Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Why I know (some) drugs will eventually be legalised

There was a storm in a pint glass this week in Westminster over a beer spotted in the Strangers' Bar called "Top Totty" featuring a cartoon of a scantily clad woman wearing bunny ears. There had been a furore after Labour MP Kate Green highlighted the nomenclature and styling of the beverage in the House of Commons. It has now been withdrawn from sale.

This spat reminded me of something that I have always been aware of but had sort of crept to the back of my consciousness for the last few years. Part of the story was quoting how the drinks within the Palace of Westminster are subsidised by the tax payer. Quite substantial amounts of money are spent on subsidising food and drink (including alcohol) each year. A recent newspaper article showed that pints of beer can be subsidised by up to £1, reducing their cost to politicians and their aides and guests by around a third.

So, law makers take taxpayers money to subsidise their consumption of a dangerous mind altering drug. One that is known to cause the death of thousands and thousands of people every year.

Contrast this with how users of cannabis amongst the population that elect those representatives are treated. This is a mind altering drug that is by most scientific opinion less dangerous than alcohol (although still of course not without its risks). Users and suppliers of the drug can be fined and in some cases imprisoned. They can receive a criminal record and can potentially have their lives ruined by this. In the vast majority of cases the much bigger risk of harm to the individual from cannabis is from the way the law will deal with them than the intrinsic danger of the drug.

The imbalance in this situation comparing the two has always been glaring but is thrown into even sharper relief in the context of those same law makers taking money from tax payers to subsidise their drug of choice whilst incarcerating others who choose a less harmful drug.

In the long term this cannot persist. I can understand (even though I do not agree with) those who think drugs such as heroin should remain illegal. But ruining the lives of users of cannabis with criminal records is utterly unjustified by any scientific or moral yardstick. The same in my view applies to drugs like MDMA (ecstasy), magic mushrooms and newer "banned" drugs like mephedrone.

Even public opinion is swinging in favour of legalising and properly regulating cannabis use. A poll commissioned by Lib Dems for Drug Policy Reform 18 months ago demonstrated 70% of people would like to see that in one form or another.

I can't say when it will happen. Perhaps the catalyst will be more and more US states decriminalising cannabis use which is increasingly likely to happen in the next few years. Perhaps more countries such as Portugal will demonstrate the benefits of treating drugs not as a criminal justice issue, but a health issue for those who struggle with problematic use. But one way or another things will have to change eventually.

And the hypocrisy of our MPs taxing us to subsidise their use of a mind altering substance whilst jailing those using a less harmful one will end.

As natural justice says it must.


Derek Williams said...

I despair at this government's stupidity when it comes to drugs (and, it has to be said a few other things as well, but espeically drugs). They show a worrying disconnect with reality and actually seem to believe the rubbish they spout.

I'm having an interesting exchange with Anne Milton in the Dept of Health regarding the idea of running an education campaign aimed at encourgaging cannabis users not to mix cannabis with tobacco.

The response I've had from Ms Milton is almost commical in its stupidity; For example she wrote "If, as Mr Williams suggests, we were to advocate that people smoke cannabis without tobacco, we would be ... putting people at risk of harm".

It's hard to reason with people like this, but I am trying.

Mark Thompson said...

@Derek. By coincidence I read your blogpost about the fun you've been having with Ms Milton earlier today and I have already written a blogpost myself about it linking to your UKCIA post. I'm hoping to get it posted on another site soon.

Ewan Hoyle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ewan Hoyle said...

Good post Mark. If you mention the poll you can now link to this poster on google docs for added info :)

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