You are currently browsing the daily archive for June 7, 2011.

The War on Drugs, which President George Herbert Walker Bush (père) launched in the 1980s with the US’s first Drugs Czar and was ramped up by President Bill Clinton who turned the role into a Cabinet post, always seemed to me to be a bad idea. And it has been. It seems to have exacerbated the problem.

Nonetheless, it came as a surprise to read on June 2, 2011 that Sir Richard Branson of Virgin companies fame and actress Dame Judi Dench have suddenly come out asking — demanding? — decriminalisation of drugs.

A couple of points to consider.  First, until about 40 years ago, addicts could get opiates on the NHS, which kept them reasonably orderly and functional.  Should we return to that policy?  What if the dose isn’t enough?  Then what course of action does the addict take?  Today’s world is considerably different than it was 40 years ago, although, admittedly, that period was quite shocking in its own way, too.

Second, dope is different today from what it was back then.  Natural weed produced a relaxing high, which turned users into giggling or sleepy people with the munchies.  But even natural weed used often enough could produce paranoia in those smoking it.  Today, we have skunk which has been known to result in a hallucinogenic experience for some.  I do know someone — a nice, middle-class man — who enjoyed skunk.  His resulting paranoia and aggression drove his wife away.  He’s now divorced and off the skunk, but he’s still exhibiting an aggression that he never used to have.  Whereas before I could quite happily converse with him and have a laugh, today, I shy away.

When older UK tourists go to Amsterdam to sample weed in the specially-licensed cafes, the Dutch chaps behind the counter will advise them not to try certain smokes.  This is because they are much stronger and not what the 50+ folks remember from their youth.  Results could be unexpected.

Therefore, this sudden request from Sir Richard and Dame Judi requires more study.  Let’s see what Yahoo!News and the Press Association tell us (emphases mine):

Sir Richard Branson and Dame Judi Dench have called for the Government to consider decriminalising drugs as its current policy was condemned as a failure.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy, whose members include former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, warned that major policy reforms were needed to help reduce the prison population and stop wasting millions of pounds.

Dame Judi backed calls for the “immediate decriminalisation of drug possession” should a policy review show it has failed while Sir Richard said a new approach was needed

Dame Judi urged David Cameron to carry out “a swift and transparent review of the effectiveness of current drug policies”.

Why does this have to be done in such a hurry?  Somewhat mystifying. Note the UN involvement and the gratuitous inclusion of Kofi Annan in the second paragraph.  Yep, every time I read about a proposed change in global policy I often think, ‘What would Kofi Annan do?’ (Not.)

This campaign seems somewhat engineered, to say the least.

Comments underneath the article are from the same genre of people who flooded last year’s UK government-launched site asking what laws should be repealed.  We see the same arguments, some of which conflate or confuse one issue with another.

The THC present in pain-relief drugs (where permitted) will not get you high — so that’s an issue separate from recreational use.

Where would weed be sold — chemists (pharmacies), supermarkets, convenience shops?  What sort of strain would it be?  If it’s the ‘traditional’ kind (for lack of a better word), what would skunk users looking for a better high do?  Would growing hydroponic weed be legal?  If not, would the police say, ‘You can’t grow this.  Try one of these varieties instead’?

Do we think that the drug cartels would suddenly say, ‘Okay, thanks, guys — we’re going straight now’?

Would schoolkids feel free(r) to smoke dope at lunch time? Kids would get sleepy or aggressive in class, saying to their teachers, ‘There’s nothing you can do about it — it’s legal’.

What about adults in the workplace? Again, we have the sleepy or aggressive issue with people who would wander off for a smoke then operate machinery, drive a motor vehicle or meet with customers.

How would the product be taxed?  Surely, if we have tobacco smuggling where cigarette prices are through the roof (from £6.32 to £7.05 a pack within the first five months of 2011), we will have the same problem with dope.  Just as the price of a pack of cigarettes is overwhelmingly tax, so will the price of a bag of weed sold legally.  This means that someone — the man in the van — will always be able to sell for less and at more dubious (possibly dangerous) quality.

What other drugs need to be considered?  Opium? Hallucinogens? Pills (e.g. ketamine, ecstasy)?  Cocaine?  Now there’s a story which will have to wait for another time.

I have a load of quotes from Aldous Huxley (Fabian alert!) on the wonders of drugs, which I’ll put together for you when I have more time.  He did not hide his admiration for mind-altering substances.  Indeed the fictional ‘soma’ appears in his novel Brave New World, although if I remember rightly, Huxley didn’t really start experimenting until his later years.  In the film of the novel, the workers said their lives revolved around work and soma.  Reality mirrors art?

Many years ago I had a friend who used to say, ‘Where there’s dope, there’s hope’.  He meant it tongue-in-cheek.  On a very serious note, in the 1980s I used to work in a business where a lot of everyday folk came in.  One of my regular customers was a young woman who really couldn’t cope very well with life.  Her speech was slurred, she looked dishevelled and she just couldn’t think straight.  One day she said to me, ‘I know you probably don’t think very highly of me, and now that you’ve seen me a few times, you ought to know.  About 10 years ago, I went out with a guy I loved very much.  He was into drugs.  I’d never taken them until one day when he said, “Just try this, just once”.’  She continued, ‘He gave me LSD.  I thought that I could hold onto him if I took drugs.  I loved him so much.  Well, he’s gone.  And so am I.  I took a lot of LSD, even though my family told me not to.  I really cannot function very well at all now.  I’m sorry.  Believe me — drugs are really bad.’

I also know someone who has spent 30 years as a psychiatric nurse.  As free-thinking as she is, she said that the drug problem in the clinic where she works has become worse over the years.  Over the past 10 years patients have assaulted her verbally and once physically, necessitating a stay in hospital.  She blames it on skunk.

My mother used to go on about drugs in the 1970s: ‘These people — experts, Timothy Leary, whoever — are all trying to make you kids stupid and sleepy. They’re trying to get you to a point where you’ll never be able to defend your freedoms or your country.’  Yet again, Mother knows best.

What she said was true then and is truer now.  This is a move targeted at Westerners.  Don’t fall for it.

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