Socialist Worker

Why they're afraid of Tommy Sheridan and the drugs debate

Issue No. 1741

What socialists say

Why they're afraid of Tommy Sheridan and the drugs debate

By Kevin Ovenden

POLITICIANS from the mainstream parties in Scotland are collaborating in a hypocritical and cynical campaign which they claim is about drug use. In reality it is an attempt to cover their own failings with other people's suffering.

And it is turning into a dangerous witch-hunt of anyone putting forward a rational approach to drugs, in particular socialist member of the Scottish Parliament Tommy Sheridan. The Blair-supporting Daily Record ran a filthy front page attacking Sheridan last week. Tory, Liberal Democrat, New Labour and Scottish National Party politicians all denounced him.

Sheridan's "crime" is to put forward arguments backed by the doctors' British Medical Association, several senior police officers, a number of bishops, the ultra-respectable Police Foundation, and every major organisation that deals with drug use.

He said in parliament that cannabis use should not be lumped together with heroin, and should be legalised. Other MPs and the Record spewed out abuse, but none of them could answer Sheridan's point. That's not surprising. The facts supporting him are overwhelming.

  • Cannabis is not a dangerous drug.

The British Medical Association says, "The acute toxicity of cannabinoids [cannabis] is extremely low. They are very safe drugs and no deaths have been directly attributed to their recreational or therapeutic use."

  • Legalising cannabis does not lead to people using other drugs.

Cannabis is legal in Holland. But, says the Police Foundation, "drug-related deaths per million population [in Holland] are the lowest in Europe. In 1995 the figure was 2.4 as against 31.1 for the United Kingdom." The average age of heroin users in Holland is rising. In Scotland it is falling. But the British government spends 62 percent of its drugs budget on arresting and enforcing the law, mainly against cannabis users. It spends just 13 percent on treatment for those who are addicted to hard drugs. Under this government, 80,000 people were convicted in 1999 for possession of cannabis. That is about three quarters of all drug convictions.

  • Two legal drugs kill far more people than all illegal drugs put together.

Alcohol-related diseases kill 30,000 people in Britain every year. Drink is the most common factor in all violent incidents. Tobacco kills 120,000 a year. Prohibiting alcohol in the US in the 1920s did not stop people drinking. Instead it created a black market which transformed the Mafia from neighbourhood racketeers into giant crime syndicates. The same is true of the government's blanket policy of prohibition over drugs.

  • Even many establishment figures know the policy of punishing users is not working.

"We increasingly incline to the view that the banning of all drugs causes more harm than good." "Despite this paper's instinctive reservations over a more relaxed approach to drugs, we believe that the issue deserves mature and rational national debate." "The sizeable community who use soft drugs recreationally...want a change in the law which reflects what is happening at social gatherings...every night of the week. "It is dismal that this reality...carries no weight with the government and its disappointing drugs tsar." The quotes are from March 1999. The first is from the Daily Telegraph, the second from the Daily Mail, and the third from Police Review, the police's in-house journal.

The bishop of Edinburgh and John Orr, chief constable of Strathclyde, are among the establishment figures calling for liberalisation of drug laws. So why is the Record slamming Sheridan? Part of it is to boost circulation with its sensationalist campaign to "shop a dealer".

It is also using fake concern for working class people to undermine a left wing challenge to New Labour.

If the Record really cared it would not be favourably quoting MSP Bill Aitken. This Tory dared to spout "concern" for families "with three generations" addicted to hard drugs such as heroin. Each of those generations suffered at the hands of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Problem drug use in Scotland rocketed in the 1980s under Thatcher's policy of mass unemployment.

People are continuing to suffer under New Labour, with a record gap between rich and poor, run down services, and five million people in Britain living in UN-defined absolute poverty. But there is no march against poverty from the Record, no front pages slamming politicians for abandoning working class people. Instead we get hysterical attacks on what is accurate medical opinion, and a bandwagon for cowardly politicians whose pro-business policies create the very drugs problem they shed synthetic tears over.


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Sat 31 Mar 2001, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1741
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