High on Democracy

High on Democracy
Posted by FoM on August 22, 2001 at 08:41:35 PT
By J.D. Tuccille
Source: Washington Times
What does it mean when a former top-level conservative politician comes out in favor of legalizing marijuana  and then is promptly trumped by the head of the prison system, who says all drugs should be legal? Well, it means you've woken up in Britain, for one thing. That's where one-time Conservative Party Deputy Leader Peter Lilley publicly described laws against marijuana as "unenforceable and indefensible." He wants licensed outlets to be able to sell the popular herb to users over the age of 18. 
Rather than exiling himself to the political wilderness with his comments, Mr. Lilley sparked a discussion in which other members of his own party, as well as senior members of the ruling Labor Party, allowed that it was time to debate changes to the law.   Just days later, Sir David Ramsbotham, the chief inspector of prisons in England and Wales, called for all drugs to be legalized "so people do not have to go and find an illegal way of doing it." That's mighty surprising talk for people accustomed to the unwavering prohibitionist line at the higher levels of American politics, but it's not so strange overseas.   Europeans have never been quite so fanatical as Americans on the drug issue, and they are more readily admitting the inability of police to force people to stop taking substances that make them feel good. After decades of harsh laws, full prisons and plenty of public finger-wagging, drugs remain as available  and profitable  in the Old World as ever. Rather than continue with more of the same, many politicians and much of the public are ready to try something new. As a result, drug laws have been loosening up all over Europe.   The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws summarized recent reforms in a 1999 study, saying: "A major part of the European model of drug policy is to treat drug use not as a criminal activity that must be stamped out completely, but rather a part of human nature that should best be handled in a manner that minimizes adverse effects to both the individual and society as a whole."   An example of the differences between United States and Europe can be found in Switzerland. That country's somewhat stodgy image has long been belied by a surprisingly tolerant attitude toward marijuana. While the plant can't be sold for intoxicating purposes, it's widely marketed as potpourri, though nobody seems to be fooled. What purchasers do with the stuff once they get home is their own business.   Now authorities in the mountainous republic are considering legalizing the open production and sale of the stuff without the nudge and wink factor. Even if they don't go that far, members of the ruling coalition have voiced support for a Dutch-style solution, under which prohibition laws remain on the books without being enforced.   For their part, the Portuguese have joined Spain and Italy in looking beyond the relatively easy debate over marijuana and tackling the thornier controversy over disfavored intoxicants in general. Portugal recently decriminalized the use of all recreational drugs, including cocaine and heroin. Users no longer face imprisonment if caught with small amounts.   That's not to say Portugal has taken the full step to legalization. Instead, Portugal has adopted the trappings of the therapeutic state. According to the BBC, marijuana smokers must "meet a commission of psychologists and social workers, who try to convince them to change their ways."   Users of harder drugs are obliged to seek treatment for a vice that is now officially considered an ailment. Still, a dose of psychobabble is a definite improvement over Lisbon's version of the pokey.   Even Canada, so like the United States in many ways, has made major advances toward reining in the excesses of the drug war. Prime Minister Jean Chretien recently felt obliged to announce that he wouldn't consider legalizing marijuana for recreational use. This came after members of all five parliamentary parties agreed to convene a special committee to examine the country's drug laws, and as a legislator from the conservative Canadian Alliance proposed replacing criminal penalties for marijuana possession with fines.   As it is, Canada has legalized marijuana for medical use and commissioned a private company to grow an official crop. Legalization advocates committed to civil disobedience have been pushed to the point of promising to sell a better quality product than that available from the authorities.   As if to emphasize the United States' growing isolation on the drug issue, President Vicente Fox of Mexico, a Bush buddy and fellow conservative, has added his voice to the international chorus suggesting that drugs can best be dealt with in an open market.   Of course, proposing an end to prohibitionistic drug laws isn't completely taboo in the United States. Libertarians, liberals and some conservatives have made waves by suggesting just that. A few maverick politicians, such as Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico and Gov. Jesse Ventura of Minnesota, have survived the fallout from their pro-legalization ideas.   In terms of real policy, medical marijuana laws have been passed by popular referendum in many U.S. states (though they have mostly been blocked by federal authorities). And Portugal's drug decriminalization largely resembles a policy adopted last year by California.   So the continuing hard-line rhetoric from drug policy-makers in Washington sounds almost anachronistic, like the last stand of true-believing foes of alcohol in the early 1930s.   Whatever the pleasures and dangers to be found in using many intoxicating drugs, U.S. officials stand increasingly isolated in their insistence that the force of the law can prevent people from making their own decisions on the matter.J.D. Tuccille is a senior editor of the Henry Hazlitt Foundation's Free-Market.Net -- Washington Times (DC)Author: J.D. TuccillePublished: August 16, 2001Copyright: 2001 News World Communications, Inc.Contact: letters washingtontimes.comWebsite: Articles & Web Site:Canadian Links Takes Away Prison as a Penalty for Drugs Goes To Pot Endorses Police Soft Line on Cannabis 
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Comment #8 posted by Angus on August 25, 2001 at 05:56:17 PT:
Transform - UK Drugs Policy Website
Or rather, this is the right address.
Transform - Campaign for Effective Drugs Policy
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Comment #7 posted by Angus on August 25, 2001 at 05:54:44 PT:
Transform - UK Drugs Policy Website
This is the right address.
