Barely two days had passed since the election before Tony Blair had me slapping my forehead. Imagine hypothetical elections in Germany in 1937 with Hitler getting returned with a reduced majority. "I have listened, and I have learnt. And I acknowledge that things must change around here. For a start, we're going to make sure the trains stop running on time..."
The declassification of cannabis from a Class B to a Class C drug was one of the few acts of the Labour government that made me think, "Well yeah, the tories wouldn't have done that... Labour really are measurably better in some ways". Of course the declassification went nowhere near far enough. And there's a fairly strong argument that by putting such a popular recreational drug into a legal "halfway house" it could actually do more harm than good. But it was clearly a statement of intent... a decision to get more practical and less blindly dogmatic about drug policy.
Within hours of his third election victory, however, Tony Blair was announcing his decision to re-examine the declassification
with a view to reversing it. Bloody marvellous!
It's a little bit cheeky, when you think about it, only announcing the day after
an election your decision to recriminalise 6% of the electorate. Not that I voted NuLabor, but it might have been nice of Tony to let me know his intention to put me in prison
when his candidate was asking for my vote. Y'think?
At least Michael Howard was upfront about his wish to ruin my life and turn me from a productive member of society into a financial liability.
It's such a load of old bollocks as well. There's no argument in favour of cannabis prohibition that actually makes sense
. Once you take out the weird puritan "thou shalt not have fun in ways I don't understand" irrationality that motivates most prohibitionists, the actual reasons for cannabis use being a criminal activity just don't add up.
Take this quote from the BBC article...
"Thirty or 40 years ago I was writing that cannabis was a drug without harm and dependency but I've had to eat my hat now," he says. "That doesn't mean it's a growing evil but, rather like cigarettes, we need controls in place and a serious message.
And we've decided that the best way to deal with cigarettes is to imprison all the users, and transfer production and supply into the hands of criminals. Right?
Oh hang on a second. We haven't done that, have we? Even though cigarettes are incredibly addictive and directly responsible for hundreds of thousands of slow painful deaths every year
. Why haven't we done that then?
Because it'd be fucking ridiculous. Right? That's why.
Let's get a few things straight...
- cannabis is not harmless. However it is demonstrably less harmful - from both health and social standpoints - than either tobacco or alcohol;
- the prohibition of cannabis increases the health risks associated with cannabis use;
- the legalisation and control of cannabis would not be without hitches and drawbacks; but done correctly it would be a clear net benefit to society.
Before "peak oil" and sustainability became the wasp in my fedora, I was a bit of an evangelist on the subject of drug law reform. This emerged from two disparate directions.
Firstly I was, and am, a believer in the use of altered states to access certain kinds of knowledge and wisdom. These states can be achieved through a variety of means; one of which is the consumption of visionary plants.
Secondly, during my early twenties, a whole bunch of my very close friends died from drug misuse (overdoses and misidentification) within a fairly short period of time.
These two different strands were woven together and I wound up editing and publishing a zine called Heads and Tales
(thanks to my liberation of stationery and printing facilities from my then employer). This was half-filled with a combination of articles denouncing the War On (some) Drugs, ideas for legal reform and mad bits of psychedelia; and it was half-filled with authoritative (read: "stolen") articles on individual drugs... with a particular emphasis on harm reduction.
Once in a while (it happened only last week actually) I'll bump into someone who, because of some hint or other in the conversation, will exclaim; "Hang on! Are you ****** Jim? You did that magazine, right? Oh man, it totally saved my life one Glastonbury... [insert tale of near drug disaster averted by someone saying "this magazine here says we should do this..."]
Anyways, it's a big issue for me; sensible drug policy. Almost everyone I know who died through illegal drug use would still be alive had the drug been accessed through a legal, controlled
See it just makes no sense. Why are drugs illegal?Because they can be dangerous to the user.
But leaving aside the fact that we don't, as a rule, ban things because they can be dangerous (sky-diving, drinking alcohol, eating fast food, contact sports, etc.)... the prohibition of drugs is clearly making them more
dangerous to the user.Because they are bad for society.
But if alcohol prohibition in the United States proved anything, it's that extremely violent criminal gangs will gladly sell drugs if nobody else is allowed to. Not only does this drive up the price of the drug (which, if it's highly addictive will then drive a proportion of its users towards theft in order to sustain their addiction), but it also leads to an increase in gun crime (and violent crime in general) as disputes between rival dealers can hardly be settled in the courts.Because getting high is wrong
No it's not. Anyways, we're not supposed to legislate articles of faith. And that's the most generous thing I can say about the "it's immoral" line.Because lots more people would use drugs if they were legal
Firstly; there's no evidence for that. And what little evidence there is (and it is very scant - so neither side can claim genuine authority here) would seem to contradict it. The Dutch model has worked, despite claims to the contrary by people who visit the red light district of Amsterdam and assume that tells them anything... as though a walk through Soho on a Saturday night is representative of Britain as a whole. And though their policies don't go far enough, the Netherlands is one of the few countries in the world where the average age of heroin addicts is rising (meaning fewer new
addicts... suggesting the 'market separation' policy has worked).
Anyways, the Dutch model is very specific and very limited. A fully legalised supply would address many of the glitches it has thrown up. Imagine if heroin addicts bought a clean supply, in a clean needle, at cost price, from someone who would refer them immediately to a counsellor should they express a desire to quit. Right now they buy contaminated crap of unknown strength from people who have a vested interest only in making them more profitable customers.
I know which of those systems is more likely to cause an explosion of drug use. And the incredible rise in heroin addiction after it was taken out of the hands of doctors and placed into the control of organised crime would seem to suggest this.
And as for cannabis... yes it has risks. Risks that would be far better mitigated if those experiencing problematic cannabis use didn't have to worry about criminal prosecution when they sought help. But the reality is that for the vast majority of tokers, the greatest danger pot ever poses them is that of being punished for it's possession. Which is absurd.