A simple marketing decision, in fact?
What lessons have we learned, or failed to learn, from Prohibition?
The lesson we have failed to learn is that prohibition never works. It makes thing worse rather then better. As a matter of fact, as you recognise, alcohol is a much more destructive element than cocaine. There are far more deaths attributable to excess use of alcohol than to excess use of all the illegal drugs. The moral case – if there be a moral case at all – for alcoholic prohibition is very much stronger than for prohibiting cocaine. But it tuned out that the lesson that we should have learned is that you cannot prohibit people from doing something that they want, without destroying their civil liberties and freedom. A totalitarian state like Saudi Arabia may be able to come close to enforcing Prohibition but no reasonably democratic, open society, will ever succeed.
Does prohibition plays into the hands of the drug producers and, ultimately, the cartels?
It’s simply supply and demand. As you make it more expensive to violate the law, there are fewer people who are able to supply that service. And so the effect of vigorous enforcement is to reduce the number of drug cartel leaders. And to increase their income. They are still there because it is worth their while. And their competitors have been eliminated by the fact that the other people don’t want to pay the price, don’t want to take the chances involved in getting into the business. So in a sense you can say that prohibition has benefited the remaining cartel leaders but it has reduced the number of them.
Will cocaine ever be legalised in the US?
Ever is a long word… I cannot see it in the foreseeable future but I am not willing to say never. But there is movement in the US – as there is in Europe – for reducing prohibition of marijuana. And there is also growing support for various harm reduction measures such as Swiss heroin places and so on.
Why is there such a reluctance to admit that the War on Drugs is not working?
It’s in the self-interest of the people who are running the War on Drugs to promote that view. As I said before, two groups benefit from it: the drug cartels and the law enforcement agencies. What is it? We’re now spending 20 billion dollars a year on law enforcement. That’s a hell of a lot of money! There are strong vested interests in retaining prohibition. There are only very much weaker interests in getting rid of it.
It might be argued that the State acts towards its citizens as parents act towards their children. Isn’t it the State’s responsibility to protect us against dangers and dangerous chemicals?
Are your parents in favour of prohibiting alcohol? Well, they are utterly illogical. Alcohol destroys many more people’s lives than cocaine…
…but statistically, that’s because alcohol is legal and cocaine is illegal…
Oh yes, but even if all of it were legal. If you go back to before 1914 when it was all legal, alcohol consumption was much more widespread than the consumption of cocaine…
Apart from the fact that it is illegal, do you see cocaine as fundamentally different from any other global commodity?
No way whatsoever. The fundamental immorality is in terms of human rights. … It’s fundamentally wrong for the government to control what you think and talk and say but it’s all right for the government to control what you eat or drink. Where’s the logical difference between them?
Have you ever found yourself criticised for these views?
Of course, sure. I’ve been criticised for my views on many things. This among them.
Are you are of how many web sites there are dedicated to you – fan club-type sites?
I don’t follow that stuff. I don’t do any lecturing any more – or very little. I’m 87 years old…
But you’re aware that they’ve named a choir after you in Norway…?
That I do know! That happened in connection with the Nobel prize.
Are they any good?
Yes, I heard them at the time in 1976. I should explain, though, that I’m not a good judge of music – I’m illiterate with respect to music. I enjoyed the words but I couldn’t judge the sound…