UTTERLY unable – or rather, unwilling – to do anything vaguely conservative, Al Johnson is trying to throw us a bit of law-and-order red meat. Yes, our old friend, the War On Drugs, is back.
Spinning through the Rolodex of potential policies, our Prime Minister skips the ones that his core supporters care about – border crossings, greenies supergluing their faces to the tarmac, rape gangs – and goes for recreational drug use. As the multi-vehicle car crash that is the Johnson administration piles up apace, he hopes to divert our attention momentarily. The insincerity and blatant opportunism will fool precisely no one.
Regardless of how many coked-up yuppies in Dalston get 20 minutes’ community service over the coming months, drugs are a problem that is unlikely to go away.
On the issue I am unsure where I stand. Having once described myself as a libertarian (forgive me, I was young and naïve) I still retain that streak of individualism. I’ve never fancied honking on a crack pipe, but if I wanted to, by Jove I would. It is, after all, ‘my body, my choice’ – an increasingly unpopular idea.
Yet, this is generally the extent of the argument: ‘It’s my life, let me screw it up however I damn well please.’
As ever in the modern age, the discussion surrounding drugs and our taking them is all rights and no responsibility. It may be your right to indulge in a spot of narcotics here or there, but who is responsible if and when it spins out of control?
Certainly not the person taking it. Today’s world, forever minimising personal responsibility, medicalises the notion of addiction. To listen to many an expert, one might get the idea that an individual has as much control over becoming addicted to drugs as over getting a cold (‘Oh, you’re a crackhead, how awful!’ ‘Yes, there’s a lot of it going around at the moment.’) It is society’s fault.
It does, however, take some effort to become addicted. Few can claim to be ignorant of the malign effects of drug taking, but they do it anyway. In claiming that right, they must take on the concomitant responsibility.
If we medicalise the issue (‘addiction is an illness’), we rob the addict of his or her ability to get clean. When we are ill we expect a pill or a potion to cure us. But with an illness of the mind, among which addiction must rank, it is our decisions and self-determination that will ultimately see us cured or not. Fundamentally, addiction is also an ailment of the spirit.
Drugs are not all the same. I don’t believe in ‘gateway drugs’. But they are not harmless either.
I think of school friends who at about 16 started to smoke weed heavily. One of my best mates was lively, witty and energetic. Not seeing him for a few years after leaving school, when we met a few thousand spliffs later I was confronted by a withdrawn, introverted mumbler.
Or take my flatmate at university. A bigger proponent of the individual’s right to consume whichever substance possible would be hard to find. Express deliveries of all kinds of illegal substances made their way to our flat via moped. He thought it all good fun. The mushrooms, the weed, the ecstasy. And it was, while he was on them, but the days spent lying unshowered on the sofa, the hours whiled away watching cartoons under a spell of misery-induced catatonia, provided the depressing counterpoint.
Some say there is no way of halting drug taking. I disagree. There is a way, and it is what they do in countries such as Singapore, China and Japan: impose extremely harsh penalties on anyone involved with illegal drugs, including mandatory death penalty. I don’t happen to agree with such policies.
Of course, it wouldn’t stop everyone anyway. I knew a girl in Singapore who imported LSD hidden in bookmarks. Whether she was aware of the risks she ran I couldn’t say, but drug-taking in those societies among the young is many, many times less than it is in the West. Unless we suddenly grow the backbone for such extreme penalties, there will be no stopping drugs in our countries.
I stand at odds with some of the modern thinking on drugs. To me it is not a question of legalisation or medicalisation. Such topics are merely addressing the symptoms of another, deeper malaise. A lot of people are just taking drugs to fill the giant void of meaninglessness that exists in their lives. They are a distraction from reality.
In one of my few drug-related encounters, my overwhelming feeling as it ended was ‘Thank God things are back to normal. Isn’t reality lovely?’
For too many, precisely the opposite is true.