For some unknown reason, in contrast to smoking and consumption of alcohol, consuming drugs has always been considered a character flaw, a criminal activity. The dopamine hypothesis has proved that drug addiction is a disorder of the brain no different from that caused by nicotine and alcohol. It is a mental illness of similar nature.
The right place for a drug addict, therefore, is a hospital and not a prison and the way to deal with drugs is not to prohibit them but to legalise them just as it is in the case of tobacco and alcohol. Why are we so keen and insistent on prohibiting drugs and not tobacco and alcohol, while the latter two are more harmful? It obviously cannot be because we are a nation with knee-jerk puritanism. In that case, we would prohibit alcohol also.
There are two reasons for the insistence on drug prohibition. The drug trade will exist as long as there is prohibition that generates exorbitant profits for the drug lords as well as politicians and the police. Also, we inherently want to punish narco-trafficking, not eradicate it.
It is time to try a new approach to the drug problem. The people who want to use drugs know where to get them and no law has yet dissuaded people from using them. Legalise, regulate and tax drugs to the hilt. Take the money that would have gone towards preventive laws and spend it on education, healthcare and rehabilitation.
A word about rehabilitation too. Dopamine-related research has shown that abstinence, if maintained, not only halts the physical and psychological damage wrought by drugs but also reverses it in large measure. A majority of the rehabilitation centres, mushrooming all over and uniformly lacking sufficient staff with enough expertise (psychiatrists and psychotherapists) and dedication (nurses and helpers), are worse than prisons.
An addict needs long treatment, perhaps running into months. During this period, there are failures but their rate is no different from that for other chronic diseases. Nearly half the recovering addicts fail to maintain complete abstinence after a year, about the same proportion of patients with diabetes and hypertension who fail to comply with their medication regimens.
Therefore, occasional relapse only means that more treatment is required, not that the addict be imprisoned. Alcoholic Anonymous and Narcotic Anonymous are the two organisations which probably have the highest cure rate because their members never refer to themselves as ‘cured’; they always call themselves ‘recovering addicts’. We could begin with a drug like marijuana and see how abolishing prohibition works. Then, we could move on to more drugs. Doesn’t it sound like an idea that might catch on?