Drug War: The Horror of Peter Hitchens

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Having listened to endless disputes about drug
legislation and finding the same kind of polarized rhetoric coming up each and
every time, I had second thoughts tuning into a live debate on Youtube concerning
the seemingly endless War Against Drugs (or the War Against Some Drugs Some of
the Time as is more accurately the case). But tuned in I did, and the debate proved
to be stimulating — horribly stimulating in fact. But I'll get to that in a
minute. I should say that whoever organized the cyberspatial debate did a very
professional job. As soon as you went to the Youtube page, the live debate
appeared — and in good quality too. Sir Richard Branson was on the panel, as was a
former Mexican president, a former Met Office police commissioner, WikiLeaker Julian
Assange, celebrity Russell Brand, plus authors, former US state governors, and
more (you can watch the debate at:

A few things bothered me. The issue of Portugal was inevitably
raised. Portugal decriminalized all drugs over ten years ago (many people are
not aware of this) and this is often mentioned as a test case that drug
decriminalization can work. After all, Portugal still exists and people still
go on holiday there. The UK Home Office, for instance, does not warn of burning
airports or deranged mobs running amok in the streets of Lisbon or whatever. In
fact, this is also true of places like Amsterdam where cannabis is openly
tolerated — yet the streets are safe to walk as I know from recent experience.
Having said that, those defending the War Against Some Drugs Some of the Time
let loose a volley of statistics that showed that the crime rate in Portugal had
actually gone up in the last ten years. Others said that this was rubbish. Counter
statistics were repeatedly proffered. Thus, an informed Portuguese minister or Portuguese
official of some kind armed with objective data would have helped clear up the

Another bone of contention that I had was that one panellist
(I forget who) compared the need for draconian police action against drug users
to the need for harsh penalties against drunk drivers. His argument was that if
we suddenly made it legal to drink and drive then loads of people would do it.
Therefore society must threaten punishment to those who drink and drive in
order to help prevent it happening. Well, of course, this is obvious. But it is
a totally misleading analogy. Because sensible drug legislation would also make
it a crime to drive under the influence of any
drug, be that alcohol or any other major psychoactive substance. Moreover, the
argument is doomed from the start as it compares drunk driving with
illicit  drug use — as if they were
somehow the same kind of thing. Sure, if most cannabis users, MDMA users,
cocaine users, or LSD users were invariably harming other people in a manner
similar to running them down in a car, then one might have a point. But this is
not so. Thus, the criminalization of drug use cannot be compared with the
criminalization of drunk driving. In fact, by using such a crass argument, the
chap was revealing just how over-the-top his desire to oppress was.

What all this shows is that the demonizers of drug use
are sneaky. Everything about their language is loaded. As another example, one
repeatedly hears of 'drug misuse'. This is a crafty corruption of language.
There are even well funded departments within the UK government concerned with
studying 'drug misuse'. Because the language is skewed and biased, this will likely
affect any governmental recommendations that might be forthcoming. For most
users of currently illicit drugs, such substances are used, not misused or abused — in just the same way that most drinkers
around the world use alcohol and do not 'misuse' it. Also, one repeatedly hears
of 'drugs and alcohol'. And yet alcohol itself is a drug! So in order to move
this debate forward, one has to be wary of all this bad language that can cause
subconscious bias.

One issue became very clear in the debate, and I think
most of the panellists agreed on its importance — and this is that the whole drug
thing is a health issue. That is what it all comes down to. So why on earth criminalize
someone when the chief issue at stake is their health? We don't criminalize
mountaineers who risk their health by going up Everest do we? We don't smash
down their doors and threaten them with fines and court appearances. And yet a
few decades back fully one in ten of those ascending Everest died in the
attempt (making such activity far more dangerous to one's health than using
crack or heroin). And if these mountaineers further endangered themselves by
using shoddy ropes, we would not shake those ropes in front of them and sneer
"you're nicked son" as we handcuffed them would we? Not if we genuinely cared
about their health. Indeed, how does being grilled by the police, or being
fined, or, worse, being banged up in jail, possibly improve one's health? In
matters of health, the only responsibility of the state is to protect, educate
and inform. If you are a grown up adult, then what you do is your business, and
solely your business, unless you subsequently harm others in which case it is
right and proper for some kind of societal intervention to take place. For
decades I smoked tobacco. I knew it was not healthy — but it was my adult choice.
Banning tobacco and suddenly turning millions of otherwise law abiding smokers
into criminals is as crazy as criminalizing those who pursue potentially
dangerous sports.

Another point is worth mentioning. The defenders of
the war on drugs kept mentioning crack, heroin, neglected children, social
misery, and such. But this aspect of drug use is minor compared to the 200
million users of illegal drugs who are non-problematic. So it is very important
that we differentiate between those at risk of harm (to themselves and to others)
with those who are not behaving problematically. This further suggests that we
stop lumping all drugs together. Being unable to differentiate between, say,
psilocybin mushrooms and crack cocaine, is absurd, as is the tacit lumping
together of ayahuasca and amphetamines, or cannabis and heroin. Intelligent
legislation would treat different drugs in different ways and laws pertaining
to distribution and availability would reflect real harms. No one wanting to
end the war on drugs is advocating heroin ice cream vans, or cocaine popsicles
for kids — yet the anti-drug brigade make it sound like that is what is being
called for.

