Our Political Editor, David O' Donoghue, examines why stopping people buying crack, heroin and LSD over the internet is a terrible idea.

Today, we buy everything online; our music, our films, our video games. And, it seems, also our drugs.

Last week an international internet drug dealing ring was “smashed” by Gardaí, with two men arrested in Dublin and €200,000 worth of drugs seized. The drugs were being sold and purchased over what is colloquially called the ‘Dark Web’, the shadowy underbelly of the internet that is not accessible by most web browsers and where many users utilise digital currency to ensure their activities are not tracked or traced.

Good, right? Well, not quite.

While the concept of folks hopping onto the internet to pop a pineapple, 10 kgs of China white heroin and a dvd copy of ‘Frozen’ into their digital trolley might shock, it’s much better than the alternative.

The reality of the matter is that addiction is not a conscious choice, it’s a debilitating illness. Just because you get rid of the supply of heroin for an addict it does not mean that they are not going to use that day, or that they’ll spontaneously give up. This isn’t like popping into the shop for a Snickers, discovering there are none and so you just decide to go without. This is a horrible, destructive illness that traps you in a cycle of acquiring and using the drug.

The online market for drugs, sites like Silk Road and its successors, are actually surprisingly transparent. Vendors get rated on the quality of their product and service and most of the drugs are sold by those who manufacture them, making tampering with the product for profit less likely. Take that away and, providing our addicts with no services or other options, they’re left to treat their illness by popping down some seedy alleyway and, in the best scenario, getting a small package of something labelled heroin that ends up being a combination of washing up powder and rat poison. In the worst case scenario they just get stabbed or robbed.

Our drug policy is absolutely ridiculous, that much should be obvious. Just recently the British Home Office released a statement saying as much. For soft drugs such as cannabis and psilocybin we are wasting some of our most valuable crime fighting resources on fighting the ‘scourge’ of substances that can be proven scientifically to be less harmful to the human body and society than coffee. In the case of harder drugs, such as heroin, crack or methamphetamine, we are criminalising people with a sickness. We take the totally Victorian attitude of moral superiority about the whole thing. The cycles of abuse, poverty and mental health issues that undeniably create addiction are being ignored in favour of a system that treats people with an illness as though they are bold children who need to be punished.

Even when we do make some attempt to treat them, it comes in the form of stuffing them full of methadone, a substance proven to be worse for them than heroin, then quietly ignoring them and hoping they go away. We never explore the social and psychological issues at the heart of the addiction because our laws and politicians are simple and childlike on this matter. It isn’t about compassion or understanding or even taking a sensible, science backed approach to things. Our drug laws can be reduced to “You’ve been a bold boy so now we need to lock you away forever”. That was all fine and dandy in previous centuries, but now that we understand the underlying factors of drug addiction and have a fully scientific understanding of what drugs are most and least dangerous for people, we really should have grown out of this.

What we’re doing now is not in anyone’s interest. It doesn’t work for anyone. It wastes law enforcement resources that could be going to tackling serious crimes like robbery, rape or murder. It misallocates public health funding by pumping addicts full of drugs they’ll never get off and trapping them in cycles of poverty, addiction and crime. It harms the public by continuing to allow profits from drugs to fall into the grubby hands of vicious, murderous gangland criminals and paramilitaries.

It deprives us of the kind of taxation from the regulated sale of soft drugs that would allow us to fund these recovery programmes as well as pump more money into our hospitals and schools. It ensures that the drug market is left completely unregulated and instead of careful supervision and distribution of products, you have kids snorting washing powder and dying from overdose on drugs they didn’t even intend to buy.

Our drug policy right now is stupid, childish and quite frankly downright evil. It ignores science, logic, common sense and compassion in favour of ‘what sounds right’. In many ways it is a reflection of the incompetent and lazy politicans and system of governance that we have. Most political incompetence results in some corruption or misallocated funds. This incompetence is killing people and destroying lives.

Luckily polls are showing that young people, educated by the internet, seem to have a more sensible and educated approach to drug use, viewing it as an issue of public health as opposed to criminal justice. It’s time for us to use our heads and go with what works instead of what sounds right or just. It is time for us to save some lives.

Photo: Wiles van Erp/Flickr