(Last of a series on drugs in the Philippines)
HONESTLY, the strategy of President Rodrigo Duterte in dealing with drugs, while effective in scaring pushers and users out of their wits, will not make the problem of drugs go away. Furthermore, the planned re-imposition of the death penalty may not be enough. Even the President has no illusions about its deterrent effect when he admitted that it will be more in the form of retributive justice, as society’s vengeance on its criminals.
The President campaigned on a promise to eradicate drugs in three months. It is now November, and we are still faced with the problem. Of course, the prevalence of drugs may have gone down, with thousands of users and pushers surrendering, even as many have lost lives either in legitimate police operations, or in what has been labeled as deaths from extra-judicial executions, or from drug syndicates killing their own.
But I doubt that in six years the President, using this shock, awe and scare tactic, can bring a lasting solution to the problem after his term is over in 2022.
Thailand, Mexico, Colombia and other countries have tried the same strategies and their drug problems still persist.
Drugs could not be eliminated by fear, for the simple reason that fear is ranged againstequally strong human feelings–-desire for pleasure, and greed for money and power. These could not be eliminated by killing people, or by simply rehabilitating or incarcerating them.
Drugs are like alcohol, tobacco, food and sex. They are all addictive because they cater to what makes us human–-the ability to desire pleasure. This is why there arealcohol, tobacco, food and sex industries that thrive in response to this desire.
The walls of the correctional institutions, rehabilitation clinics and confessionals, and the bullets fired in a dark alley from ridings-in-tandem, the face of General Bato, even the intimidating curses by the Presidentcould not make the drug problem go away.
What will make it go away is to manage it as a human activity that would require strict controls, in the form of regulation, to remove from it the stigma, take it out of the territory of crime syndicates and deny politicians the opportunity to use it to make their political fortunes.
The solution is to license functional drug users, rehabilitate its abusers, and criminalizeany unlicensed drug-related activities.
Drug use can be functional at certain levels of use, and by certain kinds of people. Legalizing and regulating functional drug use can be implemented by a process of licensing, subject to mandatory police, medical, psychological and financial clearances. Only those without criminal records, are physically sound, psychologically functional, and financially able should be issued licenses. These licenses will be renewed periodically and more frequently, like every six months, and must prescribe the allowed dosage and frequency of use over a given period of time. These restrictions are to be encrypted in the license cards, which will be swiped in authorized drug outlets. To avoid impulsive use, there will be a time lag where the buyer will have to return the next day to pick up the purchased drugs. For more lethal drugs, which may even include shabu, sales and consumption should be limited to authorized places only, where there are health and psychological support personnel on duty.
Any sign of dysfunctionality which can be detected in the course of consumption in authorized places, or by the required psychological assessment during license renewal, will automatically lead to the cancellation or suspension of the license. This will lead to a mandatory procedure where the person showing dysfunctionality or signs of drug abuse will be processed by a mechanism involving the social welfare and development and health departments and the courts to determine the proper treatment for the person, and can include a range of intervention from counseling to mandatory rehabilitation.Social legislation can also be enacted to include drug rehabilitation as part of the coverage for medical and health insurance.
In this policy regime, any unlicensed consumption, distribution and sales of drugs will be considered a criminal offense, and will be meted the harshest penalty which our laws will provide. Consumption of drugs, even if by a licensed user, will be considered an aggravating circumstance in the determination of the severity of any crime.
Some European countries have already legalized drug use. California, through a popular vote, recently legalized medical marijuana.
Indeed, the problem is complex that would require bold solutions. Legalizationwill require an overhaul not only of our system of laws and our procedures, but also our mindsets.
President Duterte should begin to think beyond his six years.
State regulation of drug consumption, distribution and salesaddresses the natural human need for pleasure, denies crime syndicates and their political patrons the opportunity to use drugs as their capital, and removes the nesting ground for the forces attending the development of a narco-state.
It is the only sustainable solution.