The myth of the ‘Drug Pusher’

Posted: June 12, 2013 in Drugs
Tags: , , , , , , ,

In Puberty Blues (the book, not the movie or TV show), there is a classic line where the protagonist’s mother warns her not to sit on the aisle at the movie theatre because “some pusher might come along and jab god-knows-what into your arm”.

An Aussie classic

An Aussie classic

Growing up I was always being warned about malevolent people who would seek me out and trick me into trying drugs, providing them for free until I was hooked.  Then they would charge extravagant prices once they had me in their evil clutches.  We had police officers coming to school to scare the bejeezus out of us with descriptions of the tricks they would use, disguising them as lollies, or jabbing us unexpectedly, with one hit leading to a lifetime of addiction and certain early death.

This, I presume, is where the term drug ‘pusher’ came from.  It described people who ‘pushed’ their wares onto others who otherwise might not be interested in trying them.

Of course, I never came into contact with one of these mythical creatures, though like Deb in Puberty Blues I knew where to find people with access to all manner of drugs from an early age.  My work has also brought me into contact with numerous drug dealers over the years.  Never, in all that time, have I met a one who seeks out customers or tries to convince the reluctant to try their wares.

The trial I attended of small-time drug dealer Paul Howard is a case in point.  Several text messages to and by him were read out in court and they made it clear that customers sought out he and his products, not the other way around.  A first time offender who the judge described as having excellent rehabilitation prospects, he received a sentence of 3.5 years, with a non-parole period of 1 year, 9 months.  He was not a predator.  He did not lurk outside schoolyards trying to tempt kids into trying drugs.  He responded to demand by an informed, adult clientele.

Compare that to the sentence of someone who offended at a similar time in the same Australian state of Victoria, Ken Bayliss.   (Warning: graphic descriptions of extreme child sexual abuse contained in that link). This repeat offender received a total sentence of 3 years, 6 months’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of 2 years.  A very similar sentence, but I know which one I would prefer to have walking around free in my home town.

Sentencing for drug offences seems out of proportion to harm caused, especially when compared to sentences for violent offenders.  Both of the above crimes (selling drugs and distributing material depicting actual child rapes) cause harm to others.  The big difference is that the vast majority of harm caused by drug offences comes from the fact of drugs being illegal rather than from the drugs themselves.  Selling, say, heroin or cocaine contributes to brutalities and deaths in Afghanistan and Mexico due to warring cartels in the source countries. Selling MDMA or crystal meth probably props up organised crime groups who have a monopoly on the manufacturing process.  In both cases, the brutality would stop if drugs were no longer illegal and could be sourced ethically.  End-user deaths and other harms that are connected with drug use would also be mitigated by a consistent and regulated product.

The myth of the drug pusher as predator persists, despite worldwide surveys repeatedly reporting that the vast majority of drug users get introduced to drugs by family and friends, not dealers.  In fact, they will rarely meet a dealer until their drug use has become habitual – in other words, most users will never meet a dealer at all.  And nearly all users make an informed, adult (again, borne out by the surveys) choice to start – and in many cases finish soon after – taking drugs.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the online drug markets.  What with understanding Tor, sourcing bitcoins, sorting out the scammers from the real deal, working out drop addresses, and avoiding Customs or postal interception, people have to really, really want their drug of choice.  Nobody who visits these places is tricked or forced in any way to ingest illicit substances.

And in at least some cases, people on these sites are committing a completely victimless crime.  The most obvious examples are the vendors who grow their own cannabis or mushrooms and sell them directly to the person who will ingest them.

The time for a rethink on drug policy is far overdue.  The money being spent on this immoral ‘war’ could be poured into health, education and fighting the sort of crime that actually hurts people.  The first step is to stop the misinformation.

Comments
  1. Matteo says:

    brilliant, brilliant, brilliant article. oh for more of this enlightened view!!!!

  2. secretadmirer says:

    Hi, ATV.

    Defending the Undefendable by Prof. Walter Block contains a chapter on drug pushers. According to Prof. Block, drug pushers are not only not doing anything wrong, they are in fact heroes! It is a very short chapter, a few simple pages, and it will certainly add weighty economic and philosophical backing to your views.

    You can DL the book here free of charge.

    http://mises.org/document/3490

    There are pdf versions and epub versions (for mobile and tablets).

    Keep up the good work!

  3. Anonymous says:

    The problem with this argument is that to many people it only exemplifies the lenient sentences handed to child molestors not the excessive nature of drug sentences.

    Paul Howard was doing what he was doing because he was greedy. He then scrambled for whatever excuse he could find in order to manipulate the court to give him a more lenient sentence. Whether it was outright lying about you enticing him to deal on SR through an article you hadn’t even written yet or trying to blame his predicament on his upbringing, he knew what he was doing and his biggest mistake was not understanding the laws he was breaking before he was caught. He is not a martyr and doesn’t deserve to be treated as one.

    The battle to ensure sensible drug policy won’t come by convincing people to feel sorry for drug dealers. It will come by exposing the moral corruption of the police, politicians, and the press. We need to intelligently respond to the ignorant rhetoric these institutions continually bombard us with using reasoned arguments and relatable examples.

    • secretadmirer says:

      Define ‘drug dealer’. In the broadest definition it includes all kinds of people that don’t deserve to be locked up.

  4. […] In a recent blog post, Ormsby wrote about The myth of the ‘Drug pusher’: […]

  5. dr00gs says:

    In the hood, and desperate poor areas like Favelas in Brazil there very much was “pushers”, these guys were known for handing out crack samples in exchange for future addicts. This doesn’t happen anymore, and Rocinha banned crack being sold in their favela though rest of Brazil’s slums are still full of drugs.

    Anyways that’s where the myth came from, 1980s DC projects and crackshacks in shantytowns, not modern street dealers. Sentencing for drugs is crazy because so much money is involved. A well organized group could be making multi millions per month with enough disposable income to wage war on competitors and cause chaos. Their solution to prevent this is make the sentencing excessive, while using myths of the 1980s crack epidemic to sell it to the public. Reality is nothing will stop these guy’s, not even the death penalty as China is overrun with drug dealers just like anywhere else. Only solution is full legalization sucking the windfall profits out of the equation. Use the extra 10 billion per year in tax dollars from narco sales to open free addiction clinics and more hospitals.

  6. Diamorphine says:

    Good piece. The myth of the evil pusher lurking outside schools handing out free samples of his wares to naive kids was mentioned by William S. Burroughs in his book ‘Junky’. The protagonist (a thinly veiled Burroughs) says at one point that no dealer in his right mind would seek out a young kid and manipulate him/her into getting hooked because kids make the worst customers. They likely don’t have enough money to keep a decent habit going and thus tend to beg for freebies or ask for credit and promise to “pay next time”, they are more likely to try to rob the dealer, and if he’s busted selling to a minor the law comes down harder. They are basically an unprofitable hassle and avoided if possible. A dealer might sell to (or rip off) a kid who shows up with money in hand, but he won’t be going out of his way to cultivate a school-age client base.

  7. Tim J Benham says:

    Bayliss wasn’t convicted because of molesting children or even for accessing depictions of “actual child rapes”. He was convicted of engaging in chats where such (possibly fantasy) activity was described. I don’t think that should be a crime. Nor should selling drugs, of course.

  8. […] display of classic red flags for abuse. (And not for the first time, either.) He sounds like the (equally mythical) drug pusher, deliberately creating in the first place the very problem that only he can solve. […]

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