Socialist Worker

Hypocrisy and hysteria on drugs

by Tom Walker
Issue No. 2176

Cannabis, LSD and ecstasy cause less harm than cigarettes and alcohol. That is the simple truth.

But New Labour’s determination to deny it has created a scientists’ revolt – and yet another crisis for the government.

Government adviser Professor David Nutt was sacked last week after writing a report that made the controversial point.

He said, “Alcohol ranks as the fifth most harmful drug after heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and methadone. Tobacco is ranked ninth.

“Cannabis, LSD and ecstasy, while harmful, are ranked lower at 11, 14 and 18 respectively.”

Two scientists resigned from the government’s drug advisory panel following Nutt’s sacking and there is a threat of mass resignations to come.

They are raising hell in the media about “free speech” and “academic freedom” for scientists.

But the anger of a few establishment boffins is not the important thing about this row. What matters is how it exposes the hypocrisy surrounding the government’s tough-talking drug prohibition laws.

Ministers have reclassified cannabis from class B (five years in prison for possession) to class C (two years) and back again. They are scrabbling to try and find a way of justifying its illegality.

They tend to ignore the scientists and drugs experts on one side, while trying to appease the attack armies of the Tories and right wing press on the other.

Caught in the crossfire are the thousands of people who are locked up every year simply for possessing drugs like cannabis that aren’t even very harmful to them – never mind anyone else.

Of course, “hard” drugs like heroin can have devastating effects. But using the law against drug users in an attempt to “keep drugs off the streets” is not the answer.


The madness of the drug laws does little but give the police an excuse to throw black people in prison after stop-and-searches.

The overwhelming majority of drug users are white – yet a majority of those convicted of drug offenses are black.

In a sane world, drug abuse would not be a crime – it would be treated as a health issue. No drug would be illegal.

Properly-funded needle exchanges and clean heroin would avoid the problems of contamination that can do more damage than the drug itself.

People would be able to have access to drugs on prescription, which would be much safer, while they receive help to overcome their addiction.

This could work in a similar way to the way that people who want to give up smoking today can use nicotine patches to deal with the withdrawal symptoms while gradually reducing the dose – and the addiction.

That would be a far better situation that what we have now, where those who need help don’t get it.

Instead of being referred to a drug treatment centre, people suffering from drug addiction often just get sent to jail.

Prohibition doesn’t work – it just wastes resources on making people’s lives miserable while failing to tackle the real problems.

If the government spent half its “drugs war” budget on homes, jobs and education, the results would be incredible.

People take drugs because they want an escape, however temporary, from joblessness, stress, bullying, overwork or even just boredom.

The debate over drugs is too often between the right wing moralisers on one side, and on the other a subculture that celebrates drugs like cannabis.

The reality is that drugs are neither the root of the world’s problems, nor the answer to them. They are a symptom of what’s wrong with the system we live in – the deprivation and alienation that characterises society.

And the reason the government criminalises drug users is the same reason it criminalises migrants and young people.

Their agenda is to use easy, populist scapegoating to blame anything for society’s ills other than the real problem – capitalism.

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Article information

Tue 3 Nov 2009, 18:39 GMT
Issue No. 2176
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