The Ivo Vegter Solution to Our Country’s drug problem

I was fresh out of varsity when I met Ivo Vegter in the infamous courtyard that was at the centre of ITWeb’s old offices in Rivonia and though I was at least 5 or 6 beers in, I remember it well.

Ivo was engaged in a passionate debate with someone (I forget who, but you can bet your ass they were probably losing) about how environmentalists are full of shit and I was listening with rapt attention.

See, Ivo is a fascinating person. He has an intellect that is so staggering that is it a truly epic experience listening to the man argue a point. Plus he has a powerful command of the English language and a vocabulary that is so brobdingnagian he is probably one of the few people who knows what that word even means.



Ivo currently writes for ITWeb, Brainstorm, Car Magazine and one of my favourite sources of news, The Daily Maverick which, in my opinion, is one of the few bastions of legitimate, quality journalism South Africa has left.

Ivo fearlessly bangs out a column for The Daily Maverick every Tuesday that covers such a broad variety of topics it’s hard to believe the pieces that get published all come from the same person.

I take great pleasure in reading Ivo’s work not only because he’s great at taking the most controversial and often least popular standpoints on sensitive subjects, but his writing is so damn well researched, backed up with legitimate facts and figures and unapologetically honest that it often leaves me grinning from ear to ear because holy shit, the man can argue a point.



His most recent column really caught my attention though because it deals with the controversial topic of the merits of legalising drugs and not just the softer variety, but EVERYTHING.

It’s an extreme viewpoint and one that, at the time of writing this, has already inspired a number of comments on his piece, many in favour of the legalisation of drugs.

On the surface, Ivo has a solid argument, but it fails to address some very important issues which is why, for once, I’m not sure I entirely agree with him.

Ivo argues that “the criminalisation of drugs is often the cause of drug-related crime, rather than it’s solution” and suggests that instead of threatening people with violence and prison for being involved in any way in the manufacturing, distribution or consumption of “illegal substances”, drugs should be fully legalised and more effort should rather be spent on educating people about the dangers of drugs to discourage first time use.

His argument is also based on the premise that if someone wants to do drugs, they will find a way to fulfil that need no matter how hard law enforcement tries to stop them. Prisons, as one of his commenters points out, are rife with drugs and ironically a lot of prisoners come out of prison more addicted to drugs than they were when they went in.



So fine, in theory his argument is sound – legalise drugs so that they can be better regulated, remove the social stigma associated with taking them and educate people as much as possible so that they know and understand the inherent risks involved in taking drugs.

If people do decide to go off the deep end, invest time and effort in rehabilitating them properly instead of casting them out of society and writing them off as junkies.

There’s one thing his argument fails to address though, and that’s teenage kids.

Presumably if you made drugs legal, you’d have to impose some kind of age restriction on them or you’d run the risk of having curious seven year olds getting loaded on blow. So let’s say, for argument’s sake, that drugs were illegal for kids under the age of 18, like alcohol is.

Ivo’s argument is that you’ll get the kids who are naturally curious or naughty and want to experiment and those who don’t, whether drugs are legal or not, and I agree.



BUT, if drugs are legal, it makes it that much easier for kids to experiment with substances that can instantly fuck them up for life than it would be otherwise.

I was curious as a kid, I wanted to experiment with stuff I wasn’t supposed to be experimenting with, so at 12 years old, me and a friend I got shit-faced on his dad’s supply of Two Dogs Alcoholic Lemonade whilst on holiday one night after the folks had gone to bed.

Had we been educated about the dangers of alcohol? Yes. Did we know what we were doing was dangerous to our health and could lead to addiction? Yes. Did we give a rat’s ass about any of that? Hell no.

Of course the next morning we woke up feeling like ass, our parents shat us out from a dizzy height and, our curiosity satisfied, we carried on with our teenage lives and are now gainfully employed, contributing members of society.

Let’s, for argument’s sake, replace the godawful sludge we drank that night with 2 grams of pure, uncut cocaine and think for a second about how that scenario might have played out.

