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.


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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  • The recent California ruling that a dying woman will be prosecuted for having marijuana, which her doctor and other mainstream doctors insist is the only treatment for her extreme nausea and pain, is a perfect example of governmental psychosis posing as law.

    The mildest, and least harmful and most intensely and long studied drug available is felonious even with a prescription because somebody made a movie in the 1930's claiming it made you criminally insane and violent.

    I fear there is no cure for this kind of madness that doesn't involve firearms.

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 9:37 AM  

  • Well, this issue is my pet cause. I'm one of the first drug policy bloggers and we've made some great progress over the last four years but we still have a long way to go.

    TO begin with, I always find the LEOs valuations suspect. I doubt the haul was worth $40 million to those who were busted. The LEOs always assume the big supplier is actually going to deal on the street in the smallest amounts possible. It doesn't happen. But it's possible I suppose that ultimately, it would have been worth that much by the time it got to the street. I've never done E and know nothing about it.

    But you're right about legalization. In fact, over time I've refined my position to support the legalization and regulation of all drugs -- even the really bad ones like meth and heroin. It's the only practical answer to addressing drug ABUSE, which shouldn't be confused with responsible use. The only reason the prohibitionists don't embrace such a sensible policy is that they don't really want the war on some drugs to end. It would put them out of a job.

    By Blogger Libby Spencer, at 9:44 AM  

  • I agree about the ridiculous war on drugs, and that criminal penalties should be reduced. But for God's sake, don't play cute and say MDMA or even THC is harmless. If these drugs were legal, we chould do actual controlled trials and see the long term effects of these drugs. For years, people (and doctors) denied that smoking caused lung cancer or that alcohol could destroy your liver, which was only finally agreed on in like 1970 or something. And stuff like MDMA could be unsafe in any dose, because there's evidence in animal models to show that it destroys serotonin neurons in your brain, and these effects persist for years and years. So don't be too glib about the wholesale usage of drugs, because for some people their first dose is their last dose (a la OD on cocaine or heroin), or it robs them of their potential by nuking their brain cells. And plus, there's drugs out there that are simply too dangerous for the public, like Ketamine (special K) or PCP. And recognize that prohibitionists are upset about legitimate things, like wasted lives/productivity, which of course is like 100 billion dollars or something like that. Think about what you could do for society if you weren't hopped up on goofballs! :) jk

    By Blogger Lit3Bolt, at 5:02 PM  

  • Is it really better to have people consuming drugs off the street mixed in with other unknown drugs?

    The biggest problem with the pills that are on the street are the other substances that are mixed in with the pure form of the drug.

    I think it's hypocritical to allow people to consume a drug such as alcohol legally and then say other drugs are illegal when they are no more dangerous overall.

    The key to drug consumption, in my opinion, is moderation. Drugs have the ability to either improve life or make it worse. Look at alcohol - studies seem to indicate that if you have one drink there is the potential for you to have a lower risk of certain illnesses. However, once you start consuming more than two drinks a day you will eventually likely run into health problems.

    It seems that our government thinks that people, on average, are too dumb to make rational decisions on what they consume, and personally I find it offensive. While we are at it, why don't we make certain kinds of food illegal? Refined sugar causes all kinds of problems in society today such as obestity, diabetes, ect and is already starting to overload our healthcare systems. Why not make it illegal?

    I find it interesting that we are allowed to consume so many kinds of unhealthy food products, but yet there's so much stigma associated with certain drugs.

    My point is that there really should not be any distinction between these things. What would be so bad about a world where I could go somewhere, and buy some legal ecstasy? Or buy a joint? If a person wants to take a drug, why should they be needlessly subjected to the risks inherent with street drugs.

    It seems foolish to me.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:08 AM  

  • By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:37 PM  

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