In May, the Spanish newspaper El País reported that police believe that Islamist terrorist organizations are smuggling hashish into Europe to fund their activities. Those who favor decriminalizing the use and sale of the drug will point to the terrorist drug trade as an argument in their favor. It is the illegality of drugs that makes the trade so hugely profitable for terrorists, they will say. Yet the beneficial effects of decriminalization in the fight against terror are doubtful. Terrorists would not simply give up if they could no longer make money smuggling hashish. They would probably just take up other forms of racketeering.
As I was reading El País, however, a different question formed in my mind. Suppose that the authorities proved beyond doubt the connection between Islamist terrorism and drug smuggling; and suppose also that they could prove that the terrorists could find no other source of income. What proportion of drug takers would give up their drug use as a consequence of this knowledge, so as to prevent terrorist acts?
The question, once asked, causes me some anxiety. For having spent considerable time with drug abusers in my practice, I suspect that the answer would be: not many. Most illegal drug takers, I fear, would choose to indulge in their private pleasures rather than to secure their fellow citizens’ safety. They would consider the death and mayhem that terrorists might cause—most unlikely, statistically speaking, to affect them personally—a small price to pay to maintain their little chemical nirvanas.
Am I wrong?