Johann Hari offers a pragmatic, rethought and really, downright fascinating approach to drugs and addiction.

On the forgotten roots of prohibition:

If you look at the reason why drugs are banned in the United States, and then in Britain, the real reason was a race panic. There’s a deep belief that African Americans and Chinese Americans are using drugs to attack white people, and therefore drugs have to be banned in order to put these ethnic minorities back in their place.

What to expect from the end of prohibition: less violence.

If you or I go to the local off-license [liquor store], and try to steal the beer or vodka, the owner will just call the police. He doesn’t need to be violent or intimidating. If we go up to the local coke dealer or the local weed dealer and try to steal their product, they can’t call the police, because the police will arrest them. So they do have to be violent and intimidating. The sociologist Philippe Bourgois says that prohibition creates a culture of terror. (…)

The best way to test that is to ask, where are the violent alcohol dealers today? Does Oddbins go and blow up the drinks aisle in Sainsbury’s? Do they go and shoot the people that work in the Sainsbury’s aisle in the face? Does the head of Guiness send people to go and torture the head of Smirnoff? No. But under alcohol prohibition, there were a huge number of violent alcohol dealers. Nothing’s changed about alcohol, the drug remains the same. The method of how you sell it has changed, and therefore the murder rate massively fell.

On the kind of violence prohibition has caused in Mexico:

If you’re the person who says, we won’t just kill their pregnant wives, we’ll put it on Youtube, you gain a brief competitive advantage. If you say, we’ll cut off their faces, sew their faces onto a football and send the football to their families — this is a real thing that happens — you get a brief competitive advantage.

Legalizing drugs would conceivably reduce children’s exposure and access to the market:

Legalisation is a way of imposing regulation on that, currently completely deregulated market, and one of the things you can do when you regulate drugs is put barriers between people. So, for example, no one in my nephews’ school is selling Jack Daniels or Budweiser, but there are loads of people selling weed and pills. There was a study in the United States that found that teenagers find it easier to get hold of marijuana than they do to get hold of alcohol, precisely because drug dealers don’t check I.D. So, if your main motivation when approaching the drug war, and it’s a very good one, is to say you do not want your teenagers to have access to drugs, that’s one of the strongest arguments I know for legalisation.

Funny how little the Portuguese experiment is talked about, compared to, say, the Netherlands:

One thing we can say about the drug war is that we gave it a fair shot. We gave it 100 years and a trillion dollars. We can compare the results we got from that, to the results of countries where they’ve spent most of their money on turning addicts’ lives around. In Portugal, nearly 15 years ago, they decriminalised all drugs and spent the money on treatment for addicts, and turning addicts’ lives around, in particular through subsidised jobs. The results are that injecting drug users are down by 50%, overdoses are massively down, and HIV transmission among addicts is massively down. We can see how these models work, there’s nothing theoretical or abstract about this debate anymore, there are countries that have tried the prohibitionist approach, there are countries that have tried approaches based on compassion, and we can see the results.


The evidence is clear: A system based on stigma and punishment and hatred doesn’t work. A system based on compassion and care and love does work. It turns people’s lives around. So now we have a choice. Do we want to have another century of charging off in the wrong direction? Or do we want to listen to the countries where they are trying the new approach, and it is having amazing results?