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Drugs, hypocrisy and the Left

Two days ago, the Guardian devoted its front page lead to the report by a committee headed by former Government drugs advisor, David Nutt, published in the Lancet, which concluded that “alcohol is the most dangerous drug in the UK by a considerable margin, beating heroin and crack cocaine into second and third place“. The Guardian predicted that the report would “reopen calls for the drugs classification system to be scrapped and a concerted campaign launched against drink“. So far as I can tell, the report has been totally ignored by Left politicians and bloggers alike. Why?

David Nutt was sacked last year by Alan Johnson after the Government decided to refuse to take the  advice of its own Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, claiming that:

It is important that the government’s messages on drugs are clear and as an advisor you do nothing to undermine public understanding of them. I cannot have public confusion between scientific advice and policy and have therefore lost confidence in your ability to advise me as Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.”

The scientific advice to the government then and now is that the relative legal treatment of drugs cannot be justified by the relative effects of the use of drugs on the user and the community. Legally available alcohol and tobacco are simply more dangerous than cannabis and LSD. And yet government, on the basis of its judgment about the electoral consequences of doing otherwise, continues to prefer:

  • the criminalisation of large numbers of young people;
  • the unequal application of the law with regard to ethnicity;
  • avoidably high levels of HIV and Hepatitis C;
  • the poverty and social exclusion of many drug-users as a result of the drug laws;
  • the erosion of respect for the law;
  • the heavy financial cost of a law-enforcement focus;
  • in the developing world, corruption, damage of supply-side intervention and the results for growers, the environment, crime and terrorism.

The perpetuation of misleading messages about the true relative dangers of legal and illegal drugs leads parents to adopt the wrong priorities in relation to their own children. Many parents actually encourage alcohol use, buying alcohol for their children to drink with their friends at increasingly young ages, in response to per pressure and the power of alcohol marketing. Personally, I preferred my children to use cannabis, moderately and discretely, rather than to drink alcohol or to smoke tobacco. Labour politicians (or at least some of them) would sooner publicly demonstrate their zero tolerance by marching their kids down to the local nick.

In spite of the new (non-New) Labour enthusiasm for human rights issues, the right of people to make their own decisions about which recreational drugs they use counts for nothing, except in relation to two of the more dangerous drugs. The fact that many Labour MPs and Left bloggers have used illegal drugs and some continue to do so on occasion, either has no effect, or perhaps even discourages any public statement lest it identifies them as a user.

And so, as a result of an unwillingness to listen to scientific advice, political opportunism,  plain hypocrisy and yet another failure of the Left, we may well have to depend on the Coalition to introduce some sanity to British drugs policy.


  1. Last hun says:

    Whilst I concur with the general thesis that harm should be reduced, in my opinion there is a slight falacy in the argument.

    If I understand correctly, the reports look at the harm done today, rather than the harm that would result in a hypothetical situation where cannabis was legalised or decriminalised.

    Clearly changing its status would lead to changed behaviour, presumably increased consumption, which it is impossible to quantify beforehand. Therefore it is impossible on the basis of the current situation to accurately predict the harm that would result from either legalisation or decriminalisation.

    That’s not to say that its a bad idea, but given that the legal substances alcohol and tobacco cause the most damage, adding a third freely available substance might just increase overall harm.

    The counterargument of course is that harm has actually been reduced wherever this has actually taken place, eg Holland / Portugal even though they have to put up with the nuisance of drug tourismn.

    I say put it to the vote once a clear majority of the British public are educated on the subject, and a clean, licensed, taxed, non criminal supply chain can be established relatively quickly.

  2. El-Gringo says:

    Last Hun, the argument that the Dutch have to put up with the ‘nuisance’ of drug tourism would be largely null and void should the British seek to liberalise drug laws. Remember, at least 50 percent of ‘drug tourists’ to the Netherlands are British or Irish citizens, the rest mainly being made up from the less rowdy American and German travellers, IME at least. Certainly, the Polish laws on drugs are not so liberal yet the residents of Warsaw and Krakow see British tourists as a huge issue!

    Further to this Dutch ‘Drug tourism’ is almost exclusively confined to Amsterdam, the capital city which markets itself on its excess. A trip to Eindhoven or Utrecht will confirm that any nuisance caused by ‘coffee shops’ is totally minimal in comparison with bars, although the noise caused by such establishments (which many of their neighbours will class as a nuisance!) has risen dramatically since the E.U blanket tobacco smoking laws stupidly included coffee shops!

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