Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Time to Lift the Stigma from Mary Jane (1 of 2)

This is a response to James Garry's Politics on Toast article - Here, I explain why the current situation of lax law enforcement is 'bad for both sides' before laying out a detailed case in favour of legalising marijuana in Part 2.

The description that James provides of high street shops that sell 'hydroponic equipment' is an amusing one and more relevant to the conversation than it may at seem at first glance. I've heard of such shops (although I haven't, to my knowledge, ever been in one - nor is there such an outlet in my locality of which I'm aware), and it indeed appears that the existence of "grow kits, ultra violet lighting, fertilisers, seeds, vaporisers, bubble bags and much more" all under one roof may have more than a little to do with the large-scale production of marijuana, which is still an offence you occasionally see punished by the courts in an era where the attitude of law enforcement in general is more 'pragmatic' or 'relaxed'.

In that sense, it is surprising that the authorities have not at least gone in there to check the place out - more than anything they could simply confiscate the offending 'seeds' and point out that much of the remaining equipment could be used as part of a perfectly legitimate enterprise. a less lucrative one yes, and that's something I'll come back to later, but an entirely lawful means of making money nonetheless. As it is, these 'hydroponics' outlets are to 21st century Britain what speakeasies posing as pet shops were in 1920s America during the era of prohibition. This point is especially relevant because when presenting the case to legalise marijuana, alcohol is the elephant in the room on a number of levels.

When those campaigning for legalisation found a stronger collective voice in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the walking disaster that was the last government made yet another decision that owed a great deal to its innate ideological and intellectual bankruptcy. Straddling between a wish to appear 'tough on crime' by appeasing the anti-narcotics sentiment of the (for want of a better phrase) 'Daily Mail tendency' and the realisation that the war on drugs was a losing one, cannabis was reclassified to Class C status in 2004. Five years later they reversed the decision and returned the drug to Class B status, perhaps inspired to do so in part by the rise of skunk on our streets, but more than anything else by political expediency.

As in so many areas, Labour's policy on drugs was muddled and completely lacked either vision or direction. What we ended up with in practice was semi-legalised dope through stealth, a substance that was technically illegal but with a degree of poetic licence given to local law enforcement in regard to how they policed its use - a narcotics postcode lottery, if you will. This was and remains, to coin a phrase, "a miserable little compromise" that suits nobody.

It is also profoundly unconstitutional and dangerous. Something that caught my eye in one of James' posts was an observation that "I don't get Libertarians", with the (not uncommon) suggestion that Libertarians are essentially anarchists who lack either the courage, conviction or both to label themselves as such. This analysis is of course wrong so please let me explain:- the fundamental difference between Libertarianism and anarchy as I see it is a firm belief in the rule of law. This is essentially what separates us and I'll explain its relevance to this discussion.

A few months ago, during a regional Libertarian meeting, one of the guys asked how we would feel about supporting a campaign advising people not to pay the TV licence fee. I'm all for either an optional licence or privatising the BBC, but made it crystal clear that imploring others to commit a criminal offence is the wrong way to bring about change, since doing so seriously undermines the rule of law. Creating a culture in which law enforcement can see illegal activity taking place but choose to ignore it clearly falls into the same category, and so James' point about enforcing the current law is indeed correct, even if the analogy with shops selling weapons and 'robbery equipment' does not fit exactly.

There will always be cases where the punishment of a criminal offence is either unpopular or deemed by many to be an unworkable waste of police time - this will invariably lead to there being at least a strong case for reviewing the existing situation, as there is for the legalisation of marijuana. However, there are right and wrong ways to go about attempting to bring about and implement this change. Presenting the case in a fashion which takes sufficient public opinion with you to secure a majority is the only reasonable means by which such a shift can have the confidence of the general population. Not only does the current status of 'technically illegal, practically legal (depending on where you live)' undermine the rule of law, it ultimately does no favours to any honestly-presented case for legalisation.

One may suggest I should be happy with any outcome that leads to marijuana being less illegal than it previously was - as someone who seeks to engage in honest debate, the means by which it was achieved somewhat take the edge off any (questionable) sense of progress. The pro-legalisation side of the argument has never actually 'won' as such and we'd do well to remember that - nor will the opportunity to do so ever arise if we see the existing arrangement as valid. As for the halfway house solutions occasionally put forward by those on the fence, decriminalisation in reality is a cop-out that achieves nothing, as is the peculiar notion put forward by "strange people who are mentally creative enough to view cannabis consumption as acceptable but cannabis supply to be immoral".

James is right in the sense that as with many issues, there are only two stances towards the legal status of marijuana (and indeed other drugs) which can be seen as completely honest - those of blanket prohibition and outright legalisation, so I have total respect for an opponent who takes up a position based on firmly held principle. In Part 2, I'll explain precisely how and why I believe that this view is inherently flawed. Take care and I'll catch you soon.


  1. The state does not own you in a free society, therefore anything that an individual wishes to do, regardless of the harm that it may do them, as long as they are nor harming others, should be of no concern of the state. It is this paranoid, nannying, authoritarian bollocks that makes the Conservative Party so odious.

  2. "as long as they are nor harming others"

    Do you seriously believe that cannabis causes no harm? George Michael drove his jeep into a shop front under the influence of cannabis. He caused damage to the shop that must have raised the shop owner's insurance premiums. Maybe he also caused damaged to council street furniture (I don't know) which the tax payer would have to pay for. If he was driving his jeep during a busier hour of the day he could easily have killed or injured a passer-by.

