Magazine article The Spectator

Drugs and Liberty

Magazine article The Spectator

Drugs and Liberty

Article excerpt

Disaster? What disaster? The entire media continue to write and report that the Tories are in difficulties over drugs. It is a feud between the libertarian and the authoritarian, they tell us, between the partisans of Michael Portillo and Ann Widdecombe. On the one hand, the shadow home secretary, still raving about criminals and L100 fines, and, on the other, the beaming faces of the magnificent seven dopeheads in the shadow Cabinet - not forgetting Tim Yeo, who has been heroic enough to admit that he enjoyed it. Everywhere one looks there are hilarious cartoons of corpulent pin-striped Tories rolling joints and chilling out. Never mind the euro; excuse me while I light my spliff. Easy skanking, mon. Ha ha ha. Tee hee.

All of which neglects the political dynamic set up - perhaps inadvertently - by these Tory confessions. Already the Mirror and other newspapers have tried to extort the truth from the Cabinet. So far they have been rebuffed. But how long can they go on? If the Tories have had the gumption to confess, why can't these right-on New Labour ministers, with their so-called mission to bring honesty into politics? Let's be hearing from you, Mandy, and Alistair Darling, and all the rest of you. When Labour has matched the Tories for candour, then we can have a debate. And, at that stage, we can clear up some elementary confusions.

It is perfectly possible to have experimented with cannabis, or to have enjoyed it, and to be broadly against drugs. And it is quite possible never to have touched the stuff, and yet to see the arguments in favour of liberalisation. And it is possible to be both against drugs and in favour of legalisation. Such a position is widely accepted in the case of tobacco - not even the most zealous health campaigner tends to call for that drug to be outlawed - so why not in the case of cannabis and possibly heroin and cocaine, too?

Few would deny that drugs are a huge source of misery in Western civilisation, but it is not clear how much of that problem derives directly from the drugs, and how much derives from the laws against them. The official image of the drug-taker is an extremely seedy one - an emaciated figure crouched in a public lavatory injecting into his swollen veins an expensive substance he has burgled your house in order to obtain the money to procure. Yet if, as the posters say, `heroin screws you up', the same is true of some of the drugs laws. Prohibition creates a shortage, which drives up prices, creating the need for the user to commit crime. Leaving the supply of heroin in the hands of criminals decreases its purity and therefore adds to the ill-effects on the user. …

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