Monday, 19 March 2007

The Independent isn't inhaling anymore.

Ten years ago in a surprising and brave move for a national newspaper, The Independent called for the legalisation of cannabis. The then-editor Rosie Boycott was prominent in a campaign that led to it's legal re-classification from a class B to a class C drug. This Sunday the front page of The Independent (now under another editor) has renounced its former position.

The reason ? Apparently because new strains of (sometimes GM modified) skunk are much more powerful and there is evidence linking them with paranoia and depression.

This shows some typically confused thinking in the 'drugs' debate.

There is a range of quality in the varieties of cannabis and the subtleties of their effects. But then again there are alco-pops and there are fine wines. The fact that WKD is drunk by anti-social binge drinkers whose only agenda is to get pissed as quickly and cheaply as possible, has not led to demands that Chateauneuf de Pape should be banned. Maybe we'll see an angst-ridden middle class campaigning for GM-free weed or Prince Charles setting up a Duchy Original brand.

More seriously though - the Independent's argument makes the classic mistake or confusing the consequences of drug abuse with issues of legality.

There is no doubt in my own mind that people who abuse drugs are a pain in the arse to be around. Likely lads whose every Friday night is given over to necking pint after pint of Stella. Obnoxious city-boys and media-types snorting coke in the illusion that they need any artificial help to be more confident, extrovert and self-obsessed than they already are. Comatose stoners whose idea of a good evening is staring at the teletubbies, collapsing into uncontrollable giggles and eating all your biscuits.

But why the desire to make the use of what we don't like, or don't approve of, illegal ?

By all means let's control, and possibly in rare circumstances prohibit the import and sale of these substances that we believe to be socially harmful (as we do tobacco and alcohol). But to have laws against their possession is something altogether different.

On a theoretical level it is a form of puritanism that uses the state as moral arbiter. On a practical level it has the consequence of criminalising sections of society that are then led into a spiral of petty and not so-petty crime with consequences for all of us.

I find the Independent's back-tracking very sad. It is scarcely feasible that anyone these days under the age of 55 hasn't encountered illegal drugs (I'm ignoring the legal ones). And if they haven't, they must have led such a sheltered life that they shouldn't have a say in public policy. But still few public figures are prepared to talk honestly and sensibly about this and instead hide behind moral platitudes and knee-jerk reactions.

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