NEIL BOYD, a professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, has in High Society written a polemic for the decriminalization of drugs. At a time when society is more concerned with other social issues, this argument is receiving a less than attentive hearing. Even though Addiction Research Foundation statistics show that 2,331,000 Canadians smoked marijuana last year, public perception about drugs has changed since the heyday of the drug culture and the hippie movement; with the advent of the just Say No crusades, the acknowledgement of drug use is no longer a badge of honour. And in the 1990s, with money and jobs on our minds, we don't want to worry about civil liberties.
Heroin, cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, alcohol, and tobacco each merit a chapter in High Society. Boyd's primary sources are usually those who have been jailed for the use or distribution of these drugs; an exception is Bill Neville, the president of the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers Council and the main source for the chapter on tobacco, who has never done time for pushing the noxious weed. It's no surprise that the cigarette is the villain drug in High Society. It is the most addictive drug by far, and the health hazards associated with its use far outweigh the danger of the abuse of any of the other drugs discussed in the book.
What is surprising is how non-addictive illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine are. According to Boyd, the chances of a user becoming addicted to heroin are about 10 per cent, to cocaine about two per cent. The danger of drug use, he points out, doesn't come from the drug itself, but from the criminal activity surrounding its distribution.
High Society attributes our different attitudes to legal and illegal drugs to cultural and economic factors. The illegal drugs come from Third World countries, while alcohol and tobacco are homegrown. Many dollars -are earned by powerful interests in our legal drug trade, the alcohol and tobacco industries.
As a result of this analysis, Boyd advocates the decriminalization of illegal drugs. He doesn't recommend the prohibition of those drugs he finds more dangerous - alcohol and tobacco. For all drugs, he would like to see "carefully regulated access to drugs by consenting adults, with no advertising, fully informed consumers, and taxation based on the extent and harm produced by use.
Boyd argues that his solution is not "bound to the left or the right." In fact, the push for drug legalization in the 1990s is coming primarily from the right, which sees the marketplace as the best control for the problems of drug abuse. The free marketeers covet the many revenues that accrue from these drugs entering the system. After all, it was only the onset of the Great Depression of the 1930s that led to the repeal of Prohibition.
The legitimization of our High Society might he the New Frontier for the 1990s.