Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Monday, May 09, 2005

They'll get my bong when they pry it from my cold dead hand

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.

So high they let Ringo sing a couple of songs

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 supply chain.

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.


Blogger L said...

Have you ever read the letters of Henry Root? He once wrote a very amusing letter to someone in the House of Commons stating: "Can you give me your assurance, Sir, as our future Home Secretary, that cannabis will not be legalised however harmless it turns out to be....?"

10/5/05 03:00  
Anonymous David Duff said...

Sit down, Jim, and light up - I agree with you!

As an ideal, I would like *all* drugs made available on much the same basis as cigarettes and alcohol. I would scrap and sack all those useless 'drug-busting' agencies and spend the money on high profile advertising the risks. I would also scrap all drug rehab units - if people choose to go into drugs, why should I have to pay for their recovery?

Unfortunately all that is strictly for the birds, because unless other antions agree to do the same, the criminal elements will move in big-time.

I have no expertise, but commonsense tells me that cannabis will harm you over time - ever wonder why you are so depressed? And finally, cigarette smoking is about to be made a criminal offence when the anti-smokers get their way.

10/5/05 16:43  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

David, every time you comment on my blog you seem to have a new reason for "why I'm so depressed".

Here's a couple of points for you. 1) I don't employ you as an analyst. 2) If I did I would fire you, because you are incredibly shit at it.

Also, you're absolutely correct when you announce that you "have no expertise" on the subject of cannabis.

There is some concern that the effects of cannabis smoking may trigger schizophrenia in a very small number of people who are already predisposed to that illness. However, there's no evidence to suggest that it has anything to do with depression; except as a potential therapy.

Also, it dramatically lowers the frequency of my migraines which - alone - would be reason enough for me to be a toker. But yes, it's a bugger on the chest which is the big reason I'm thinking of cutting back.

And look David, I already know why I've suffered from depression in the past, OK? I don't need to "wonder about it". I'm a pretty self-aware person when all's said and done, and the primary reasons for my depression are events in my life which I have never even hinted at online. So, in all honesty, you'd do us both a favour if you stopped trying to play amateur shrink.

I mean, I could tell you what I think that says about you. But why bother? I haven't the faintest idea of what's really motivating you.

L, I read the Henry Root letters a while ago (I recently gave my copy to a charity shop though, so I can't look it up). I really enjoyed them though. His tendency to slip some cash in with the letters was sheer genius as it really puts the recipient on the spot.

Harry Hutton over at Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry is keeping the Henry Root tradition alive. Scroll down to the 'hoaxes' section on his blog for some very funny letters.

10/5/05 18:56  
Anonymous David Duff said...

Also, I can't help wondering if cannabis doesn't cause shortness of temper and general irritability? Now, where did I get that idea from?

The words "chill" and "out" spring to mind, but don't ask me what they mean!

10/5/05 22:28  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

Also, I can't help wondering if cannabis doesn't cause shortness of temper and general irritability? Now, where did I get that idea from?

I have no idea David. You tell me.

Are you suggesting your snide remarks that my positions on political issues spring more from mental imbalance than reasoned argument or painstaking research shouldn't inspire shortness of temper or irritability in me?

That's what you're saying, right?

"Hey Jim, chill out man... it's just depression caused by your peak-oil pessimistic doom-mongering leftie pot-smoking"

And you don't think, David, that
writing deeply unpleasant vitriol like...
"I would also scrap all drug rehab units - if people choose to go into drugs, why should I have to pay for their recovery?"
might not be legitimately irritating when it's in response to an article that mentions the death of close friends from drug misuse?

And whilst it may be your opinion that they "got what they deserved" (or whatever piece of libertarian bullshit you choose to fool yourself with), don't act so bloody surprised if it pisses of people who lost loved ones. OK?

"Ooooh Jim, chill out! Don't you understand that's it's so passé to actually care about anything?! I'm just playing with words here in a joyless attempt to wind up someone who still gives a shit."

Well fuck off then David. Feigning surprise at my irritation at your remarks is just bloody childish.

And let me explain something, very quickly, here. You shouldn't have to "pay for their recovery". It's something that a compassionate society chooses to do. And sadly, David, so long as people like you exist in large numbers, a compassionate society will remain an empty dream.

10/5/05 22:55  
Blogger merrick said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Daid's suggestion of scrapping rehab. As he says, 'if people choose to go into drugs why should I pay for their recovery?'.

By the same token, I'm sure David agrees with my wish to do away with A&E departments in hospitals.

If people choose to drive cars, use kitchen knives or whatever causes their injury, then it's their own fault. They knew the risks when they got in the car or started chopping carrots.

Imagine the savings to the NHS when we stop treating people who brought on their own heart condition by eating too much animal produce, or cancer from smoking. In fact, as a non-parent man I don't see why I should pay to indulge people who want to be having children either. Scrap maternity wards.

These junkies chose their addiction, and they should stay in it until they can either pay to get out or find the strength to quit.

The fact that such strength is unlikely - as evidenced by them being junkies in the first place - well, it's not my concern.

These people may have been given such a raw deal in life that they have a dependent personality that made them a junkie? I know it's not their fault, but it's not mine either.

