How legalising drugs would deal with the local baron
By Andrew Alexander
Last updated at 9:39 PM on 2nd November 2010
Drugs have been a real problem for me throughout my adult life. I have always worked on newspapers whose editors have opposed, sometimes fiercely, the weakening of the laws prohibiting drug use.
Vivid memories remain of the harrumphing of my fellow leader writers on the Daily Telegraph at my lone efforts to argue that the laws against cannabis were absurd, the topic being the sentence imposed on the then young Mick Jagger.
Afterwards, as on all such occasions when drugs were discussed, my colleagues would depart wreathed in cigarette smoke to end the day at the next-door pub, to drink on a scale thought excessive even in Fleet Street.
What difference? Drinking can affect one’s health and state of mind just as badly as drugs but remains legal
Yet the phrase ‘freedom of the individual’ was often touted when we reviewed new laws or regulations.
Typically of so many, they would not see the intellectual inconsistency of their views then — and many do not now.
The issue of cannabis arises again because of claims by Professor David Nutt and his colleagues at their own Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs which downgrades the dangers of cannabis, among other substances.
His similar claims, when he was an official government adviser, resulted in his dismissal. Sir Humphrey should have explained — and perhaps did — that inquiring official bodies exist to produce results to please ministers.
Whether the Nutt categories of damage are seriously scientific is highly questionable. He lists harm to user, harm to others and even ‘community cohesion’. But the listing of alcohol as the most dangerous of all drugs will be echoed by others.
We all know of cases where serious resort to the bottle has led to every sort of disaster — crime, family break-ups, violence, the destruction of careers, mental illness and so on.
Claims: Professor David Nutt believes cannabis is less harmful than alcohol
By contrast, few of us can claim any scientific knowledge about, for example, heroin.
Most of us have never met an addict, at any rate knowingly, but we all know alcoholics.
Now, here is an interesting concatenation of events. The Government has ordered cuts in the budgets for law and order and the police.
Kenneth Clarke has been outed as a ‘liberal’: we send too many to prison, is his cry. This is not the view of the public, who think we send too few.
Outrageous crimes attract mere reprimands and suspended sentences. They are invitations to younger criminals not just to commit crimes but also to indulge in them to impress their fellows with their daring — a point which politicians never seem to get.
Much police time is spent in drug-chasing. Just consider the cost to the police in man-hours of arresting, identifying and filling in the requisite forms in the cause of ‘tackling’ drugs.
This applies even where the offender is merely receiving a warning for possession of small amounts of cannabis — a drug which has swerved confusingly between categories of dangerous drugs over the years.
TV recently showed half-a-dozen policemen breaking into a home at dawn, only to find that the rather harmless-sounding occupants had no more cannabis than merited a warning. Think of the waste in money and manpower.
But we now have a chance for the relentless demand for departmental cuts to dovetail with the decriminalisation of cannabis and, say, ecstasy (very low on the Nutt scale of harmfulness). Vast amounts of police time and money would be saved.
Nowhere would decriminalisation be as unwelcome as among drug gangs.
Prohibition in the U.S. should serve as a warning. The huge loot available inspired the establishment of innumerable criminal gangs, wholesale corruption of the police and even the courts.
How far corruption has gone here with drugs, we cannot know. But there is no question that it exists.
Wasted time: Police could focus on raiding real criminals rather than small-time drug users if a new approach was taken (file picture)
The illegality of drugs also explains the all too many murders, assaults and drive-by shootings which gangs resort to as they seek to maintain their local monopolies.
The idea of cannabis being a regulated substance available, perhaps through Boots, would appal the gangsters.
The moral issue is not so much that of people using potentially harmful substances — that applies as much to alcohol as anything else and no one advocates its prohibition. The issue is one of personal freedom.
How can anyone bray about personal freedom while declaring that one drug, alcohol, cannot be banned, but cannabis must? It is fundamental to personal liberty that we are free to go to hell in a handcart if we choose and in our own way.
Deny that, and your logic drives you to say that the Government should lay down laws and penalties about, for example, those who choose the path to obesity. That has become a peril to health at least comparable to the smoking of either tobacco or cannabis.
And think of this: cannabis could be taxed if its sale was legalised and regulated. How much that would yield is impossible to say. It does not alter the argument in principle, but it would excite the interest of the Treasury.
Making cannabis legal would save police time, police priorities, the courts’ time and it would raise money. It is a commonsense and ‘liberal’ solution. All the same, don’t hold your breath.