Posts Tagged ‘Drugs’

This drug policy is criminal

2 April, 2010

Yet another member of the UK government’s drug committee board has resigned in disgust.. In his resignation letter, Eric Carlin says:

"We need to review our entire approach to drugs, dumping the idea that legally-sanctioned punishments for drug users should constitute a main part of the armoury in helping to solve our country’s drug problems. We need to stop harming people who need help and support… I am not prepared to continue to be part of a body which, as its main activity, works to facilitate the potential criminalisation of increasing numbers of young people."

I agree completely. It is evident that the current policy of criminalisation of drugs does not work.

  1. It does not restrict the supply in any meaningful way – cannabis, heroin, cocaine, etc. are readily available if you want to seek them out.
  2. The supply is unregulated, meaning that it will often be impure, mixed with unknown substances and of unknown strength, increasing the risk of overdose and other adverse effects.
  3. The supply is placed in the hands of criminal organisations whose business methods are, by definition, unregulated.
  4. Users are criminalised, creating a barrier to those who need help getting it, meaning that a bust as a young person can have drastic effects on future life opportunies.
  5. The policy has no credibility when relatively safe substances, such as cannabis and MDMA are illegalised, while more harmful ones, e.g. tobacco and alcohol, are not.

In fact, illegalisation of drugs has had much the same effect that prohibition of alcohol had in the US in the 20s and 30s. This is not to deny that the drugs in question can be harmful. People need to be educated on the potential risks of using them, and how to minimise the risk if they do choose to do so. It is not helpful when scares stories are published about a handful of deaths from an illegal (or soon-to-be illegal) substance, and when moral panic and proof-by-anecdote replace rational debate.

It needs to be accepted, though, that drugs’ like alcohol, are used for many reasons, and can be used as well as abused. David Nutt, the former head of the advisory committee, has advocated the legalisation and regulation of certain substances. I believe we need to go much further than this – we need to legalise and regulate all drugs.

Timothy Leary and the ethics of hacking

23 March, 2010

A while ago, i attended a meeting entitled “Hack the Planet” at a local Linux User Group meeting, The talk was interesting, but the speaker persisted in confusing the different meanings of hacker. As the mainstream media will tell you, a hacker is one who breaks into someone else’s computer system, for pleasure or profit. This meaning is often at odds with the original sense of the word in the world of computing:

  1. A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities…, who delights in having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular.

Obviously, there can be an overlap between these senses. Someone may seek to hack into a system in order to learn, or as a challenge. But as more of our lives are lived online, money and malice become the stronger motives for the cracker.

I was musing on this, and how the ethical issues could be worked out in line with the principles of free software, and I recalled Robert Anton Wilson’s account of Timothy Leary’s philosophy. In particular, I remembered that the good doctor had articulated two new Commandments for the Molecular Age:

  1. Thou shalt not alter the consciousness of thy fellow man
  2. Thou shalt not prevent thy fellow man from altering his own consciousness

Just as Leary was defending our right to explore the limits and possibilities of our own consciousnesses, so the Free Software Foundation defends the right to explore the limits and possibilities of the software we use. People also need to be protected against exploitation by those who would manipulate their consciousnesses against their will. Just as our computer systems need protection as well, whether it is against the peddlers of DRM, script kiddies who want to pwn us, or fraudsters aiming to clean out our bank accounts and clone our cards.

Perhaps we need to propose a couple of new commandments, for the digital age:

  1. Thou shalt not access or modify others’ computer systems without their consent
  2. Thou shalt not prevent others from using or modifying their own computer systems as they wish

Certainly, these commandments would bear some qualification, but not bad, I think, as a starting point.