Why is it that in the modern day and, as we are so often told, in one of the most liberal and tolerant societies in the world, are drugs not only classified as illegal but are subjected to a degree of social stigma that can be compared to that of an extreme psychological perversion? Recently, Jeremy Clarkson described how even lighting a cigarette at a dinner party can produce the same shock and revulsion as ‘publicly masturbating’.
Why do we find our ‘progressive’ and ‘modernising’ political leaders of both sides of the house, at the slightest whisper of the legalisation of drugs, clustering behind the back benches and party faithful in order to escape the lip-smacking war cry of the suburban housewife, wildly swinging the Daily Mail above her head?
Surely by now we can give up the populist claims of public interest and admit that there is no argument intellectually robust enough to legitimise the complete prohibition of recreational drug use.
No doubt people will claim that the undeniable health benefits of marijuana and even ecstasy simply do not outweigh the negative impact that drug use would have on the fabric of our society. Despite the benefits of ecstasy in the treatment of soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress, as shown by the recent research conducted by Rick Doblin of the American research group MAPS, one cannot legitimise the use of drugs by the general public. However, the issue is not simply one of medical progression.
It is time we fully addressed the impact the drugs trade has on our society, how the black market which is dominated by criminal gangs, fuels violence, theft, extortion and a general reign of terror that grips the most impoverished areas of our towns and inner-cities. When approximately 55% of the prison population enter the system with a serious drug problem, can we really afford to ignore the obvious correlation between the illegal drugs trade and the crime that inevitably surrounds it? If one considers the contemporary issue of gang crime as analogous to the prohibition of alcohol in 1920s America, perhaps the issue becomes clearer.
But no, it would appear that the concept of drugs as an absolute moral ill has become so engrained in the collective consciousness of the nation that our image of ‘the user’ has become the emaciated, needle scarred, slurring shell of a being that is nothing more than a drain on our society. Yet here is the most fallacious syllogism that has been repeatedly fed by the educational propaganda for the past half a century.
As I write this article, ingesting the nicotine and caffeinated drinks being used in my desperate attempt to numb the pain of last nights intoxication, I cannot help but think of how many doctors, lawyers, academics and politicians lead their lives as functional alcoholics. Why then, is it is so absurd to think that they are unable to do so when using say cannabis or even cocaine?
The image of drug addiction that has been portrayed by both the media and the government is one of poverty. The doctor using the finest Columbian blend will no doubt be able to fully function in his duties as a medical professional and probably provide the perfect ideal of the bourgeois father and husband. It is the poor and the ignorant, those who are forced to inject the near lethal concoction of heroin and sand into their veins as they shelter on the street corner, perpetually committing petty crime in order to escape their debtors, that we see as the horror of drug use.
This is an issue that we can hide behind in the safety of our intellectual microcosm of university life. Behind these Victorian walls we can romanticise the mind altering state of Coleridge, Wilde, Rimbaud, and from time to time even ourselves, and put it down to foolish experimentation. But there are those to whom this issue is real and is one that has consequences. Let us hide no more, forget the social norms and mores for just one moment, and consider the problem rationally. Can we finally move towards not only a system of greater social utility, but a strengthening of our own moral integrity?