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Comment #6 posted by Angus on August 25, 2001 at 05:50:56 PT:
Debate - Drug Czar Blundering
So far as I know the Union debate's sadly not on video or on tape. But one person you might try for a tape of the debate is Steve Rolles at Transform, who was one of the speakers. I think their site is at than that the Union will definitely have the "minutes" written down. There were some hysterically funny moments. I know Transform makes a habit of following the Drug Czar's every word, as the man is a notorious blunderer - not quite in George W's league, but getting there. 
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Comment #5 posted by kaptinemo on August 24, 2001 at 05:19:45 PT:
Welcome, Angus
I don't recall if you've posted here before or not, but I'm glad you have.Is there any chance that this debate is on streaming video? Or available on tape? This is something I'd very much like to see.
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Comment #4 posted by Angus on August 23, 2001 at 07:30:13 PT:
Licensed Outlets are the Way Ahead
I never thought I'd find myself rushing to praise a Tory, but it has to be said that Peter Lilley is bang on. What we need is licensed outlets. This is what Paul Flynn the Labour MP for Newport SW has been calling for for a few years now. Likewise Claire Short, a Labour cabinet MP, has recently said that decriminalisation is a waste of time and nothing more than a fudge. Which it plainly is. Claire Short herself made it plain that legalisation is the only politically honest and responible option.Unlike prohibition (and decriminalisation) legalisation would actually enable a responsible government to counteract and minimise whatever negative impact cannabis has on society. Licensed oultets would make it possible to prevent sale to minors. Likewise with a regulated sytem of supply there would be information on packaging indicating strength, THC to CBD ratio, tar content, helath risks etc.Thus producers and the suppliers are actually accountable. This approach could be coupled with the highly effective social sanctions such as those used in drink-driving campaigns.Far from being liberal and laissez-faire legalisation is in fact about goverments taking responibilty, and reigning in an ongoing market in harmful substnces which has gone on unchecked for far too long. Not that I'm against personal cultivation. But I am against selling cannabis indiscrimantely to young kids, and to people who are totally ignorant of what cannabis actually is and can do to you. I've seen more than enough unwitting individuals have a really, really bad time on strong skunk and hash.Legalisation would mean that any consumer could make an informed decision as to how much to smoke, what to smoke, whether to smoke and indeed why or why not to smoke. What is this rubbish about legalization sending the wrong message and appeaing to condone drugs use? With legalisation the government could actually send a coherent message and not the confused and confusing drivel we get from the likes of Drug Czar Keith Hellawell. It's plain that to whatever extent cannabis does act as a gateway drug (as Hellawell has claimed it does) is the result of prohibtion forcing the sale of cannabis into marginal criminal contexts. Decriminalisation would continue to do this.Which is why we need legalisation.Much as I love cannabis I don't believe that many "pot apologists" have adopted the right approach in this seemingly endless argument. Extolling the virtues and relative safety of cannabis is effective in a medical context, but not in the recreational context. The main reason to legalise cannabis is that cannabis is a harmful substance, and the cannbis market needs to regulated and accountable.I've seen how effective turning prohibitionists polemics about the dangers and harmfulness of dope aginst them can be. I debated against Helawell at the Oxford Union and on several occasions I watched him blush. Him and some slimey weasel from the Tories. We wiped the floor with them.Anyway, suffice to say it's a joy to watch the tables turning in Britain. I only wish I was back home to get the full savour of it.
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Comment #3 posted by Dan B on August 22, 2001 at 23:56:33 PT:
Amazing, Indeed!
Did anyone else notice that this article was printed in the Washington Times!Holy guano, Batman! I must admit that when I saw the name of the publication, I almost passed this one over. Even as I was reading it, I kept expecting the other shoe to drop. But no, it was not to be. I believe this is the second time that the Washington Times has printed an article that is critical of the drug war. Are we seeing a major shift, even in that bastion of puritannical ideology?My favorite line is, "So the continuing hard-line rhetoric from drug policy-makers in Washington sounds almost anachronistic, like the last stand of true-believing foes of alcohol in the early 1930s."Sounds like even the Washington Times knows when to call off the dogs. Perhaps this truly is a sign that the drug war is coming to an end.Dan B
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Comment #2 posted by Doug on August 22, 2001 at 10:45:13 PT
Exciting Time to Be Alive
Did I think I'd every live to see the day? Almost daily there is an article like this one that indicates motion towards ending the Drug War. It's really quite amazing. Many people are upset because the change isn't happening as fast as they would wish, that America appears to be going in the opposite direction. But change is happening, more change than in the last 60 years, and it is picking up speed. As the ond saying goes, these evernts will be something to tell your grandchildren about.The first indication that I had that something had changed was when I saw a photo of my old dealer (and problably the dealer for anyone who lived in San Francisco at the time) Dennis Peron on the cover of People Magazine. That was shocking. Who would've thought in the early Seventies that this guy who was engaged in an illegal activity would someday appear in grocery stores around the country.
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Comment #1 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on August 22, 2001 at 10:30:03 PT:
Isolation is Dangerous
Amerikan drug policy is now a wounded beast, and is thus at its most dangerous. Our politicians (the finest corporate money can buy) must decide if the War on Drugs dies its inevitable death akin to the bloodless razing of the Berlin Wall, or rather in some apocalypse of violence and repression. All signs are that the Dubya regime favors the latter approach, but I hope that I am wrong.
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