From Socialist Voice, June 2010


Headshops: a response

The article on “headshops” in the May issue of Socialist Voice raises a number of useful points, rightly drawing attention to the frenzied campaign of vilification and the paradox of this hysteria in the light of the far greater social evils being inflicted on the country at present.
     However, in response to the writer’s comments, might it be possible to advance a case against headshops, one justified on the grounds of logic and of socialist politics?
     As the writer identifies, the drugs sold in headshops are likely to do no favours for one’s health. This is presumably not much different from some legally available drugs. We have incontrovertible evidence, for example, that alcohol has hugely malign consequences for society.
     However, given that alcohol is so historically and culturally embedded in both usage and acceptance, it would be enormously difficult for policy-makers to effectively curtail or stamp out its existence in our society at present.
     Headshops, on the other hand, appear to be a relatively new phenomenon. In contrast to, say, alcohol or public houses, they cannot claim the same “embeddedness” in our society. In the absence of such longevity and embeddedness, it may be possible for society to more effectively curtail or “nip in the bud” the existence of such shops and so minimise their negative social and financial effects on society, now and in the future. Surely the masses have enough opiates? Why give them more?
     Of course there is a good argument to be made that stamping things out will not resolve underlying symptoms. However, in this case it seems that the underlying symptoms may be difficult to confidently predict and isolate anyway.
     For instance, is the use of such drugs attributable to lack of education? low self-esteem? bad parenting? lack of community facilities? poorly planned housing estates? people’s alienation from the product of their labour? or mere curiosity? Pumping resources into tackling possible symptoms may not reap any return, as our presumed causation between individual influences and usage may be spurious. Therefore, given the complexities of identifying causes and the fact that solutions may take an unknown length of time to bear fruit, it may be simply socially and financially expedient to opt for coercion.
     However, against this it might be argued that shutting down headshops would drive usage back underground. This is one implication drawn in the article. Yet how credible is this? Presumably one of the successes of headshops is that they have made the access to and distribution of such drugs much more readily available to a wider population.
     Access to illegal dealers, while certainly not impossible, is logistically more difficult and more unappealing to a wide population of people who might prefer the accessibility, legality and safety of simply going into a shop in the town. Prohibition might not stop all users from gaining access to such drugs, but it might stop a substantial body of people.
     Another argument seemingly made in favour of headshops in the article is that they are a growth area for the economy, providing jobs and much-needed funds to the exchequer. While this is true, is it credible that the relatively short-term and presumably small benefits of these shops for employment and for government finances will outweigh the likelihood of accumulated, long-term and indirect costs that usage will impose on individual users’ health and the associated financial and social costs that this will inflict on public agencies?
     And while Irish socialists should certainly encourage the development of an indigenous industrial base, are the greasy-till merchants behind headshops the kinds of enterprise we have in mind?
     finally, from the point of view of socialist ideology, surely the last thing socialists want people to allocate their free time to is the escapism of drug consumption. Given the scale of the crisis Ireland is now facing, we need people to be tuned in to what is actually going on in our society, not losing themselves in a world of cerebral intoxication. Anglo-Saxon culture already fosters far too much of this inward, individualist self-obsession at present.
     Young people would be far better served if they joined up and dedicated their free time to the Communist Party and our socialist objectives instead!

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