Just Say Yes

An exasperated Nicky Wire from the Manic Street Preachers said in the nineties that:

I get letters from [The Independent and Creation Records]  all the time saying (whiny voice): ‘Please sign this petition to legalise cannabis.’ Because we’re radical. It really annoys me that people associate it with left-wing radicalism. That’s not gonna cure all the ills of the world, is it?! That’s not gonna sort out the NHS! Sort out unemployment!

A decade later, the Observer has a round table discussion on the drugs issue. It tends to focus on cannabis. The prohibitionists hate weed because of its permissive sixties associations and because they see it as a ‘gateway’ to harder drugs. Liberals and libertarians concentrate their energies on cannabis because it’s seen as the softest illegal drug and if we can get that legalised then the rest will fall like dominoes.

I don’t think cannabis is a ‘gateway drug’. Many people like to smoke dope but would be appalled and terrified at the prospect of eating a pill or doing a line. They are in favour of legalising the drug while keeping a zero tolerance policy towards class As. And yet weed is arguably more dangerous. 

We used to laugh at the idea that marijuana caused mental illness – Ray Milland with the bugs coming out of the wall. Then it was established that, erm, and oh fuck, it does. Liberal parents who’d enjoyed a milder version of the herb in their youth looked on in horror as their children destroyed their lives with a nastier and more powerful strain. Dr Max Pemberton discusses a typical case:

I hear a noise from the bedroom across the landing and I make my way over to it. The door is ajar. I peer inside and am hit by the rank smell of urine and faeces. It is unbearably hot and stuffy in there, and I pull back for a few moments before entering.

‘Hello, Tom, are you in here?’ I ask softly into the darkness. I can hear a rustling sound. Slowly, as my eyes become accustomed to the dark, I realise that the patterns on the wall are in fact smeared excrement. The carpet is peppered with hundreds of cigarette burns, and pieces of torn newspaper cover the floor. I can just make out someone crouching in the darkness by the bed.

‘Hello. I’m one of the doctors,’ I say. ‘Your parents are very worried about you and have asked me to come and talk to you.’ Nothing, and then a sudden scream and something comes hurtling out of the darkness and smashes against the wall behind me. I leave and close the door just as something else is thrown and smashes. Then there is thumping and more screaming and a loud crash. Then there is silence again.

The wards where I work are littered with similar examples of lives wrecked, sometimes for a short time, sometimes permanently. Over the past few years, I have seen dozens of people who have become psychotic using cannabis. The number has increased recently, as skunk has become more widely available.

The libertarian in me thinks that people should be free to make choices about what they do to themselves, and this includes using cannabis. And then I remember people such as Tom. People can’t make informed decisions about the risks because few ever witness the true horrors of what it can do: the way it can fracture someone’s mind, strip someone of a future and devastate a family. The lives it ruins aren’t on display for everyone to see. They’re locked away in mental hospitals, or shut away in their rooms while their parents wring their hands downstairs and a doctor upstairs wonders when it all began to go wrong.

This isn’t an extreme case. There are loads like it – Julie Myerson’s is probably the most well known. I have seen regular caners develop habits of paranoia and aggression. The myth that the stuff isn’t addictive is just that. 

There is a night and day difference between the dope culture of today and the one our parents discovered in the 1970s. I think we on the liberal side of this argument tend to forget that cannabis is a stupid, boring, shitty drug, a drug for bores, criminals and arseholes, from which anyone with sense and style should keep a wise distance. I think we also ignore the harm that weed consumption and supply does to working-class communities.

This does not mean that I’m in favour of continued prohibition – after all, it clearly hasn’t worked. I would end the war on drugs and legalise all street drugs. Let’s tear up the piecemeal, softly-softly approach – it has to be all or nothing.

The benefits are obvious now. We could analyse and regulate drug content, preventing overdose and needless death. We could isolate any of the supposed medical benefits of cannabis that potheads are always going on about, and neutralise the long term damage suffered by regular users. Crime would plummet because smack addicts wouldn’t be committing opportunistic burglaries to feed their habits. We would free prison space occupied by people who have done nothing more than sell a few grams to their mates at the weekend. We could bring workers’ rights to the farmers, pickers and mules who from Afghanistan to Latin America are exploited by the drug trade. In turn, this would impact on the twenty-first century slavery of people trafficking. Gangsters keep immigrants in windowless rooms, indentured into prostitution by the spell of crack and the threat of violence. We could put these scum out of business. We would also raise badly needed tax revenue.

Detective blogger Nightjack was also in favour of decriminlisation, but he added the caveat that anyone caught with illegal drugs – that is, not obtained from the state or private companies – should be dealt with in the same way that the courts deal with firearms possession. I think this is a good idea. 

A question that occurs: having legalised all drugs, won’t we still have to deal with a black market that is just as big a problem? Instinctively I think not, because there isn’t a big trade in bootleg alcohol and cigarettes today. Still, the gangsters will not give up the source of so much enrichment so easily.

Legalisation would undoubtedly bring its own problems but I still say the best way to deal with the harm that the drug trade has caused is to get it out in the open, tax it and regulate it and dissect it. However, as so many jobs and votes and reputations are dependent on the war on drugs, I don’t think we will see political sense on the issue for a long time.


Labour appoints its new Drugs Czar 


One Response to “Just Say Yes”

  1. jus sayin Says:

    i smoke the hydro every day, son. never did me any harm.

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