There’s a Tory leadership contest going on. Some of the candidates have admitted drug use. Yes, even Andrea Leadsom, perhaps believing doing so makes her more normal and interesting. Michael Gove admitted to taking cocaine on a few occasions. Bon-Viveur Boris, on the other hand claims to have “once been offered” cocaine, “but sneezed”. He “Didn’t Inhale”. I don’t believe him. Do you? The exception is Mark Harper (me neither) who said “I don’t get invited to those sort of parties”. Is that really the man you want leading the country? How did we get on last time, with someone who doesn’t get invited to parties, and whose naughtiest memory is running through a field of wheat?
No. Leaders need to understand the country, and I think someone who’s managed to avoid all drugs into their late 40s simply doesn’t know enough about the country and the people in it, to lead it. Nevertheless, right on cue, the authoritarians who are really proud of resisting a temptation they regard as close to original sin, are lining up to suggest that Drug use, any drug use, renders someone unfit for public office.
Being a cabinet minister isn’t everyone’s idea of a successful life, but the fact that most of the candidates standing to lead the Conservative and Unionist party have admitted to prior drug use is a standing retort to the idea that a line of cocaine is the first step on a slippery slope to being a smack-addled self-arguer in an underpass.
I like to start with the facts. Let’s put Heroin aside for a moment and talk about the most widely-taken recreational drugs, Cannabis and Cocaine. Neither’s good for you, but unlike alcohol, or heroin (or indeed, water) there is no lethal dose for either. That is you cannot smoke yourself to death on Weed, nor can you kill yourself by attempting the Bolivian nose pole-vault. It’s true these substances are psychotropic and habit-forming. Both seem to interact with mental health problems, and both do long-term harm with constant use, but the consensus of the literature seems to be the coincidence of psychosis with drug use is mostly one of self-medication, not a causal relationship. People with mental health problems are strongly drawn to chemicals that make them feel much better, very quickly. The idea that “Skunk” is causing an epidemic of psychosis is not, however supported by the data.
I’ve never understood quite why a culture like the UK’s that so celebrates getting pissed, pretends to regard “drug” use as a unique moral evil. “But it’s the hypocrisy” you say? And it’s true, Boris banned boozing on the Bakerloo line, after penning a screed celebrating the joys of getting trollied; and Michael Gove took Cocaine, but subsequently presided over a department of Education edict banning anyone convicted of possession or supply from ever teaching.
Which is absurd. But as almost no-one gets done for possession for personal use, it really doesn’t matter. Legalising drugs just isn’t a priority for any politician because there’s no votes in it. Just risk.
While the arguments for legalising cannabis are finally starting to bear fruit, few are arguing for Heroin’ s legalisation. But even here, the same logic holds. Heroin only became a social problem after the misuse of Drugs act. Prior to that, most heroin addicts came by their addiction via the medical profession. In the nineteenth century, it was known as “the soldier’s disease” as it affected mainly those who’d picked up a habit in a field hospital. The real problem comes when poor users become dealers to fund their supply, creating a highly effective pyramid marketing scheme, and instead of medical grade diamorphine and clean, sterile equipment, you have a dirty spoon and mucky brown. Even heroin’s problems are largely down to an illegal supply chain.
There is simply no basis for the classification of Cannabis a class B substance and Cocaine as A; if the emetic, poisonous, violence facilitating disinhibitor, alcohol is legal. The policy is objectively mad.
I’m with Professor David Nutt, formerly Tony Blair’s Drugs Czar and professor of psycopharmacology at Imperial College London, who puts all these chemicals on a spectrum of harm, and puts our old friend alcohol just behind heroin. And he’s right. My guess is that a properly regulated legal recreational pharmacopia will see less booze and heroin use, more cocaine and cannabis. And as a result of this substitution, we will all be better off.
Drugs ruin lives. Sure. But they also enrich and enliven them. People take drugs, including alcohol, because we derive utility from their effects. We’re all different. It’s easy to imagine someone shy who might prefer cocaine to champagne at parties. It’s easy to imagine an intense and charismatic individual who’s less hard work when he’s toked on a nice fat spliff, and we all find conversation flows easier when we’ve had a few drinks, which is why we lubricate parties with alcohol. But if you’re taking your poison in the morning, whether it’s vodka on your cornflakes or a “bump” to get you going in the morning, then you’ve a problem.
As the world we live in gets more diverse, so too do the ways we all get our jollies. And everything that’s nice is probably bad for you. We’ve known this since Methuselah was a lad. It’s not the government’s job to control what people do with their bodies and their social lives. The vast majority of us can manage that ourselves. There are social and legal constraints on Alcohol. Lets have similar social and legal constraints on all the others too.
Legalise, regulate and tax narcotics. End the hypocrisy.
I’m sorry, you’re wrong on two counts, though I agree with the thrust of your article. There is definitely a link between cannabis use and episodes of psychosis, and you can definitely die from a heart attack induced by cocaine. Alcohol, of course, can kill you both fast and slow, but there are clearly harms with both cannabis and cocaine. DOI: I’m an experienced doctor, and have seen patients affected by all of these drugs.
Nonetheless, I agree that legalising narcotics would actually be a rational response to current social norms around drug use, and would give us ways of making the use of recreational drugs safer, especially in terms of regulating strength, etc. Not to mention reducing the harms inherent in black market trade, the crimes and harm associated with distribution networks, etc.
I also freely accept the obvious harms of alcohol, and that we currently accept the trade-off of benefit vs harm as a society.
Nice to see there’s a subject we can still broadly agree on.
I agree with Malcolm on drugs. In fact I repeat pretty much what he writes word for word (beyond the basic libertarian ‘it’s people’s bodies, let them do what they will’) whenever I debate drugs since he articulates the pro-legalisation case very well.
Awww. Thanks guys. (Simon – the point about the lethal dose of Cocaine. You can inject a lethal dose, but to Insufflate one would be really difficult, even with the purest chang on the market. It’s close enough to non-lethal as makes no difference, if you have a basically healthy heart)
Untrue. I know two people who died from heart-attacks induced by snorting cocaine. Both male, aged 39 and 43.
Pete, the link of Cannabis with psychosis is probably co-morbidity, not causal. But obviously, because of prohibition, we don’t know because it’s not been properly studied. There’s a massive selection bias in the literature. The vast majority of stoners who never come into contact with the police or medical profession as a result of their habit are simply invisible.
“the point about the lethal dose of Cocaine”
At the risk of sounding like a bit of a pendant – I think that was Pete.
(…. as the Dalek said, climbing off the dustbin.)