Thursday, March 15, 2007

Ecstasy bust

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Last Friday, Toronto police made a huge drug bust in the northeast part of the city. According to CityNews, a local media outlet: "at least 140,000 Ecstasy pills and 214 kilograms of MMDA, worth an estimated $21.4 million on the streets," as well as "a cutting agent, which allows the drug makers to turn out even more pills using a kind of filler. If that had been added, the entire haul could have been worth an unbelievable $40 million." Deputy Police Chief Tony Warr stated the obvious: "This would be a significant dent in the supply for Toronto."

And to make matters even worse: "Two children -- an eight-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy -- were both living inside the house. The lab was in the basement. They've been turned over to the Children's Aid Society and checked out in hospital as a precaution."

Now, I tend to think that drugs such as ecstasy should be legalized. People -- including young people -- are going to take them anyway, and although high-profile busts like this one arouse public attention and suggest that the good guys are winning the war against the bad guys, and reinforce the conventional notion that drugs are bad and must remain a prominent target of law enforcement, it seems to me that the war on drugs, an unwinnable endeavour, should be replaced by a regime of regulation and control -- and education. Ecstasy is bad for you -- and other drugs are far worse. (And it's even worse given the various cutting agents, the other drugs, unknown to users, that are often added to what is a relatively harmless foundational drug, MMDA or MDMA.) But so is alcohol -- and so is much of what we are free to do in a free society. It is education that allows us to make informed choices, including to take calculated risks. If after being educated you still want to do E, you should be free to do so.

Where to draw the line, though? Should cocaine be legalized? Heroin? Meth? I'll leave line-drawing for another time. Suffice it to say that drugs like ecstasy could be legalized and lines could be drawn. This would be easier in Canada than in the U.S. We are much more liberal up here, after all, and it likely won't be long before marijuana is legalized (or "decriminalized"). Other drugs could follow. The point is to recognize that the war on drugs, the enforcement of illiberal laws that don't work, cannot succeed. Once that line is crossed, it will be possible to discuss in concrete terms what drugs should be legalized and how best to do so -- and to begin to educate ourselves (and our children) honestly about the risks associated with drug use.

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But back for a moment to the CityNews article:

The oh-so-typical fearmongering is there, too: "[T]here was evidence that whoever was making the pills was designing them specifically to appeal to young teens. They found pill presses ready to imprint pictures of popular cartoon characters on the Ecstasy. 'These drugs are widely available at school dances,' reveals Det. Sgt. David Malcolm. 'They're widely available at raves.' Cops are warning parents to keep an eye out for anything suspicious."

Quite the amazing revelations: Ecstasy is available at dances and raves. (Obviously.) Pills are imprinted with cute pictures to lure in young people. (They all have "pictures" on them. But you think that's why teens take them?)

This isn't the sort of uneducated nonsense that often accompanies mainstream news stories about drugs, and especially the "party" drugs like ecstasy, but even here there is no effort to present any other side of the issue than the unequivocal anti-drug one. There is no attempt at all to educate.

Except this: The article ends with a lesson on "How to Spot An Ecstasy Lab In Your Neighbourhood". Seriously. Go read it. I admit that "[a] strong smell of chemicals coming from the premises or the garage" should arouse suspicion, but several of the other points are dangerously Orwellian:

-- "Tenants who appear to be overly secretive, keeping their distance from neighbours and frequently displaying paranoid or odd behaviour."

-- "Smokers who are always going outside to have a cigarette."

-- Occupants who "frequently pay their bills with cash".

-- "Be especially suspicious if they start to spread the garbage around on other people's lawns to make the contents less obvious."

Yes, by all means, let's all spy on one another and report any and all "suspicious" behaviour to the police. This is what happens when fearmongering trumps education and when a losing war on drugs loses control. If drugs and drug use were out in the open, if they were able to be discussed openly and intelligently, and if drugs like ecstasy were legal, this sort of culture of secrecy and paranoia wouldn't exist nearly to the extent that it does even in a relatively liberal place like Toronto.

Freedom demands much of the free and enlightenment does not come easily.

But the alternatives only keep us in darkness.

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