William Hague’s call in the Daily Telegraph for the legalisation of cannabis for recreational as well as medical purposes throws a large stone in a very muddy pond. Apart from the surprise that a senior Tory could come out with an eminently sensible suggestion with regard to UK drugs policy, I am left wondering what, if anything, the real agenda might be. Is this a stalking horse for the government, trying at last to put some method into the madness of drugs policy, a wreck of contradictions, born of many decades of denial, dispute and draconian attempts at suppression?
Or is Lord Hague speaking as he feels? As with any senior politician drawn into the drugs ‘debate’ – more a shrieking from prepared positions – he risks a great deal. The issues – which are complex and long-standing – are a quagmire, into which the unwary may easily sink without trace. Most ‘sensible’ suggestions in the past have left their authors isolated or ridiculed – and, if an official, sacked.
As for the wider public, confusion is the norm. If you are a parent, your worry is that your child may take drugs. It is axiomatic, isn’t it, that you want to protect them from that fate? Yet, the biggest drugs on the market – sugar, caffeine, alcohol – are never included in any discussion.
There was a time when I was a regular contributor to radio programmes dealing with the problem of drug use. And, yes, there is a huge problem but, I would argue, not the one you think it is. On these programmes there would, frequently, be three pundits. There would be the voice of authority – often a police officer, or a retired one – a parent whose child had been killed by drug use, and me, the bloke who had written a book about cocaine, and who said we might look more closely and critically at how we dealt with all currently illegal drugs.
I gave up being that third voice: not the minatory authority (lock ‘em all up), not the understandably distraught parent, but the advocate of some form of legalisation for all currently illegal drugs. You can see why: forever the implied voice – apparently – of the drug dealer, forever out on a limb. I gave up because I despaired of ever having a serious debate. There never was one, just the same old posturing and position-taking.
There is, therefore, a glimmer of hope in Hague’s article, but only if it levers people out of their atrophied views and into a forum where genuine argument, pro and con, may take place. Hague has heft, still, and what he says is so breathtakingly obvious, one might give pause to imagine things will change – not toward legalising cannabis, yet – in the direction of facts and figures, not raw emotion and angst.
However, don’t hold your breath. If one was to go simply by the literature, the case for making cannabis universally available for medical use is overwhelming, literally swamping any doubts. And, even in that bastion of probity on illegal drug use, the USA, 20 states now allow medical use (overall 41 allow either that, have decriminalised its use, or have rolled over for full legalisation).
This does not mean – Canada beware – that illegal sales of the drug, in whatever form, won’t stay the same or rise. Folk always want more, and the strongest kind of GM-modified skunk will blow your head off, up to 14 times as strong as the weak and weedy grass hippies smoked in the 1960s.
There is an added danger. Cannabis is seen as a mild drug; but, with skunk on the streets, it most assuredly is not. The naysayers – against any relaxation of the law – point to this, as much as they point to it being a ‘gateway’ drug. You use it one week, the next you are on cocaine or heroin. (There is little evidence of this, but, hey, who wants evidence?)
So, the argument goes, if you legalise cannabis, watch out, illicit supplies and sales of ‘harder’ drugs will inevitably follow. Which brings me to this point: you cannot have a debate, in all seriousness, about legalising cannabis without a broader – and much needed – debate about legalising all current illegal drugs.
Hague says – correctly – that the war against cannabis supply and use has been lost. Note, the use of ‘war’ here, another wonderfully misapplied word. But it is arguable that the fight against the use of some drugs, deferentially designated illegal over time, was lost before it began around a century ago. Then, it was a fiercely argued campaign by missionary Christians in the USA to prevent the sale into China of opium, imported with gusto by the British. (We fought three opium wars in the 19th century to defend that right; now, that really was a war but for drugs.)
We need to grow up. People take drugs – there is no room here to go into the myriad and complex reasons why that should be so; but some animals follow suit, that we do know. The question at the head of any truly informed debate ought to be, not how to stop that, but how best to regulate (and tax) the habits we all have, in different ways. You like chocolate (with its psycho-active theobromine); I (let us say) prefer micro-doses of LSD (to enhance my brain function).
No one is right or wrong; and some will over-indulge (or, overdose). Until we transform the current ghastly mess of legislation, an unholy mix of punishment and treatment, often at odds, into a regime of tolerance, allied with education and information, we’re never going to make things better, only much, much worse.
To read William Hague’s article, click HERE