Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Get Stoned, If You Want

A quick clarification; the strongest intoxicant in which I indulge is the one discussed here, and even that is actually quite rare. I don't smoke, and I have never taken drugs. By choice, I would inhale only air.

Nor do I want to change that. I enjoy the small amount of alcohol that I do drink, but find the spectacle of drunkenness rather pathetic and even the slightest whiff of cigarette smoke disgusting. As for the psychoactive drugs, I feel sorry for the users; my mind on its own is quite capable of keeping me amused and does not need any pharmaceutical assistance. I admit that I fear the drugs themselves; my mind is my source of income, and I would not tamper with it lightly.

Nevertheless, I find myself behind Nutt, not Johnson. The reason is simple; my libertarian instinct prevails. I dislike drunkenness, but if you want to drink yourself into an early grave then that is up to you - provided you don't vomit on my shoes, fall on my table, or shout so loudly that I can't talk to Mrs P. So, to the extent that I favour the prohibition of certain substances, it must be because they are so harmful, so damaging, that we cannot leave it to a matter of personal choice. They must be, in essence, intoxicants that so serious that users cannot help but fall into whatever behaviour is equivalent to vomiting on my shoe. There must be, in other words, no safe zone between abstinence and addiction. Therefore, to my mind, there must be a scientific basis for the prohibition.

Ah, but no, says our Home Secretary. Nutt advises me on the science, and then I make a decision as to what is best for society. Quite right Mr Johnson; that is the distinction between advisor and Minister. But there is one glaring point that seems to have been missed in Johnson's consideration; one point that Johnson (like all his predecessors) is either too stupid to realise or too cowardly to address. And it is this.

If, hypothetically, there was a proscribed substance that did not cause any medical harm that was in any way more serious than traditional, legally-available substances, but which caused far more serious societal harm, then surely that societal harm would be due to the fact of its prohibition, not its medical effects?

Now, I accept that I live in a leafy suburb that is not riven with drug dealers and crack houses. Some would say that I am, therefore, unqualified to discuss this issue and should shut up. To them, I will only point out that my use of the word "Prohibition" earlier in this post was entirely deliberate.


  1. then surely that societal harm would be due to the fact of its prohibition, not its medical effects?

    Is that necessarily correct? It may be due to the accidental social connections with which the substance was introduced for example, which do not apply to legally-available substances.

  2. Unfortunately, there seems to be some disagreement among the experts (to a lay man who has no knowledge of their relative expertise) and in the end, it is the job of the politicians to legislate, not Professors. Government advisers should not have a public role and campaign for their viewpoint, but simply do the job they are being paid to do. I take the same view about the Chief Police Officers, who were campaigning in support of the Government's proposal to detain suspect terrorists; they should keep their mouths shut in public.
    Brian E.

  3. My libertarian instincts clash with some of the things I have seen happen to people who have been involved in drugs. One thing I can't stand is when people say that cannabis is harmless. Cannabis has well-known connections with mental health issues. For people to deny that is disingenuous.

  4. 1. We don't have the resources to implement any kind of prohibition.

    What we currently have is a random free for all lottery that creates lots of cushy jobs for social workers and other unproductive busybodies, and there are more drug dealers than outlets that sell fresh milk in the UK.

    2. Iran is the smack capital of the world -- and that despite the fanatical Mullahs and their Sharia courts and henchmen. Also note that most druggies (alcoholics, meth and smack heads) usually lose all their teeth and end up with painfully ruined innards but keep going. In other words, nothing scares them and only a small fraction of them ever manages to save themselves, usually without any 'help' from the outsides btw.

    3. Why are you trying to save people from themselves when you full well know that this isn't possible at all? Are you hoping to copy Jesus? ;-) Prohibitionists are as bad (and anti-social) as druggies with their obsessive addiction to a magical happy world which they expect the tax payer to finance... ;-P

    Ps.: Blue Eyes, there is no statistical link between mental illness and Cannabis. However, mad people tend to be just as mad when they take drugs, that said, most of them are even worse when sober since it means they are marginally more competent (and thus, dangerous)

  5. Fat Hen, you might be right. But at the same time what do you think the effect of "normalising" might be? Would it be acceptable to have a few lines of coke out on the pub table of an evening? What might be the effect on overall usage?

    It's easy to say "personal responsibility" but we live in a socialist world where people who don't take drugs will be forced to subsidise the lives of those who take so many they can't/won't work. When we get rid of the welfare state we can legalise drugs without the thrifty being punished for it.

    I don't care what the "stats" say, I have seen people become mentally ill through over-use of cannabis. Perhaps they had a pre-existing condition, but even so they would have been significantly better off without smoking.

  6. That which may appear simple is not.

    Some years ago I got on the wrong side of a very nasty competitive mother as she thought I had been talking about her daughter and she believed my daughter was receiving more favourable treatment at school. It is a long story and what took place I still find devastating, simply because it was totally undeserved. As I did not try to defend myself but withdrew, I ended up with heavies at the door and nuisance telephone calls, with no one close able to believe what was occurring, wishing to address it or supporting me. I ended up studying law in a vain attempt to protect myself.

    I knew that this lady and her husband held dinner parties where drugs were taken, as a friend had groaned years ago that they had been invited and just did not want to go. Another friend then told me later that this woman had personality difficulties as she was a bully and was also paranoid, most probably arising from the longterm use of low level drugs. Her involvement may be greater than this but she has children and I have no wish to encounter her again.

    I have no direct evidence, but it highlights to me that drugs can have serious mental effects on dangerous people and that these seriously upset the lives of those around them who recive no rewards, just the risks. Furthermore, there appears to be no recovery from these symptons. So while the libertarian view is do what you want without hurting others, taking drugs does hurt others and it is probably easier to just ban everything than to find out where to draw the line as the effects are not easy to measure nor in many instances reversible.

    Some of the comments posted here are very wise.

  7. Some excellent comments here.

    BE - the lack of any evidential link between cannabis and mental health was the crux of some of Nutt's comments; he pointed to a distinct rise in cannabis use but a decline in schizonphrenia rates.

    Measured - just guessing, but the classic dinner party drug is coke, of which there is no suggestion of downgrading. The scientist in me also wants to know whether she was unpleasant because she abused drugs, or abused drugs because she was unpleasant. Nevertheless, quite a story - thank you for sharing it.

    Overall, I do think the comments reinforce the need for respect for the legal regime around drugs. That, to my mind, requires that the regime have a sound basis in fact. Nutt merely spoke about the factual evidence of harm and was sacked for it. This means we are explicitly left with a regime in which politicians are setting the classes on non-scientific grounds.

    That arbitrariness around the less harmful drugs gives people an excuse to ignore the law on all drugs ... surely better to recognise drugs that are no more harmful than legal intoxicants (if that be the case) so that the distinction between them and coke (for example) is clear?

  8. "Fat Hen, you might be right. But at the same time what do you think the effect of "normalising" might be?"

    Too long to list really...

    However I don't expect more druggies, not do I expect less as everyone who wants to take drugs already does so.

    I also don't think we'll have that many savings in the end, if we use the resource we currently waste on quackery for druggies into the few proven things that actually do work to help people.

    I just accept that this is a battle we cannot win(unless we want to get all Maoist about it, and that has it's own problems that are far worse), so it's better we concentrate on what is possible to achieve in reality and not what we'd like to happen ideally.

    Also compare: http://librivox.org/what-prohibition-has-done-to-america/