I was going to continue talking about power pricing this week. But I want to do some more work on it first. Let me instead talk about bans.
Bans usurp individual initiative with government thinking—and whenever was the government thinking to be praised? Far too often, bans, instead of stopping the offense, create crime. So you need to think very carefully first: Is a ban the best solution, or just the easiest? Is there no more effective solution?
Nothing can ever be totally stopped; it just goes underground—at high cost. The US Prohibition is, of course, the epitome of examples. But there are others. Take jueteng. Why on earth is it illegal? Bingo isn’t, and gambling “dens” are now a multibillion-dollar investment down at the bay and elsewhere. Legalize jueteng and watch the corruption of local officials, and the numbers in jail, decline. And the government can make some legitimate money out of it.
Like all law-abiding citizens (I’ve not even had a traffic citation in the past 50 years), I support
President Duterte’s all-out war on crime, corruption and drugs. Reducing crime is a police job, where the ultimate aim should be to prevent rather than capture. Corruption is an executive function. The President must set the example, and he does. He now needs to get that honesty installed all the way down. Businessmen can help by the simple act of not paying bribes. We have, in the business community, introduced an Integrity Initiative where companies sign a pledge to not bribe—but the 2,600 signatories, impressive as that number is, are mostly honest players anyway. We need the real cheats to reform. That needs an effective justice department that can go after the crooks.
The big issue today is the ban on drugs. In 1994, the United Nations passed a resolution to eliminate drug use within a decade. By 2008, it was a massive failure, with a global market today of $320 billion controlled by murderous drug rings. So I wonder if legalizing but controlling drugs might be a better way to go. Half the appeal of drugs for young people is the excitement of doing something you’re not supposed to.
What we’d then need is a massive campaign on the harm drugs do, starting in school at an early age. And warnings on the packets. I realize this could be of high risk and, given the huge damage drugs do to human life, may not be practicable. But it is worth some serious thought by experts on human behavior. At least one North European country tolerates drug use in special places. Portugal decriminalized it in 2001. Getting caught with drugs means no jail time, no criminal record, but a small fine and maybe a referral to a treatment program. They sought to provide treatment instead of punish drug users. Only three deaths result from drug overdose per million people in Portugal, compared to the European Union which has an average of 17.3 deaths per million. Switzerland allows heroin use by prescription, so it’s medically controlled. Holland does something similar. Other countries are beginning to shift to this thinking, too.
The Philippines is still far away from this sort of decriminalization of drugs, but it shouldn’t be. A start should be made with marijuana. Not just medical, as Mr. Duterte suggests, but pleasure, too. According to a study published in Scientific Reports in 2015, which compared the potential of death from the typical recreational use of 10 drugs—marijuana, alcohol, tobacco, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and other illicit drugs—marijuana was found to be the safest by far.
Legalizing marijuana use is the way more and more of the world is going, with a number of countries legalizing it, or about to. If it’s less harmful than cigarettes, then why not? Cigarettes have been proven bad for you, but people want them. And, now, with the graphic warnings on packets, they’ve been duly warned. If people still want them, it’s their life; they’ve been more than adequately informed. Restrict smoking where you can, but don’t go overboard on it. So why not do the same with marijuana? If marijuana is legalized as a start and is taxed at the level of cigarettes, PhilHealth could fully cover every Filipino’s health costs.
While the drugs are banned, don’t put the users in jail as that achieves nothing. They are victims, not criminals. Catch the drug manufacturers and wholesale suppliers and put them behind bars—forever. Occasional users should be put on a one-day lecture and let go. Habitual users should be sent to a specifically-designed, well-maintained, professionally-staffed rehab facility. Help them get their lives back. As US President Barack Obama said: “For too long we’ve viewed drug addiction through the lens of criminal justice… The most important thing to do is reduce demand. And the only way to do that is to provide treatment—to see it as a public health problem and not a criminal problem.”
Victims need to be brought back to health, not thrown in jail. For too long we’ve viewed drug addiction through the lens of criminal justice given the harm drugs do. But drug users aren’t criminals but victims. So it may be better to legalize, then control, drugs.
With a new reform-minded President, it may be a good time to set up a task force to review not just drug use but all bans. Are they really necessary? Do they really do the job intended? Are they the most cost-effective way of achieving the desired result? It’s time to ban bans.
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On Sept. 6, the Management Association of the Philippines will hold its 14th International CEO Conference. With the Philippines finally back on the world map, speakers from Asia will join us in helping Philippine businesses join the world and become more competitive. Call 7511149 for details.
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E-mail: [email protected] Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com.
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