Aside from ignoring any need for compassion, a lack of blaming people for circumstances beyond their control, and a desire for improving the quality of life for the addict and all their family and friends who are putting up with them, I'd also like to join with David in ignoring the fact that rehab is a damn sight cheaper than dealing with the cost of all the burglaries, muggings, prosecutions and imprisonments that continued addiction causes.

12/5/05 12:05  
Anonymous David Duff said...

I have been away for two days, sorry for the late comment.

Alas, I must pass by on the other side of the street from Jim who is fast resembling one of those pugnacious characters who thrust their face into yours and demand to know if you're looking at them? Just in passing, and at the risk of sending his blood pressure sky-high, I have just read an article in (whisper who dares) The Daily Mail written by Rosie Boycott, a former campaigner for the free use of cannabis, who has now retracted on the grounds that the old-style cannabis which was (relatively) harmless, has been replaced by 'skunk' which, according to a whole list of 'experts' and doctors she quotes, cause alarming psychiatric side-effects.

As for merrick, he takes an enormously wide hay-maker of a swing - and misses completely! I do indeed believe that anyone who uses a hospital should pay for it directly. Apparently no-one has told merrick that in fact everyone who uses a hospital *does* pay for it, it's just that they do so indirectly via a vast, ungainly , inefficient and hugely expensive bureaucracy. Obviously he has swallowed whole the silly notion that the NHS is "free".

I can only apologise for the deep shock I have induced in him by my, apparently preposterous, notion that apart from a tiny number of people suffering from mental illness, the remainder of the population should take responsibility for their own freely chosen actions.

Anyway, I'm just off to put the deeds of the house on the 2.30 at Kempton Park, and I shall look forward to merrick's contribution to my re-housing problems should the nag fail.

14/5/05 16:09  
Blogger Dave Heasman said...

".....apart from a tiny number of people suffering from mental illness, the remainder of the population should take responsibility for their own freely chosen actions. "

Yep. Shouldn't have had that baby - it needs a heart transplant & you can't afford it.
Shouldn't have lived until you're 90 - now you've got no money left to control your Parkinson's.

Let's have moral gatekeepers in every doctor's surgery, every A & E. No need to put them in ICUs, we'll just close them. A new world fit for policemen.

17/5/05 12:57  
Blogger K said...

Why not tax the sale of cannabis (and every other drug that you legalize) to help pay for rehab clinics / additional NHS treatments, etc? That's (effectively) what they do with cigarettes and alcohol already.

Seems like a reasonable halfway-house between 'everyone paying for treatment/rehab' and 'only users paying for treatment/rehab'. It's not like the exorbitant taxes on alcohol and cigarettes have stopped people taking them (though perhaps they have reduced the amount people can afford).

And Jim, I think there can be a fair argument made that by legalizing and offering for sale a drug through 'conventional' channels that is guaranteed to be safer, cleaner and cheaper than it is now would result in more people using it. I don't take drugs because I don't know enough about them, where I can get them and what's in them, but if they were for sale in the chemist or ASDA then I might give something a go - and I don't really think the attitudes towards users of the businesses offering such drugs would be that far divorced from the criminals who offer it now.

17/5/05 14:40  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

K, that's precisely why I do not argue for "businesses" offering such drugs. That's Mr. Duff's view, if I understand him correctly, and I think it would be a disaster.

Heroin addiction is a problem. People shouldn't ever be punished for being an addict, but nor should anything be done to encourage their addiction. That's why I don't propose that drugs like heroin and cocaine be available in chemists or in ASDA.

They should be available (as in the Swiss model which works, and does not encourage new addicts) from specialist clinics where the addict has access to the drug and to information, advice and help on how best to quit using it.

The system would allow addicts to normalise their lives and get out of crime, without making the drug any more visible to the general public than it is now (indeed, it will reduce the visibility in all likelihood).

As for cannabis, I think the Dutch approach is pretty good, though not perfect. I believe the full legalisation and taxation of cannabis would be a very positive move, with a licensed coffeeshop system similar to the Netherlands being introduced.

And I think that stricter controls should be placed on cigarettes to reduce public visibility and de-normalise that drug (with tobacco only being available from licensed specialist shops, and not in the supermarket or petrol station or sweet shop).

The evidence from Holland was that cannabis use rose at a rate slightly more than the European average immediately after the coffeeshop system was introduced. However, the rate fell back again soon afterwards, and now Holland has a smaller proportion of cannabis users than most European states (though pot tourism does boost the actual amount of cannabis used the country quite significantly); quite aside from the other social benefits of the policy.

So K whilst I have no doubt that drug use would spiral upwards if the likes of Philip Morris could flog 7 different brands of crack cocaine from the local sweet shop, there's evidence that implementing a sensible and controlled policy of legalisation would actually reduce both the number of drug users over time, and any harm being done to them.

17/5/05 15:58  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A more pessimistic person would say drugs are illegal because the government (at least the US government) receives no taxes on it. Sad, but who knows what goes on in the heads of politicians.

11/1/06 08:08  
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17/3/07 19:42  

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