Tag Archives: cannabis

Policy by smoke signal

The confusion over whether the government is or isn’t going to support moves to scrap the blasphemy libel laws has reminded me of the ongoing debate over the government’s plans to make it illegal to incite hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.

In a bad case of wanting to have it both ways, Peter Horrocks of the Evangelical Alliance told the Today programme this morning said that while he accepted that “everybody knows it’s not really going to be used again,” he was concerned that scrapping the law would “send out a signal.”

Much of the debate over the proposed law against inciting hatred of gay hatred has been characterised in similar terms, and of course we had people arguing against scrapping Section 28 in the recent past on the grounds of symbolism. Gordon Brown is a big fan of symbolism. His plan to re-reclassify cannabis has nothing to do with changing a failed policy (it’s arguably been successful, which is why he may have to overrule his own advisory body in order to do it) and everything to do with sending signals. Brown could save himself all this parliamentary time simply by installing two large neon signs outside Number 10 – a thumbs up and a thumbs down – and light up each one at various times depending on the issue of the day.

The symbolism issue is key when it comes to the gay hatred law. I accept David Heath’s argument that the law isn’t fundamentally illiberal; I’m more sceptical about his insistence that it isn’t symbolic. As Gavin Whenman points out, we already have legislation against incitement; what is so peculiar about gay hate that requires specific legislation? I’m prepared to be convinced here, but my sense is that at the heart of the Lib Dem’s reluctance to oppose this law is a fear that Labour will simply throw it in our faces in the puerile manner that they regularly do over our limited opposition to their (failed and again largely symbolic) anti-social behaviour legislation.

The sad fact is, such symbolism works. It gives the media something they can communicate easily; it makes it look as if the government are keeping themselves busy. But just as Labour’s gimmickry about crime hasn’t actually made anyone feel safer, exploiting prejudices through symbolism ultimately just makes people feel more and more divorced from the political process.

Sindy’s Stance on Skunk Stinks

If I ever become an actual politician, when I am inevitably asked “did you ever smoke cannabis in your youth?” I will have a terribly dull answer. I didn’t. I ate a hash brownie once but it didn’t seem to have any effect. In fact, generally I’m uncomfortable about taking any substance that has an effect on my mental state, although that doesn’t prevent me from the occasional tipple or chunking down enormous quantities of sugar and chocolate. In short, when it comes to personal practice, I am the Daily Mail’s poster child for insouciant hypocrisy.

Yet, inconveniently for the anti-legalisation lobby, I’m in favour of legalising – and thus regulating – cannabis. The rise of skunk (and Ben Goldacre puts some of the more alarmist headlines into perspective), far from causing me to doubt my opinion, has confirmed to me that prohibition has a toxic effect on society. Five years after alcohol prohibition had been imposed on the US in the 20s, you can guarantee that the sort of alcohol available on the black market was much more dangerous than when it was legal. With no quality control, with huge profits to be made and with huge penalties imposed when dealers were caught, the rise of moonshine was an inevitability. Skunk, grown in people’s cupboards, is the equivalent of moonshine.

What annoys me most about the Sindy’s stance is that it is based on the moronic rubric that because the medical dangers are greater than we may have thought, the case for legalisation goes right out of the window. Yet no-one (apart from that bloke with a guitar who stands outside all the party conferences each year) believes that tobacco should be made illegal – people would be injecting nicotine within months. If there is a medical problem, the solution should be a medical one, yet that is hindered by criminalising the users and forcing them to buy their supply from criminals. From what I’ve seen though, the Sindy seems utterly uninterested in even exploring that argument.

I’m afraid that the fact the Sindy is starting this debate demonstrates two things all too clearly. Firstly, the tabloidisation of the Independent papers is now complete. First it was the size, then it was the content, now it is the mindset. The obvious kneejerk populism is a blatant attempt to gain sales, not to enlighten debate.

The second factor is that liberalism in the UK has been significantly weakened over the past half decade, and it will take years to recover. Drugs policy is a case in point. Back in 1999, the rightwing press attempted to cause a storm over the fact that Charles Kennedy had publicly backed the party’s policy to have a royal commission on drugs policy (which Paddy hated). This quickly turned into a damp squib however as it became clear that the public wasn’t interested. Later, the Tories’ hypocrisy on drug policy was exposed when it emerged that half the then-cabinet happily admitted to taking cannabis when they were younger.

Now we have Cameron screaming about his right to privacy (except for when it is convenient for him to show off his disabled child) and now, the Sindy pretending to be the Mail on Sunday. We live in a different country now.

In September 2001, I was getting t-shirt’s printed to promote LDYS’ latest scam, the libdemsondrugs online debating website on drugs policy. We were hoping to cause a real outrage and get ourselves on the front page of every red top in the land. Then 9/11 happened. Sad.