By Edward Ellison
Wednesday, April 6th, 2011
Features Friday letters debate – Guardian Newspaper
Dear Janet (Betts),
Little has changed since the tragic death of your daughter. Ecstasy is still widely produced and sold. Adult intolerance and youthful ignorance combine to produce more deaths.
We both argue for a society, young and old, relying little on any drug use. We try to break barriers of ignorance and criminality to educate and support our youngsters. We abhor importers, producers and distributors of “Ecstasy” who take advantage of current policy to make indecent profits producing a commodity randomly dangerous in its inconsistency.
Then we disagree. You suggest the law discourages use. I see little evidence to support that. What the law clearly does is to create a climate of illegality where the commercial production of “Ecstasy” is prohibited and production is driven underground. It thereby prevents any social or market control, it exposes the user to fluctuating strength and quality and guarantees flourishing criminal profits.
This illegality forms a barrier to education and support and though we seek to combat the use of “Ecstasy” – only maturity succeeds. Meanwhile we continue to drive the young away from both the helping agencies and their parents, create an added frisson of excitement by their illegal venture and ensure disrespect for the law.
If I believed that the current twin policies of prevention and education had a chance of success, I would not suggest change. The criminal law actually prevents any real chance of success in education and support. You yourself know exactly which venues to visit this weekend to demonstrate the failure of the current policy.
Do you really seek a country where “law enforcement agencies use their powers to the full – blindly endorsed by the judiciary”. We inhabit a civilised, tolerant society proud of a long history of “policing by consent”.
The law can play a limited role in positive and constructive guidance to the individual where the transgressing individual is the sole potential victim (seat belts, crash helmets). It has historically failed when seen as unjustified by its specific targets and when society’s compassion, education and support have been seen as superior (abortion, suicide, homosexuality). The prelude to alternative strategy is consistently a police emphasis towards cautioning, multi-agency support and by the judiciary’s enlightened compassion to the real victim. Sensitive policing acts as a barometer of society.
There are no safe drugs, by they legal, illegal or prescribed – it is all a matter of degree. You were within a letter of accuracy – “The Government’s made it legal – therefore it’s safer”. You were only missing an “r”. “R” for responsibility of parents, church, Government and of youth itself to identify the personal reality of drug use. What will not work is the “r” of repression or labelling youth’s personal responsibility criminal.
It may be convenient to pass responsibility for a child’s drug use to law enforcement but police are anything but omni-present in a child’s life – they cannot fulfil the responsibility you seek to unload. If every child had a law enforcing, knowledgable policemen for a Dad, they would still make up their own minds. That independence of thought and personal responsibility is precisely how we measure growing maturity in our youth.
I agree that users are clearly not criminals and should neither be categorised nor treated as such. The weapons of awareness, support, education and guidance that underpin your voluntary group’s activities are precisely those with potential for society.
I’m reassured that you say ‘Not the users’, but your position is tenable only by legalising possession. You can’t have it both ways. The law you support allows no degree of innocence between Leah and manufacturer, differing only in penalty.
I equally deplore the criminal production of any drug, with its associated profits and spin-off crimes. It is simply impossible to legalise possession and not supply without transgressing the law of economics. To tolerate users whilst leaving supply illegal guarantees greater criminal profits and lack of social controls.
Quality control obviously delivers a greater degree of safety, be it food, tobacco, approved drugs or even the provision of sporting activities.
The necessary debate is not E-specific but encompasses all illegal drugs. We both continue to commit ourselves to this topic because we continue to care. Unlike the legislature, we fear the debate less than the consequences of complacency. Our “former” experiences give us no authority, providing only a continuing responsibility to contribute.