    In some cases, cannabis has caused psychosis. You cannot say that this does not cause any harm to anyone else. It causes distress and unhappiness among friends and family members who love the victim.

    Cannabis also slows down neurotransmissions depreciating the brain's acuity. It is easy to imagine how slower reactions can be harmful to other people.

    You cannot deny that a drug which alters the users' perceptions must affect their judgement for the worse. This is incontrovertible.

    This is why I cannot accept the libertarian argument that cannabis doesn't cause harm (or only causes harm to the user and to no one else.) It is demonstrably false.

  3. MNN - agree 100% with that sentiment.

    James - thanks for responding. I'd already anticipated some of your points and will lay out my response to them in Part 2.

  4. You've opened up the debate here Daz; and whichever side of the fence you are, or whether you are on the fence like me because you haven't really given it much thought, just to debate this issue is refreshing. I think one of the problems around issues like the legalisation, or otherwise, of marijuana is that because it is seen as a controversial or contentious issue, the powers-that-be would rather ignore it in some way. How many people smoke it in this country? Millions no doubt, and you just can't criminalise that many people! SO, we have the present system regarding it; which is turning a blind eye! So, no one really knows where they stand with it; not the dealers, the users, the police, the judiciary or the government either for that matter. What is the answer? I wish I knew, but certainly open and honest debate is the first step.

  5. All of the straw men put up to justify the prohibition of cannabis could equally be applied to alcohol. We all know how successful that was. There are laws covering dangerous driving, therefore that arguement holds no water.

    The "war on drugs" has caused much misery, incarcerated thousands, cost billions and made gangsters rich. The state needs to get out of peoples' personal choices.

  6. Daz,

    An absolute belief in the rule of law is fine if you live in a democracy. We don't. We live in an oligarchy. You libertarian views lie outside of the agreed political stances of the big three parties and therefore can never and will never be aired. What is it that allows democratic societies to degenerate into oligarchy? 1. Career polititians who have no real beliefs, they just want power and the rewards that it brings 2. A passive population, who never riot or protest but just adhere to laws they don't believe in.

    The Conservative party will never get out the EU or reverse immigration (even if their coalition partners let them)Likewise the Labour Party will never ever reverse the privatisations of Margaret Thatcher's government or indulge in anything that looks remotely like socialism. Whether you from the left or the right or another dimension if views don't fit the consensus, forget it. If you want to change anything be it legalising recreational drugs or doing away with any other interfering and unnecessary laws you have to take some kind of direct action.

    The difference between an anarchist and a libertarian is that an anarchist can actually cause a ripple.

  7. I have sympathies with your anarchistic viewpoint. I am a minarchist, however, because I think that in an anarchy, groups seeking power would form themselves and the process of tyranny would start again. You cannot escape the fact that people are fuckers.

  8. As mentioned before. People should just stop messing about in other people's lives.
    If I get stoned, drunk, or simply behave otherwise carelessly, perhaps get angry, and smash something up then that is something I have done for which I am responsible.
    Rioting is out, by the way, because that is also smashing stuff up that does not belong to me.
    It is so simple. What's so complicated about being individually free and individually responsible?

  9. Some really good comments here; If we all started on the same level, then individual responsibility would be fine; but we don't. There is class, racism, and all other kinds of prejudice where people are layered in graded levels. Meritocracy and egalitarian values are the fairest because in theory we all have the same chance. In reality, does some posh boy from an Upper-Middle class background who's been to an expensive private school have anything in common with a council estate kid who's been to some crummy comprehensive? You know the answer.

    'What's so complicated about being individually free and individually responsible?' Nothing at all; it's a very good point to make! But we all know that if someone connected or wealthy or in any way powerful or influential f*cks up to put it bluntly, they usually get off with a slap on the wrist. If it's someone from an ordinary background, then the 'hang 'em and flog 'em brigade' start slavering for the worst punishment possible, and etc.

    I don't think marijuana is ever going to be legalised in the UK for a number of reasons; politicians trying to keep the high moral ground; big business in the form of breweries and tobacco firms fearing the competition, and a sort of Middle class holier-than-thou attitude that wants to see all drug and drink abuse as done by the 'lower orders' when we all know that people from all walks of life smoke pot and drink alcohol. There are always double-standards in this country, and there is often hypocrisy leavened in the mix. But what's new?

  10. Ah, TC, so we need state intervention socialism after all?

  11. TC.
    The situation and problem as I see it is that what one could call elitist charters and privileges have created the "unfair" (I rather say undue) situations of undue privilege in the first place.
    Where it gets really bad and deceptive is that these situations and privileges have then been maintained by further conditions introduced as "caring for the people", basically further controlling charters and legislation by those in control.
    The best situation would have been to not have these conditions arise in the first place.
    But now that they have, the solution would tend to be to get rid of all constraints within the limits of decency and order, and considering the well being of everyone, allow the individual's potential to flourish.
    Preferably genuine love and compassion should be the guiding principle in human affairs and where someone is perceived to suffer disadvantage that person should be helped.
    The revolutionary method is uncaring, unhelpful and fairly despicable. One should rather begin by removing clear and evident stupidities and tend events in the right direction.
    As examples.
    In my opinion, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher tended, or tried to tend, in this direction.
    The current lot, while mouthing words somewhat in the right direction are actually tending to ever greater control and interference.