Domestic Affairs

High demand

By Linda Gibson (
Updated: 2010-06-28 09:33
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A report from the Beijing Higher People's Court (no pun intended) says the number of foreigners caught smuggling drugs into China has exploded in the past several years.

"The problem of foreigners smuggling drugs is getting worse," reported the Court.

Blaming foreigners for drug abuse is a predictable response. It's also incorrect. As any good capitalist could tell you, it's always the demand that determines a market, not the supply.

There are exceptions, of course, many of them. But those are products and services for which demand is created by massive amounts of advertising. Nobody really needs fast food or luxury cars, but lots of people buy them because advertisements tell them they "deserve" these things.

That isn't happening with drugs such as heroin or ketamine (or any other recreational substances except the legal one, alcohol).

Drug dealers come to China because the Chinese want to buy drugs – apparently, more of them than ever.

Incomes and stress levels have risen dramatically for many Chinese. It's not surprising that the rates of drug abuse have gone up, as well.

Here's a chance for Chinese authorities to carefully study how developed countries have coped with this problem, and avoid the expensive mistakes made in some of them. The approaches used in the United States and the Netherlands differ radically, and have produced very different results.

The Netherlands chose to stop punishing people for using small amounts of less dangerous drugs, such as marijuana. Some cities have even gone so far as to provide "safe injection rooms" where people can use hard drugs such as heroin. Drug abuse rates in the Netherlands have stabilized or decreased, and remain much smaller than in the United States.

The US still aggressively pursues its "War on drugs" policy of using law enforcement against drug use. People caught with even small amounts of marijuana for their personal use face arrest and imprisonment.

That approach costs massive amounts of money, has raised incarceration rates sky-high and still failed to reduce drug use.

China will need its own approach. The most potent weapon against wrongdoing here probably is public opinion. If authorities are going to invest any money in fighting drugs, their best return will be on public education programs about the great loss of face suffered by drug abusers.

Simply blaming foreigners for the problem won't help at all.