- 12 Dec 19
Drugs may not quite make the world go round, but by Jaysus, they go round the world.
A few months ago, we heard how the Azores have become a staging post in the movement of cocaine from South America to Europe. Much the same is said of Fiji in the Pacific. It's a world-wide industry, shifting thousands of billions of US dollars every year, and it's all entirely illegal, unregulated, unsupervised and, of course, untaxed.
Police estimate the size of the market based on seizures. This is clearly inadequate, almost certainly underestimating the real extent of drug usage. The range of drugs is huge. The same is true of the gangsters. In Europe alone, there are dozens of organised criminal networks. A shipment of two tonnes of cocaine was seized in Genoa in January. That's the largest drugs seizure in Italy in 25 years. Its value was estimated at €500m. That shipment was found in a cargo container which had set off from Colombia. It was destined for Barcelona. The seizure followed another in the Italian port of Livorno. There were 644 kilos of cocaine, hidden inside bags of coffee and valued at €130m.
Genovese prosecutors said they were looking at connections between South American cartels and European drug traffickers. The Calabrian Ndrangheta Mafia is thought by many to be a major supplier to Europe's drug trade. A study by the Demoskopika research institute in 2013 claimed the Ndrangheta made more money than Deutsche Bank and McDonald's put together, with a turnover of €53bn. For another comparison, according to the Budget report, total gross expenditure by the Irish Government in 2020 will be around €70bn.
Of course, Ireland is a committed participant in the War On Drugs, that vain and nonsensical US policy dating back to Richard Nixon's term as US president. Everyone knows prohibition doesn't work and won't. During 2019 there were increases in recorded seizures here, the biggest increases outside Dublin.
It's a pattern. The statistics for England and Wales show a 16% increase in deaths from drug poisoning in 2018, the highest annual leap since records began. And in Scotland, drug-related deaths rose by 27%, putting it on a par with the US with its fentanyl crisis. The Scottish rate is three times that of England and Wales.
Despite the busts and the huge costs of policing, it is widely accepted that drugs, and cocaine in particular, are very widely available in Ireland. In November, newspapers carried a range of reports describing how normalised coke has become and how, in particular, it has largely replaced alcohol for many younger people. We've heard that independently ourselves. When we asked why, the answer was uniform: it's everywhere, it's very cheap and there are no age-card ID checks.
This is highly relevant to public health policy. Coke and other drugs aren't advertised. Drug dealers don't sponsor sports or arts activities. Yet their prevalence is increasing rapidly. Meanwhile, public health officials and temperance activists gloat over the introduction of restrictions on drinks advertising and a minimum unit price.
They say it's great that people are drinking less. That simplistic view ignores the inconvenient fact that people are doing far more drugs. So they're deliberately driving people away from a legal, controlled and taxed substance and facilitating the shift towards consumption of a range of illegal, uncontrolled and unregulated substances whose distributors and dealers pay not even a cent of tax and enforce their position with guns and murder.
The answer is straightforward. Take it out of the hands of the gangsters. Legalise it and tax it. What's happening at the moment is nothing less than madness.