Banning ‘meow-meow’ would be counterproductive

The heavily publicised deaths of two teenagers in Lincolnshire who took mephedrone (known as “meow meow”) has led to calls for the drug to be banned. Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling has stated there is a “very strong case” for banning meow meow, while Lord Mandelson has stated that its legality will be considered “very speedily, very carefully”. It would appear that little has been learnt from the failure of prohibitions imposed on other recreational drugs and that scant regard is being given to the principle of self ownership – if individuals own their bodies then they must be free to harm themselves.

There is strong evidence from previous prohibitions (heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and so on) that banning mephedrone will only increase the harm it causes. Worryingly, the “forbidden fruit effect” means that outlawing the substance may actually add to its allure for drug takers. For consumers the fact that a drug is prohibited arguably advertises its potency.

As John Meadowcroft has pointed out, prohibition “makes risky behaviour even more risky”. A ban will clearly drive meow meow further into the black economy, placing its distribution into the hands of criminal gangs. It will also criminalise otherwise law-abiding users and heighten health risks as the precise contents or quality of the drug are difficult to determine. And while meow meow is not thought to be anything like as addictive as heroin or crack, there is a danger that prohibition will push prices up and encourage users to commit crime to fund their activities. At the very least, significant law enforcement resources will be wasted on a crackdown that achieves little.

The rise in popularity of meow meow presents an opportunity for a change of direction on drugs policy. Rather than banning the substance, policymakers should remove any regulatory barriers that prevent its legal trade. In this way, the criminal element would be driven out, reputable brand names would develop and users would be confident about what they were consuming. This approach could then be rolled out to other illegal drugs such as cannabis, speed and ecstasy.

17 March 2010, IEA Blog

The case for lifting prohibitions

The last century has seen a steady expansion of the ‘nanny state’, a process that has arguably accelerated in the last decade. A ‘banning culture’ has developed, with numerous restrictions placed on what individuals are permitted to do with their own bodies on private property.

The economic and social costs of such policies are enormous: the prohibition of recreational drugs is responsible for a high proportion of crime; the ban on trade in body parts indirectly kills tens of thousands every year and raises healthcare costs; restrictions on prostitution put women in unnecessary danger, pushing the trade onto the streets and blighting many residential areas.

Taxpayers spend vast sums enforcing bans and dealing with their effects. A Home Office report estimates the overall cost of crime in England and Wales – much of it drug related – at £60 billion per year.

Lifting prohibitions is not an issue of morality but of prudence. It is simply imprudent to ban everything we might regard as immoral. Ending current restrictions would bring banned activities into the formal sector, with reputable businesses paying taxes and investing in the quality and safety of their products and services. Drug dealers would no longer have the same incentives to supply more addictive forms; the poor who sell their body parts would have legal redress if they were exploited; and lifting the ban on handguns would undermine the profitable black markets run by criminals.

11 November 2008, IEA Blog

Smoking ban threatens property rights

The forthcoming smoking ban on July 1 is an appalling attack on personal freedom and private property. No one is forced to enter a pub and no one is forced to work there. A pub’s smoking policy should therefore be decided by the landlord or the owner, not the government. If there is a demand for non-smoking premises the market will provide. Already many restaurants have become non-smoking on an entirely voluntary basis. What will the nanny state do next – stop people smoking in their own homes?

4 December 2006, Metro