On Wednesday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny walked the streets of Dublin’s north inner city.
The small community, within spitting distance of the IFSC and the ‘Silicon Docks’, has endured more than any should during the recent drug-gang feuding.
Mr Kenny’s goal is admirable: Improve the standard of life there and mitigate the damage done by violence and addiction. He spoke of “economic and social regeneration”.
Some €1.6m will be spent in and around Sherriff St, developing facilities and tidying up the urban landscape.
When ranged against the financial and criminal fire-power of the Kinahan gang, €1.6m is not much. Let’s be blunt. Dublin’s inner city will not be transformed on that budget.
I can’t help but think of the anti-drugs campaign fronted by the late first lady of the US, Nancy Reagan.
‘Just Say No’ became synonymous with missing the point. Young people in deprived parts of the US weren’t doing drugs because they were lacking in education about the effects.
That campaign ran in parallel with the ‘war on drugs’ — expensive military action that affected little change on the streets.
Don’t get me wrong. Mr Kenny has correctly identified social and economic deprivation as the pivotal factors in the Irish drugs scene. However, a failure by European policy-makers to consider the politically unpalatable may frustrate his ambition to regenerate the inner city.
There are two options currently not being pursued. Pump so much money into deprived communities that they become economically improved beyond recognition, or tackle the gangs at source by taking away their revenue.
From an economic point of view, if not a moral one, the legalisation of some drugs is becoming an increasingly compelling idea.
The rate of return for the drug lords is without comparison. Efforts by the authorities to disrupt their activities and take away some of their assets might nibble at the margins, but the business model is robust.
In the battle against the gangs in Ireland, hundreds of millions of euro are spent on policing. The global drugs trade is worth €270bn. Around half of this amount is accounted for by the trade in cannabis.
A significant chunk of the Kinahan cartel’s reputed €500m wealth is from weed. In a single swoop last year, gardaí reportedly seized €1.7m worth of their product. Yet the gang still thrives.
Economic analysis shows that the street price for the drug drops significantly once it is legalised.
The relatively high price being charged compensates dealers for the risks they must take to evade the law. If the price of cannabis falls dramatically, the business model is no longer so lucrative.
The legalisation of cannabis was once beyond the pale of decent society. When Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan put a motion before the Dáil, in 2013, proposing that it be legalised, it was overwhelmingly rejected.
However, just look at the world outside. Cannabis is now legal for recreational use in four US states and licensed for medical use in 20 others. It is effectively legal in the Netherlands. Canada is poised to legalise next year. Mexican cannabis cartels are, meanwhile, being run into the ground.
It is reported by National Public Radio in the US that a kilo of marijuana grown in Mexico five years ago was worth $90.
Now, the drug growers are getting less than half that. Marijuana seizures by the US border authorities last year fell to their lowest level in a decade.
The Mexican cartels are being put out of business by US cannabis growers.
Concerns remain, of course, that legalisation would lead to more people using the drug — and it carries mental health risks. There are also worries that it acts as a ‘gateway drug’ to harder and more dangerous substances.
The considerations about the societal risks of drug legalisation are weighed against allowing the continued existence of massive criminal gangs who can devastate communities and seemingly kill with impunity.
Of course, the likes of the Kinahan cartel could simply focus their efforts on highly lucrative drugs, such as cocaine and heroin. But take away cannabis and you take away a key revenue stream.
Ultimately, a European-level decision would be needed to reach a definitive solution.
Ireland could hardly go it alone on drug legalisation. In the meantime, the cartels will continue to coin it.
Paul Colgan is economics editor at Ireland Live News on UTV Ireland.
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