Legalise it and we might win the war

Saturday, 17 August 1996

Vigilantes have declared a jihaad in the Western Cape. Self-proclaimed drug gangsters march the streets in protest under police protection. What's going on here?

HINDU calendars refer to the current cycle of sixty thousand years as kaliyuga - a time of death and destruction when the forces of darkness run rampant upon the face of the earth.

Christian mythology refers to something similar. Remember these lines from The Omen foretelling the end of the world and birth of the Anti-Christ?

When the Jews return to Zion
And a comet fills the sky
When the Holy Roman Empire rises
Then you and I must die
From the eternal sea he rises
Creating armies on either shore
Turning man against his brother
Till man exists no more

Stirring stuff. Thank God I'm agnostic. Nearly all of the bad craziness that's currently sweeping this country is more simply the result of Kanthan's axiom which goes like this:

Almost anything can be explained by stupidity.

It's a reasonably simple philosophy of life. It doesn't require karmic cycles, circumcision, self-mutilation, or fear of eternal damnation. All it requires is careful examination of every problem to see what caused it, and how it can be fixed.

The reason why drug dealers exist and lead a profitable life in Cape Town and other parts of the world is that the drugs they sell are illegal.

Alcohol is a drug. There are many of us who are addicted to it. If it were illegal (as it was for many of us for many years), many of us would plunder and pillage to keep ourselves supplied (as we did).

I was in Italy in 1992 when the state-owned tobacco monopoly, MS, was shut down by striking workers, Italians found themselves without cigarettes.

They took to fighting in the streets over stompies. Exorbitant prices were paid to visiting sailors selling tobacco. Sexual favours could be had for half a pack.

Drugs are a needed commodity. The way to minimise their effect on those of us who do not wish to partake is to legalise them.

Fewer Americans are smoking tobacco today than ever. The way in which it has been controlled is by educational campaigns about the dangers of smoking, and by limiting the areas where smokers can light up.

Remember Bill Clinton's last election slogan? The economy, stupid! Let's look at the economics of drug dealing.

What does a police constable take home every month? R800

What is the profit on a kilo of cocaine? R1-million.

How many policemen does that buy over a year? More than 100.

How many kilos of cocaine can one sell every year?And how many policemen does that buy?

We can't win a war against illegal drugs. Even a jihaad requires arms and ammunition which requires money. We don't have a profitable oil supply to fund a holy war. This is not a moral issue. It's arithmetic.

But Kanthan's axiom kicks in when most of us look at these numbers and say: "We can't legalise illegal drugs. That's wrong. There must be another way."

It's like trying to convince new parents that their baby is ugly.

Drugs require money. And illegal drugs require lots more money than legal drugs. If you don't have your own money and you need to support a drug habit, chances are you will steal.

If you steal at gunpoint, chances are you will get more money than if you try otherwise. And you're jittery because you want that fix. And you pull the trigger...

For the extract of a coca plant that you could grow in your back yard? Stupid...

"There must be another way." There is. We had it in the old South Africa. It's called repression. But repression does not eliminate drug-related crimes. It simply confines them to certain areas.

Like the Cape Flats.

We're still blinkered about the problem. Nearly everyone has been calling for the government to step in and stamp out drug-related crime.

How? Who pays for it? Do we further tax ourselves to fund a larger police force? Do we cut back on other government services such as housing, health, or education?

We can't afford more police for a drug war. Drug dealers can. Legalise drugs, and they lose their income. Look at the numbers.

It all adds up.