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In all societies, crime is a growth industry. Millions of professionals - judges, police officers, criminologists, psychologists, journalists, publishers, prosecutors, lawyers, social workers, probation officers, wardens, sociologists, non-governmental-organizations, weapons manufacturers, laboratory technicians, graphologists, and private detectives - derive their livelihood, parasitically, from crime. They often perpetuate models of punishment and retribution that lead to recidivism rather than to to reintegration of criminals in society and their rehabilitation.
Organized in vocal interest groups and lobbies, they harp on insecurities and phobias of alienated urbanites. They consume ever growing budgets and rejoice with every new behaviour criminalized by exasperated lawmakers. In majority of countries, justice system is a dismal failure and law enforcement agencies are part of problem, not its solution.
The sad truth is that many types of crime are considered by people to be normative and common behaviours and, thus, go unreported. Victim surveys and self-report studies conducted by criminologists reveal that most crimes go unreported. The protracted fad of criminalization has rendered criminal many perfectly acceptable and recurring behaviours and acts. Homosexuality, abortion, gambling, prostitution, pornography, and suicide have all been criminal offences at one time or another.
But quintessential example of over-criminalization is drug abuse.
There is scant medical evidence that soft drugs such as cannabis or MDMA ("Ecstasy") - and even cocaine - have an irreversible effect on brain chemistry or functioning. Last month an almighty row erupted in Britain when Jon Cole, an addiction researcher at Liverpool University, claimed, to quote "The Economist" quoting "Psychologist", that:
"Experimental evidence suggesting a link between Ecstasy use and problems such as nerve damage and brain impairment is flawed ... using this ill-substantiated cause-and-effect to tell 'chemical generation' that they are brain damaged when they are not creates public health problems of its own."
Moreover, it is commonly accepted that alcohol abuse and nicotine abuse can be at least as harmful as abuse of marijuana, for instance. Yet, though somewhat curbed, alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking are legal. In contrast, users of cocaine - only a century ago recommended by doctors as tranquilizer - face life in jail in many countries, death in others. Almost everywhere pot smokers are confronted with prison terms.
The "war on drugs" - one of most expensive and protracted in history - has failed abysmally. Drugs are more abundant and cheaper than ever. The social costs have been staggering: emergence of violent crime where none existed before, destabilization of drug-producing countries, collusion of drug traffickers with terrorists, and death of millions - law enforcement agents, criminals, and users.
Few doubt that legalizing most drugs would have a beneficial effect. Crime empires would crumble overnight, users would be assured of quality of products they consume, and addicted few would not be incarcerated or stigmatized - but rather treated and rehabilitated.
That soft, largely harmless, drugs continue to be illicit is outcome of compounded political and economic pressures by lobby and interest groups of manufacturers of legal drugs, law enforcement agencies, judicial system, and aforementioned long list of those who benefit from status quo.
Only a popular movement can lead to decriminalization of more innocuous drugs. But such a crusade should be part of a larger campaign to reverse overall tide of criminalization. Many "crimes" should revert to their erstwhile status as civil torts. Others should be wiped off statute books altogether. Hundreds of thousands should be pardoned and allowed to reintegrate in society, unencumbered by a past of transgressions against an inane and inflationary penal code.
This, admittedly, will reduce leverage state has today against its citizens and its ability to intrude on their lives, preferences, privacy, and leisure. Bureaucrats and politicians may find this abhorrent. Freedom loving people should rejoice.
Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory Bellaonline, and Suite101 .
Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com