Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 10 September 2012

This is why drugs policy is how it is

There was a fascinating poll published in The Guardian this weekend showing that 77% of MPs do not think current drugs policy is working but that only 31% of them would consider relaxing the current laws. This was done in secret of course. Had they been on the record I suspect far fewer would have put their heads above the parapet.

As I often do with the articles I had a flick through some of the comments below, the vast majority of which were sensible pleas for relaxing of the laws. But one stood out for me in particular (from Craig 67220):

"...The problem is that the media would refuse to support a law that would rob them of easy front page headlines: you can't really print a story based on the stigma of drug use if those drugs aren't so taboo. Sure, abuse would still make headlines, but if smoking a joint or sniffing coke or taking a few pills is seen as on a par as having a pint, or a smoke, it becomes less of an issue...."

Leveson has shown just how amoral newspapers can be in their pursuit of stories that will guarantee sales. Time and again we have seen that increasing circulation takes priority over any sort of propriety. We saw it again recently with the Sun's decision to publish photos of Prince Harry naked whilst on holiday and supposedly in private. There was no public interest in these, they simply helped increase circulation briefly.

I actually wrote a piece about the amorality of The Daily Mail a few years ago regarding their approach to campaigning on the HPV vaccine. They campaigned against it in England, and for it in Ireland. The same vaccine. The same newspaper. Two opposing campaigns. The only rationale that makes any sense regarding this is that they must have thought an anti-campaign here would sell more papers but that a pro-campaign in Ireland would serve the same ends. That is completely and totally amoral. Playing with the health of young girls for financial gain.

There must surely be a fair bit of truth in Craig's comment. Of course if drugs were legal then all those tabloid splashes about some or other pop star snorting cocaine and the "My Drugs Hell" confessionals would be less marketable. They'd still shift copy of course, problems with the legal drug alcohol still does but drugs have an extra cachet because the frisson of their illegality. Ironically this same sort of frisson is one of the things that can perversely encourage young people to try drugs in the first place as an old friend of mine reminded me this weekend.

The fact that so many MPs can (privately) acknowledge our current drugs laws are failing and yet simultaneously refuse to engage fully with the debate about what to do to improve the situation shows what a mess we are in. The salacious tabloid agenda surely has to take a fair bit of the blame for this. Any politician openly voicing these concerns is shot down by those exact same newspapers that profit so heavily from the status quo.

It doesn't take a genius to see why that should be the case.

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