I’d love a bit of Green

I enjoyed watching these two six sided squares discussing the legalisation of drugs today. In principle I’m with Bob Ainsworth, as you might imagine. There are so many great reasons for legalisation, I hardly know where to start. How, for example, did states accrue so much power that they feel able to dictate what their citizens put into their own mouths? How can it be illegal to smoke a weed which grows pretty much anywhere, or to pick mushrooms which grow on the school playing field? Why make LSD and MDMA illegal? We know how far down they are on any list of drug harm, and we also know that criminalisation opens up the market for chemists making legal but untested highs. We don’t know what harm meow-meow does, but we do know that acid does very little. (And yes, I know that mephadrone is illegal now. More enemies in The War on Drugs, which means more money for enforcement agencies.)

The  guy talking against Ainsworth was great. He really looked like Your Dad. No great surprise that he’s against, though I bet he enjoys a few glasses of whisky at the end of a long day telling people what they can and can’t do to themselves. It’s rotting his liver, but that’s his choice. He tried to say that the old British system of being able to obtain heroin and cocaine from doctors failed. It didn’t fail. It was swept aside by anti-drug hysteria. According to Richard Davenport-Hines in his excellent ‘The Pursuit of  Oblivion’ in 1947, there were about 400 registered addicts of various opiates; 84 of them doctors. Although you could buy a script from a corrupt doctor (old friends talk with some affection of a Dr Peto who used to sit in the cafe at Sloane Square Tube writing prescriptions for a few bob a time), heroin use even by the end of the sixties was still restricted to about 2000 people. With criminalisation came the explosion in use, because it opened the market to criminals. Now, about 72% of people in prison are there because of drug related crime. As I learned during the research for ‘The Longest Crawl’, substance abuse, over most of human history, tends to go up in times of prohibition, and level off during periods of liberalisation. Moderation must be the policy, not abstinence.

So I agree with Ainsworth, but I think he’s advocating the wrong policy.  Two old straights arguing on a TV studio sofa do not a debate make. This old head sitting here going on about stuff he’s been going on about for almost 40 years doesn’t really make the blindest bit of difference.  It is time to make ‘the drugs debate’ real.

At the last election, the Green Party called for a Royal Commission on drugs, and I feel sure that this is the way forward. I’d like to see Mr Ainsworth pressing for one too, as it stands a chance of coming off. No one, probably even me, is going to vote for legalisation if we don’t know what is being legalised and how, or even, for that matter, what we actually mean by ‘drugs’. Top bit of realpolitik, I reckon it would be. Let Peter Hitchins and Melanie Phillips and Richard Littlejohn and their hypocritical ilk queue up to make their case against a Royal Commision. We are lucky enough to have proper ways of making decisions in this country. We should make use of them.

8 Responses

  1. Ian Marchant says:

    Actually , the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act did take Wooton’s views into account, up to a point, in that penalties for spliff possession were substantially reduced. But Wooton’s remit was only cannabis; the Green Party are calling for a wider review of drugs laws,which seems to me like a good thing; because the odd lone MP standing up in parliament calling for sanity is always going to be shouted down; whereas a proper Report will be harder to ignore, and might fill the cowardly corrupt hearts of politicians with some small degree of courage, and enable them to come out in favour.

  2. Chas Ambler says:

    I would refer the writer to Barbara Wooton’s Royal Commission in 1968 which suggested the liberalisation of the law. Jim Callaghan – one of those great Labour freedom fighters said in Parliament that he had no intention of taking any notice of no pesky Royal Commission chaired by an old biddy and full of mamby-pamby do gooders – and proceeded to increase penalties – engendering a well oiled black market ready and waiting to receive the cheap heroin of the the early 70s. They pay no attention to Royal Commissions that come up with arguments they don’t like, just as they pay no attention to research on education that tells them what they KNOW by common sense, is wrong. Drugs policy is run by people who behave as though they’re on drugs – and not very nice ones.

  3. Ian Marchant says:

    We do our best, my darling. Keep missing you on the rare occassions I get to Newhaven…

  4. Ian Marchant says:

    And a Royal Commission might make useful recommendations about what those controls should be.

  5. Stuart Ralston says:

    Great choice of music! I love Ijahman Levi and Alton Ellis!

  6. Hilary Marchant says:

    Yes, fair enough. And I certainly think that leaving so many drugs open only to the criminal market is a bad idea; it’s just that, as alcohol proves, dangerous substances within the non-criminal system won’t necessarily find a harmless level without some controls in place (such as, for example, managing the price and range of supply).

  7. Ian Marchant says:

    Well, you may be right. It wasn’t the case after the hysteria generated by 18thC gin craze died away, or post-prohibition in the States, but it might be now. After all, it’s a few years since I researched The Longest Crawl; I could be totally wrong about levelling off during periods of liberalisation. This is exactly the kind of evidence a Royal Commission might look at.

  8. Hilary Marchant says:

    The Office for National Statistics reckons that the alcohol-related death figure in the UK doubled from 4,144 deaths in 1991 to 9,031 deaths in 2008. Not exactly a levelling-off during a period of liberalisation….

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