Hard to fight war on drugs when we are the ones fuelling it

Peter Hitchens

The hunt for the Mr Big behind the drug trade is over at last. We have found him. It is you. The urban, educated middle classes of the rich nations, who take drugs or don’t object to others taking them, fuel the enormous demand for marijuana, cocaine and heroin.

Without their dollars, euros and pounds, there would be no billions to fight over, no gangs, no narco-states or narco-terror.

Yet for some reason, whenever we discuss the alleged ”war on drugs”, we never mention demand. There are evil dealers, whom we all deplore. There are still more evil traffickers and gangs, whom we deplore still more.

But why are they evil? It is not the acts of transporting or selling that make them wicked. If it were soap or scented candles, nobody would mind. It is the thing they deal in. But why are drugs evil? Because of what they do to people.

And that can only happen if individuals buy those drugs and use them. It is at that moment that they cease to be inert matter, and do the damage they undoubtedly inflict.

There is no sense to this. While warships churn the seas, and special forces of many nations patrol the jungles of the Third World, interdicting supply, we have, for the past 40 years, refused to interdict demand. Demand has, unsurprisingly, grown.

To be sure, there are vestigial laws in most advanced countries, which formally prohibit possession of drugs. But they are sporadically and feebly enforced by police, prosecutors and courts.

In the US, 20 states and the District of Columbia have adopted ”medical marijuana” statutes which, in practice, decriminalise possession – so fulfilling the 1979 prediction of the American legalisation campaigner Keith Stroup that ”we are trying to get marijuana reclassified medically. If we do that … [we] will be using the issue as a red herring to give marijuana a good name”.

In Britain, the courts were instructed in 1973 to stop sending anyone to prison for cannabis possession. The police forces recently adopted an empty gesture called the ”cannabis warning” as their preferred response to finding someone in possession of this still technically illegal substance. That is, assuming that they act at all. Those who attend the major British rock festivals expect that the police will ignore cannabis smoking unless forced to take notice.

This relaxed attitude does not apply only to cannabis. In January 2010, British rock singer Peter Doherty was caught in a criminal court building with heroin valued at $300. Mr Doherty already had a long record for drug offences and had just been fined (again) for heroin possession. Yet he walked free from the building. If this is a ”war on drugs”, what would a surrender look like? The cultural background to this is hugely important. Many respectable newspapers, prominent political, academic, artistic, and medical figures – even police officers – have for years called for weaker laws against drugs.

Most of them, unsurprisingly, are members (as am I) of the 1960s radical generation, the cultural revolutionaries whose long march through the institutions is now pretty much complete.

They see nothing wrong in a little self-stupefaction; far from it. The same elite have readily embraced the mass prescription of legal ”antidepressants” and in Britain have removed almost all restraints on the sale of legal alcohol. They often indulge their own children’s drug-taking. And they have encouraged the approach of ”harm reduction” in schools and health education, assuming that the young will (as they always put it) ”experiment with drugs”.

Unsurprisingly, such attitudes, which also deliberately confuse the legal and the illegal drugs, do not exactly discourage such experiments. And rather a lot of those experiments end in the tragedy of irreversible mental illness, increasingly correlated with cannabis use among the young.

Our self-excused ”experimentation” also fuels the tragedies of Mexico and Colombia. Yet tender-hearted bourgeois-bohemians, who proudly buy Fairtrade goods and huffily refuse to buy the products of sweatshops, militantly campaign for the freedom to take and buy the mental poisons which feed the gangs and bring misery to millions far away.

It is of course a moral question, of pleasure versus restraint, of chemical stupor versus hard-edged discontent with reality, of selfishness versus self-control. By choosing the hard path, our civilisation became free, peaceful and prosperous. Do we really think we can now choose the easy road, and not pay for it?

Peter Hitchens is the author of The War We Never Fought – The British Establishment’s Surrender to Drugs and is a columnist for the London Mail on Sunday. He will be speaking at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas on Sunday.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/hard-to-fight-war-on-drugs-when-we-are-the-ones-fuelling-it-20131030-2what.html    Oct 31st 2013

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