Our risk of getting instantly hooked would have been a thousand times higher, our little binge would have most likely have cause lasting damage to our brains and I can almost guarantee you that from that moment on, we would have both spent the rest of our lives chasing that first immaculate high no matter what the cost.



Sure, maybe we are an example of those kids, the ones who would have experimented no matter what, but the frightening thing is that nearly everyone I know experimented with alcohol before the age of 16 in some form or other because it is so readily available, who’s to say they wouldn’t do the same with class A drugs?

The sad fact is that everyone I’ve ever met who experimented with class A drugs under the age of 16 end up developing such a hopeless addiction that by their mid-twenties all they live to do is get high and by their thirties, they are completely burned out and unable to function in any way that could vaguely be described as ‘normal’.

All the education in the world can’t stop teenage rebelliousness. As it stands, thanks to the criminalisation of drugs (as backward as it might be) far fewer young teenagers are experimenting with them than there would be if they were made 100% legal.

There’s definitely a middle ground that Ivo touches on in his argument when it comes to the policing and education behind drugs and drug use but to legalise them all outright would be to open up a can of worms that would eat through the fabric of society faster than an addict could vacuum an eight-ball.


4 Responses to “The Ivo Vegter Solution to Our Country’s drug problem”

  1. June 1, 2011 at 9:38 am

    I think I’m blushing.

    But to your point: the fallacy is that in order to protect children, a universal law is justified. By that logic, you ought to ban a whole lot more things that are bad for kids, including, for example, driving and sex.

    There’s a term for what this kind of law does: infantilisation — treating adult citizens as if they were children, unable to conduct their own lives on their own responsibility. And there’s a term for this kind of government: patriarchal — believing that the proper relationship of a government to its citizens is like a father to children, instead of like a servant to it masters.

    And seriously, a bottle of hooch is one thing, but you’d have to be a right daft idiot to let the rugrats snag R600 worth of prime blow off you. If you’re that stupid, a law isn’t going to save your kids.

    • June 1, 2011 at 10:57 am

      I argee with the theory of your argument, but in practise I think it would only work in a society where the basic level of education is much higher than it is in South Africa.

      As for leaving your blow lying around, people on drugs are notoriously irresponsible. On a long enough timeline you’d leave a bag lying somewhere where it shouldn’t be and little Johhny would be into that shit faster than you could say ‘Drew Barrymore on the set of ET’ 😉


  2. June 1, 2011 at 10:45 am

    2 grams of cocaine would outright kill kids if they managed to consume it all in a short space of time. Ditto for 2 grams of heroin.

    Legalising drugs would make the cost of them plummet, so 2 grams would not cost R600, but more like R10.

    I’m pretty sure, though, that this has very little to do with whether drugs are legal or illegal. Drug addicted parents currently use drugs. Their children have as much opportunity now to get hold of their parents stash, if they wanted to try them.

    You make it sound like the only thing preventing millions of kids from dying from experimental drug use is current law, and that could not be farther from the truth.

    Making drugs legal is not going to change society’s view of them overnight. It’s not the case that drugs will become as socially acceptable as having a drinks cabinet. So the situation of affluent middle class parents carelessly leaving alcohol around for their children to grab a couple of bottles will not extend to drugs.

    Drugs will probably still be done in secret by most users, even after legalisation, because the social stigma against them will persist.

    I’m 100% certain that right now some drug using parents have already shared their stash with their kids.

    So no change really.

  3. 4 steve
    June 2, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    I’m reminded of that whole ‘alcohol is a drug’ debate that I’ve had many times before. I too fooled around with daddy’s liqour cabinet before the state thought it was time. I fooled around way more once I was allowed to buy it without fear of my fake id being exposed. (archer’s peach scnapps is supposed to be reference here somehow).

    As it turns out I survived ok, and I have never had the urge to try hard drugs. I put that down to the legislation more than the education. I see holland is phasing out the coffee shops too now.

    ps. Ivo, I own a few bikes and work in renewable energy, but still enjoy your columns – go figure!

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