence in our homes? Did the drugs ravage communities and destroy the futures of our young people? If the answer to these questions is yes, then we would conclude that legalising any more drugs conflicts with the principle of harm minimisation. But if life continued pretty much as normal, if society's predicted descent into lawlessness and chaos failed to eventuate, if 400,000 New Zealanders consumed 20 million doses of these two drugs over the period in question with no lasting ill effects and no deaths, then the only rational conclusion to be drawn is that the experiment is a resounding vindication of Libertarianz transitional drug policy, immediately opening the door to legalising all other drugs safer than alcohol. This is an experiment we must try, and New Zealand's legislators must be bound to act upon a favourable outcome by legalising a range of relatively safe substances for adult recreational use, for we have tried the alternative - total prohibition of almost every known recreational drug - and it is a failed, disgraced policy.

Libertarianz transitional drug policy is an important step, but only a step, towards full drug legalisation. Which brings us back to methamphetamine, because ultimately we would legalise "P", too. So, what would happen if we legalised "P"? Those concerned by rampant methamphetamine use in this country must be brought to realise that the use of "P", and other drugs with a high potential for harm, is widespread because of, not in spite of, criminal sanctions. The fact is that if all drugs were legalised, the use of methamphetamine and many other dubious and dangerous drugs would decline. If you like stimulants, why would you take methamphetamine if you could just as easily take 4-methylaminorex or organically grown khat? If you like empathogens, why would you take the potentially neurotoxic chemical MDMA (ecstasy) when you could just as easily take methylone (marketed for a short time as "Ease" by party pill creator Matt Bowden of Stargate International)? If psychedelics are your cup of tea, why mess with LSD (which causes permanent psychosis in a small minority of users) when the exotic delights of 5-MeO-DIPT and 2CI beckon?

Responsible adults who like drugs ought to have access to safe, effective and legal alternatives to alcohol. Libertarianz transitional drug policy would make this a reality.

Richard Goode
Libertarianz Spokesman on Drugs

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Drunk and drive

casseysmith's picture

Drunk and drive is an illegal activity.People should obey the order
of the government. I think drunk and drive is a crime in all country.



Safety first?

reed's picture

Gill -
Then you support this policy?

edit: Spam deleted

gill's picture

edit: Spam deleted

"Just Say No" ...such

Elijah's picture

"Just Say No" Tongue

...such words of wisdom I have always lived by when it comes to drugs, that Reagan gal really knew what she was talking about!

On the other hand, each to their let's legalise the lot, and if people are braindamaged enough to use them they only have themselves to blame ..(but of course they don't, preferring to blame their parents for everything).. and with the amount of drug education programmes no one can say they were not warned and had their eyes wide open. Wink 

Not a prob

Ptgymatic's picture

However, if my information on this is reliable, recreational drug use lowers inhibitions more than alcohol does, and in fact "doped up" crimes are common and more viscious.


Drug crime

Phil Howison's picture

Sorry if I was unclear, Mindy. I don't have a particular problem with harsher sentences for DUI. I was responding to your point about crimes committed while under the influence.

Driving is prime example

Ptgymatic's picture

DUIs caught before there's a tragic accident is a good case.

DUIs are already punished more than mere careless driving. DUIs discovered during check-points are punished even though the person didn't drive carelessly.

We share the roads, and have the right to enforce rules to make that sharing workable. DUI is one of those rules, and an important one. Unfortunately, DUI is a common practice among many of the influential and gov. decision-makers, as headlines show. Thus, DUI isn't punished enough to deter people. Legalizing drugs is going to make the situation still worse. It isn't possible to keep oneself safe from DUIs, unless you only "live in a dark room and drink orange juice."

Under the influence

Phil Howison's picture

I don't think people should use drugs as an excuse to get a lower sentence, but why have greater punishments for drug-influenced crimes? If anything, sober criminals are more dangerous. All violent criminals should have stiffer punishments, not just the drug addicts.

Legalizing drugs needs stiffening "UI" punishments

Ptgymatic's picture

I don't think drugs should be illegal, either. But it would be a lot more reassuring if legislation to allow greater drug use integrated stiffer punishments for driving, or committing a crime while under the influence.


Ritalin for ADHD

Ptgymatic's picture

You mention prescribing Ritalin (a stimulant) to Attention-Deficit/Hyper-active kids in the U.S. I just want to clarify for those who don't happen to know it that this stimulant has a "paradoxical" effect in hyperactive kids: it calms them down. Caffeine does also. The theoy is that as there are, in fact, both activating and depressing parts of the nervous system, the stimulant activates the depressant part (which is assumed to functioning poorly) and brings the kids back into balance. Long-term, un-supervised use of Ritalin may slow a child's growth, and reduce their final height. Otherwise, it is a god-send to hundreds of thousands of kids and their families.



galin's picture


Ah, we agree Linz!

mvardoulis's picture

My own experience working to pass 'medical marijuana' i.e. California Proposition 215 "Compassionate Use Act" was meant to be a 'transitional' phase with the intent of at least getting patients whose conditions justify the use of cannabis off of the 'battlefield' of the drug war. It took nearly a decade, after the law was passed by California voters, to take full effect. Even now, though, the Federal government reserves the right to intervene in the rights of the patients who elect to use cannabis. The hope that this would be an incremental step toward greater liberty has thus far proven to be largely unrealized.

Meanwhile California jails keep filling, and street violence over the drug trade continues.

A sweeping end to the whole fucking thing is the only solution! The more specific details (age restrictions, insurance, and employment) which come about should be settled AFTER the fact! VOTE LIBERTARIANZ!


Lindsay Perigo's picture

Here is what I said on the libertyloop about this:


I don’t see why we have to complicate this with a transitional phase. We want to empty the jails of those who are in there for drug “offences” that did not involve any kind of force against others straight away, do we not? And to liberate cops and the court system from the pursuit of such people straight away, do we not? The “trick” is to make voters realise that cops will then focus on REAL crime, INCLUDING that perpetrated by those under the influence of drugs, and that under Libz REAL crime will be REALLY punished—meaning no mercy for murderers, rapists, thieves and rock bands.


"Transitions" should be observed only where necessary: perhaps they could more accurately be called "extrications"—getting the state out of education, health and the like. In the matter of victimless "crimes" I see no such necessity and huge benefits from immediate extrication. This shouldn't frighten the horses too much since this is what they will have voted for! Besides, Richard's recipe will succeed only in endless, pointless debates about which drugs are safer than alcohol.

New Zealand's drug czar, Jim Anderton,

KevinOwen's picture

"Even the chemical arch-demon of our time, methamphetamine, or "P", is far less dangerous than you have been led to believe. New Zealand's drug czar, Jim Anderton, once described methamphetamine as "pure evil".

I wouldn't blame Jim Anderton to much as he is taking advice from those that profit from the current situation.
Even if the policy is introduced we still need workable drug rehabilitation to help those addicted individuals which the current programs aren't delivering.

Psychiatry's Drug Scam
Report and recommendations on
methadone and other disastrous psychiatric
drug 'rehabilitation' programs

“It is very important to understand one thing about much of the drug rehabilitation field today. Our hope of a cure for drug addiction was not lost. It was buried by an avalanche of psychiatry’s false information and false solutions. Drug addiction is not a disease. Real solutions do exist.”
— Jan Eastgate, President, Citizens Commission on Human Rights

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