Suddenly, silently, and at times violently, ecstasy is back. The 2016 European Drug Report, released yesterday, headlined on a very significant surge in usage of psychoactive 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, better known as MDMA, itself better known as ecstasy. The European monitoring centre for drugs, based in Lisbon, estimated that 2.1 million people aged between 15 and 34 used ecstasy in the past year, 300,000 higher than the estimate for 2015.
The findings will alarm for two further reasons: first, because ecstasy usage had previously been falling since its mid-2000s peak; and second, because the purity of the ecstasy now being taken in dance clubs, bars and living rooms across the continent has a much higher level of purity than in earlier years.
Nine out of 12 countries report higher estimates of ecstasy consumption in the past year, with Britain achieving, as it were, the second highest level of use. An estimated 3.5 per cent of young adults say they’ve taken it in the past year alone (second only to the Netherlands, where 5.5 per cent of adults have taken it). This, of course, is based only on those who have confessed. Many more, doubtless including some who readers of The Independent know well, will have tried it but refuse to admit it.
If ever evidence were needed that the alleged and misnamed "war on drugs" was a catastrophic failure, this would be it. Except we don’t need further evidence, because we have a century of it to go on and yet still design policy as if none of that evidence were available to us. Since the passing of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act in the US in 1914, hundreds of billions of dollars – trillions, by some estimates – have been spent fighting an enemy that cannot be defeated. In so doing, we have created infinitely more harm, horror, suffering and penury than if the war had not been fought in the first place.
It is wrong in principle to stop sentient adults doing what they want to with their bodies, unless they are harming others. This harm principle, which pre-dates John Stuart Mill, its most celebrated proponent, acts like a philosophical tripwire. But those 2.1 million people who took ecstasy were not, for the most part, harming others. They were, most often, dancing to heavy beats in a state of literal, if induced, ecstasy.
Many of them will have been free of the harmful consequences of their actions, if they are lucky not to belong to the impoverished, crime-ridden sections of society who bear the brunt of this idiot prohibition. The main consequence of the "war on drugs" is the conflation (often to astronomical levels) of the salaries of the gangsters, barons and mafia leaders who control supply of illegal drugs in our societies.
Their murderous manners are sponsored by every government stupid and cowardly enough to give them control of the supply chain. It is so blatantly obvious that the practical effects of mass criminalisation – not just in these narco-wars but in the mass incarceration of, in particular, young men – is so counter-productive to human flourishing that the only people who can support such a policy must be thought to have lost their minds.
More often, they have simply lost their balls instead – if they ever had any. The "war on drugs" never worked. Contrary to what some defenders of the status quo argue, it is not a war that was never fought, but one in which vast sums have been invested, and countless lives lost.
The latest figures on ecstasy usage across Europe show that the sooner we legalise drugs and regulate their consumption and quality, taking control away from organised criminals and into the hands of society, the sooner we will be able to stop pretending the stupidest policy in history is anything but a catastrophe.
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