Friday, July 20, 2007

Reefer madness

It appears to be fashionable once more for senior government members to disclose whether or not they smoked cannabis in their youth. Leading the way was new Home Secretary Jacqui Smith – now in charge of reviewing the 2004 declassification of cannabis from a Class B to Class C drug - who made her admission on GMTV yesterday. It was a stock politician answer: it was 25 years ago, I did it once or twice, I didn’t really enjoy it, I haven’t done it since, etc. What a big yawn. Harriet Harman did the same thing on the same programme this morning. It was a bland, forthright statement of fact. Even the interviewer John Stapleton couldn’t be bothered to probe much below the surface, his own indifference nearly equal to my own. A student? Smoking a joint? At university? I refuse to believe it! Next you’ll be telling me that students miss lectures, drink cheap beer, listen to indie music and have sex occasionally. The debauched animals!

Of course, the whole point of Smith, Harman, Darling, Kelly, etc, coming out of the cannabis closet is to once again put the spotlight on David Cameron and reopen the whole issue of whether or not he took drugs in his youth too. Cameron still refuses to play the game and increasingly one suspects that this is because his dalliances with illegal substances were perhaps a tad more extreme than the occasional toke of a joint at a student house party. Perhaps – and I’m trembling with trepidation at the mere suggestion of this – he smoked cannabis… regularly! And enjoyed it! Can you imagine? That is, after all, my own experience and, come to think of it, that of virtually everyone in my social network. So come on Dave, don’t be shy. Tell us about that good shit you smoked.

The whole affair underlines the rank hypocrisy and absurdity of the law surrounding the use of cannabis. Millions use or have used it on a regular basis, causing no harm to anyone but themselves, but become criminals in the process. And yet our own Home Secretary took it herself as did, it appears, a substantial number of the Cabinet. Of course, they all bleat now about the “folly of youth” and how they “regret it enormously” and all kinds of other platitudes that they feel duty bound to say, even though nobody outside of the offices of the Daily Mail or the Telegraph is in the least bit bothered by the revelations. (Speaking of the Telegraph, check out this reactionary rant by the deranged Simon Heffer.) The only real problem here is the fact that known ex-users of the substance will now decide the severity of the “crime” of future users as they redefine whether it is a Class C or Class B substance. They are determining how future users will be treated by the law even though it is patently obvious that the only sensible action is to decriminalise or even legalise the substance. When it’s legal it’s regulated, its supply is not determined by organised crime gangs, mobsters or terrorist organisations but, instead, licensed businesses. The strength and purity of the substance can be controlled, as can its availability. And, even better, it can be taxed and become a major source of income. At the present time and under the current legislation, none of the above is true. Instead we spend billions of pounds losing a war against a plant that grows naturally. The THC content is manipulated by the growers to dangerous levels, the content is mixed with other products, anyone of any age can buy the stuff pretty much anywhere. If they are caught in possession they risk a jail sentence and a criminal record for the crime of exercising their own choice over which poison they wish to consume. And it is about choice. Want to drink yourself to death? Go ahead - the choice and availability has never been greater. Want to smoke cigarettes? Oh, it might be forbidden in all public places now, but if you're over sixteen you can still take your pick from the various suppliers of the most addictive killer drug on the planet. Want to smoke a little weed and do no harm to anyone but yourself? Oh no, you deserve a criminal record or a custodial sentence.

Forget the ‘War on Drugs’, how about a war on nonsensical and downright hypocritical laws?

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