Some people want to take smack. Why not let them?

This week, I’ve heard, over and over, that drug addiction is a ‘disease’.  At first I thought that the term was a little bit strong, but I reconsidered that view at around three am on Sunday, when a man approached the night service window in search of a four pack of whatever lager was available.  This guy’s face was covered with what looked like lesions or sores or something.  He looked like a plaguebearer of Nergal.  I’m not kidding.

Anyhow, the fact is that you’re still not allowed to ingest certain substances, since it has been decided on your behalf that they are bad for you.  But this week there was some movement away from this state of affairs; bizarrely spearheaded by an e-petition created by Caroline Lucas, which more than 100,000 people have now signed.

I find it pretty weird that it took an e-petition by the Green Party’s sole representative in parliament to get things going.  Are there no other parties in favour of freedom of choice?  Personal responsibility?  Are these concepts not mainstream enough?  Did she just come up with them?  Is this just an issue for when you’re in opposition?

I’m going to front with you guys:  I agree with the basic thrust of the petition:  drug laws should be relaxed.  Although, on reflection, I’m not entirely sure ‘relaxed’ is the right word.  ‘Abolished’ might be closer to the mark.  I could justify this view by citing prison demographics, or the immense cost of policing, or massive consensus among qualified people.  But my objection to drug legislation is mostly one of principle.

A long time ago, John Stuart Mill wrote an essay called ‘On Liberty’.  Here’s an extract which I find pertinent:

…the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right… The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

Emphasis mine.  Anyway, that’s basically just a very long and clever way of suggesting that everyone mind their own business, a practice which I thoroughly endorse, though it seems to have fallen into disuse when it comes to drugs.

The ‘mind your own business’ principle, you see, often find itself at odds with the ‘minimise harm’ principle.  And those that take drugs certainly do run the risk of suffering harm.  If half my friends were to overnight decide to start snorting brick-dust, I’d probably be concerned.  I’d probably want them to desist, and I’d probably advise them of this desire, and do so quite forcefully.  I’d probably offer whatever help I could toward that end.

Of course, they might not want to be helped.  What can you do then?  What should you do?  Well, nothing, I suppose.  Call me a radical, but I find consent to be a bit of a stumbling block in such instances.

What is a drug, anyway?  A substance with psychoactive properties.  Something which you put into your body which changes the way you feel.  Or think?  Something like that. The term, used in this sense, is so broad as to be meaningless.  What do cannabis and heroin have in common?  About the same that alcohol, methamphetamine, caffeine and LSD have in common.  They’re all mind-altering.  They’re all errr…comprised of atoms.  That’s about it.

And yet, while some of these are prohibited, others are consumed en masse.  And their use is celebrated.  They have a considerable measure of societal endorsement, to the extent where politicians will happily visit breweries and pose with giant mugs of ale in their hands.  If you choose not to consume this one particular drug, you’re an aberration.

I suppose the reason for this inconsistency lies in alcohol’s origins; it’s been around for quite a lot longer than other drugs.  The Romans had a god of wine, but not one of dope.  Maybe if marijuana had been more widespread, there’d have been no empire.   Everyone would have been too stoned to invade anywhere.  The coliseum would probably look like a massive stone pork pie that had gone wonky in the oven, and sagged a bit in the middle.  I suppose that might not have been such a good thing.

Right, you might say, in an ideal world we might want to get rid of alcohol, but we can’t, and that shouldn’t dissuade us from trying to prevent people taking other drugs.  This, I think, is how Peter Hitchens squares his anti-drug bullshit with his admission of drinking half and bottle of wine a day.

I have a bit of a mental exercise thingy that I want you all to do now.  It might not work on all of you, but it will work on most.  Recall some positive experiences from the last year.  Form them into a loose top-ten if you like.  Now, in how many of those experiences was alcohol a positive factor?  Leaving aside things like the birth of your child, (for which you really probably should have been sober) are not some of the best times of your life enhanced by the consumption of mind altering substances?*

Would you really want to live a world without alcohol?  Purely hypothetical, this one, you understand.  Who would want to live in such a nightmarish dystopia?  Even recovering alcoholics don’t want it banned for everyone.  That’s lunacy.