I was enjoying the debate until Peter Hitchens was
handed the microphone and spoke. I once read an anti-drug polemic of his and it
was frankly scary. The man detests illegal drug users with such a vengeance that
I am inclined to think that he is the reincarnation of some nasty medieval
Witchfinder General. The kind of violent oppression meted out to women with
botanical knowledge in the Middle Ages is echoed by Hitchens in his attitude
toward drug users. The venomous hatred is apparent in his indignant body
language, his accentuated arm folding, and in his burning eyes. The man is dangerous.
His ultra-oppressive sentiments, his keen desire to accelerate the war on drugs
and punish all those millions of immoral miscreants who use cannabis and MDMA,
was so disturbing to me that I almost keeled over. The malice streaming out of
my computer monitor was palpable! Conversely, I bet the heavily armed drug
mafia and drug cartels love Hitchens. The last thing these unscrupulous gangs
want is for their lucrative trade (third biggest trade in the world don't
forget!) to be legally and lawfully controlled, so Hitchens is a real kind of
champion for their cause. I don't know if they send him large wads of cash, but
they might want to think about it.

How I wish we could switch the area of focus from illegal
drug users (and I must include myself as I am the author of The Psilocybin Solution, a book about
mushrooms that are classified in the same category as heroin and crack cocaine)
to the people evincing extreme oppression. That would really turn the tables.
All those grim authority figures who wag their fingers and viciously condemn
and demonize other people simply because they are enjoying, or exploring,
altered states of consciousness — these oppressive people should be under
scrutiny, not drug users. What right does Peter Hitchens have to tell me what I
can, or can't do, in the privacy of my own home (or in the privacy of a remote
Snowdonian forest as might be the case with my mushroom use)? What does it mean
to be a grown adult if you are not, as author Graham Hancock often points out,
sovereign of your own mind? But I tell you what Mr Hitchens — how about this
compromise: legalize all drugs to those who are over 40 and who have a
university degree (this includes me). Surely this part of the population are
capable of making an informed choice? Surely they are not a risk group? Or must
you nanny and oppress them as well? Of course, I jest, but how could this not
be an acceptable strategy? The idea is worth thinking about as it raises all
sorts of interesting questions about what it really means to be an adult. And don't
forget, when we make laws we can make them as elaborate and as fine grained as
we like — as long as they are clear cut.

For some reason, Hitchens was actually invited onto
the stage. This made me feel even more uneasy and queasy. If he ever got into
power I thought, if he ever had armed forces at his disposal, then god help us
all. Tyrants and dictators are not kind people. Their inner worlds are infected
with hate. This is what makes them so dangerous. And this is what makes
Hitchens so scary — because in his rhetoric and his bigoted newspaper articles,
he exudes hatred and negativity. In fact, he is precisely a good candidate for
a psychedelic drug like ayahuasca. I reckon if he took a stiff dose of this
strong Amazonian medicine, his oppressive tendencies might actually be healed — a
tough job for sure, but something not beyond the power of ayahuasca. In any
case, when I think about those who keenly demonize drug users and make out that
they are morally corrupt, I often wonder what lies at the heart of their
oppression. I sometimes surmise that it is fear. It is possible, probable in
fact, that those who actively promote the War Against Some Drugs Some of the
Time don't personally know any cannabis users, MDMA users, psychedelic users, and
such, and that they are consequently afraid of them, as if they were some sort
of dodgy sub-cultural underclass or something. Yet normal everyday people use
illicit drugs — doctors, lawyers, innovators (the late Steve Jobs used LSD), celebrities,
sportsmen, pop stars, teachers, scientists (Carl Sagan was a cannabis user) — it
is not all dark alleyways and dirty needles. Illegal drug use is prevalent
throughout all sectors of society. To be sure, apparently most dollar bills in
the USA have traces of cocaine on them (and did you know that Coca-Cola
originally had cocaine in it?).

Mood altering substances will not go away. An interest
in altering consciousness will not go away. The desire for pleasurable
recreation will not go away. The War Against Some Drugs Some of the Time can
never be won. And as Russell Brand pointed out, war is not the right option as
a means to reduce the potential harms of drugs. Indeed, what is war if not the
breaking down of civilized communication and a green light to violent means of
oppression and suppression? Waging war also requires an enemy. Thinking that
only drug gangs are the enemy in the war on drugs is naïve. Illegal drug users
themselves — all 250 million of them — have become the enemy.

What needs to be removed from the equation is therefore
not drugs, but the kind of oppressive warmongering that Hitchens exudes. Then
we can get on with controlling drugs intelligently. Which means we can make new
laws that concentrate on harm reduction and that are based upon scientific
evidence and not whim. Drug use is not a criminal issue. You are not an immoral
criminal if you use drugs. If you are of sound mind, healthy and informed, then
the authorities need to do nothing (except control production, quality and
distribution where appropriate). On the other hand, if you need help, you should
get help. And that's it. Oppression is not necessary.


Image by wikithreads, courtesy of Creative Commons license.

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