Whatever Gets You Through the Night

The time has come to rethink the drug issue: Instead of making all drugs illegal, there should be differentiation between various types of drugs and various types of users.

I recently went to a party with a large group of people, a pleasant and joyful gathering. There were idle conversations and deep ones, bursts of laughter and stormy debates. Most of us were 40 years old or more - busy people, most with children. It seemed that for a few hours we were free of cares and worries.

There were all kinds of refreshments, including high-quality alcoholic beverages. Most people drank wine, some sipped whiskey, and a few preferred vodka or Campari and orange juice. Some were smoking marijuana or hashish. Two people said they were on Ritalin, so they were staying away from alcohol, but they were calm and happy anyway. The next day, some of those present had headaches and took an Advil for relief. In the final tally, including the cost of the hangover, it was quite a successful party.

About two weeks ago, the media reported that two Israeli drug dealers, Vladimir Akronik and Alon Makhlouf, had been sentenced to death in Thailand after being convicted of smuggling Ecstasy. It was also reported that an international drug-smuggling network had been exposed in the Haifa port, and that the police were upping their efforts to catch drug dealers in and beyond Israel, and send them to jail.

Uncontrolled trafficking in hard drugs is without a doubt dangerous, and everything possible should be done to root it out. And yet, it is interesting to stop for a minute and think about the great divide in the eyes of both the media and public opinion, in the way they relate to consumers of alcohol and drugs, on the one hand, and the dealers who supply the means of serenity, on the other. It's as if they were from two different planets.

About 66 percent of Israeli adults and about 50 percent of teens in the school system consume alcoholic beverages at least occasionally. About 10 percent of school students in Israel and about 10.5 percent of adults occasionally make "some illegal use" of psycho-active substances, according to a comprehensive survey by the Anti-Drug Authority from 2005. The survey covered 9,000 students and 5,000 adults, a representative sample of Israel's population. Among adults who use illegal psycho-active substances, the survey showed that most use cannabis (marijuana or hashish) or illegally obtained prescription drugs, including Ritalin, Sinufed or tranquilizers. Among students, along with cannabis, the use of illegally obtained prescription tranquilizers is particularly high, as is use of Ecstasy.

The Anti-Drug Authority carefully collects data on the use of all drugs in Israel, including alcohol. In Israel, the most common "behavior- and mood-altering" drugs are alcohol, cannabis and tranquilizers. The common wisdom today among experts - and this is also the position of the establishment, the Anti-Drug Authority - is that alcohol is a drug in every sense. Its use affects mood and might be fatal if one drives while under the influence (some 8 percent of drivers involved in accidents were under the influence of alcohol), it impairs coordination and decision-making, and over a long period, it can cause liver damage. The link between alcohol abuse and violent behavior is also uncontestable. At the same time, no one contends that there is a similar link between marijuana, Ecstasy or Ritalin use and violent behavior.

In the final analysis, these are the facts: Uncontrolled use of drugs, including alcohol, is dangerous. A very high portion of the population consumes alcohol legally; hundreds of thousands of Israelis consume illegal drugs - mainly cannabis, as well as tranquilizers and Ecstasy. A negligible number also use heroin and cocaine.

And yet, the law in Israel sanctions the use and sale of alcohol, whereas it prohibits the sale and use of other drugs. Meanwhile, the upper world of consumers of cannabis, Ritalin and Ecstasy tramples indifferently on the nether world of the drug dealers. And despite police action and the public opprobrium, drug use in Israel is not on the decline. On the contrary, an ongoing and sharp rise in the consumption of alcohol and illegal psycho-active drugs was seen between 1989 and 2005.

The time has come to rethink the drug issue: Instead of making all drugs illegal, there should be differentiation between various types of drugs and various types of users. Just as children are prohibited from buying or using alcohol, selling them marijuana, Ritalin and Ecstasy should likewise be outlawed. Adults should decide for themselves how to obtain the means to calm themselves, and bear full responsibility for the consequences.