Jesus, I don’t want to even think it.  Can you imagine buying scotch in the same way that cocaine is currently peddled?  From a friend of a friend of a friend?  I’d probably have to sell my car to afford a decent single malt.  Would it be worth it?  Aged for 18 years in a barrel of finest oak…or is it weeks months in a barely-drained diesel tank, diluted with a mixture of sesame oil and the rancid piss of a diseased wombat? Am I going to be denied quality control because society doesn’t approve of Laphroaig?  Because it cannot abide by the subtle, oaky nose!?

What do you do when a dear friend becomes obviously addicted to alcohol?  You stage an intervention; which will usually consist of you all sitting down together in a room and then discussing the problem and how best to solve it.  It usually doesn’t consist of a quick whip round, and then hiring someone to club them over the head and bundle them into the back of a car, from which they’ll awaken in prison, Old Boy style.

In the case of some sorts of drug, this is what we actually do; the only difference is that the ‘whip round’ covers every taxpayer in the land and the part of the Korean gangster is played by the justice system.

So, allow me to summarise my view with a list of shoulds:  the state should play no role in deciding what drugs people take.  For those that want help to stop taking drugs, the state should provide help; for those that don’t, the state should mind its own business.

And for what it’s worth, you really shouldn’t be taking smack.

Until next week.

PS.  Here’s a song whose creation was probably facilitated by copious consumption of drugs.

*You might conceivably counter that you’re had some equally awful times while smashed out of your tree.  If that’s the case, then that’s a pretty strong indication that you should stop getting smashed out of your tree.

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2 thoughts on “Some people want to take smack. Why not let them?

  1. I’ve heard of this debate and this argument before. There are some pro’s to making all drugs legal and of course it is highly hippo-critical to ban some drugs whilst making others perfectly within the law to take. However, there are also cons to allowing anyone and everyone to ingest whatever chemical they like. On the pro’s side you have the freedom of choice, less money spent enforcing the law and the fact that other drugs are legal covered. But for a balanced argument you need to consider the cons:

    – some drugs are more harmful than others and can cause the person ingesting them to harm the people around them. Be it mental or extreme physical violence (demonstrated by some criminals high on meth being able to take out several police officers after going on a murder spree because a magic elephant told them to etc.) So this does fall under ‘the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others’

    – how would you go about ensuring the quality of these drugs are up to standard? How would you sell them?

    – How are people who are dependent on some of the more harmful drugs going to be able to hold down a secure job? Will they all end just up on benefits or homeless?

    – Will the negative side effects overburden an already failing NHS? (I’m from the UK so of course most of us rely on this service). Will it overburden A&E departments with people who have jumped off a building thinking they could fly?

    I’ve often considered all the pro’s and con’s and for now I personally side with the drugs should be kept illegal as I do not wish to have to walk down streets full of people on god knows what. Unfortunately alcohol is too ingrained in societies culture to be easily banished and of course trying to make it illegal would just create a re-occurrence of the prohibition period seen in the US. Otherwise, having had to experience many a drunken idiot try to harass/fight me my friends or others on a Friday/Saturday night, I personally think it should also be illegal along with cigarettes.

    • Hi Kirsty,

      Just going to breifly give you my take on some of the things you’ve mentioned:

      “some drugs are more harmful than others and can cause the person ingesting them to harm the people around them. Be it mental or extreme physical violence (demonstrated by some criminals high on meth being able to take out several police officers after going on a murder spree because a magic elephant told them to etc.) So this does fall under ‘the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others’”

      Yes, in the cases of drugs are likely to inspire violence this would have to be considered. Alcohol would be one of the most likely to inspire violence, while something like marajuana would be far less so. In any case, I would consider the killing spree itself that would constitute the moral wrong, not the hallucination that inspired it.

      “how would you go about ensuring the quality of these drugs are up to standard? How would you sell them?”

      The same way that we do for food and drink and alcohol and everything else: through public regulation of private vendors.

      How are people who are dependent on some of the more harmful drugs going to be able to hold down a secure job? Will they all end just up on benefits or homeless?

      Possibly – though that would be far less likely if their addiction were not criminalised.

      – Will the negative side effects overburden an already failing NHS? (I’m from the UK so of course most of us rely on this service). Will it overburden A&E departments with people who have jumped off a building thinking they could fly?

      Possibly, but only if you assume that legalisation would increase consumption. In either case, treating someone for an illness costs far less that imprisoning them, that’s without even considering any tax revenue legalisation might accrue.

      On balance, I find myself entirely at odds with your conclusion; I often find myself walking down the street wishing that everyone around me could benefit from getting completely wankered.
      Thanks for the comment! 🙂

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