I cannot decide who is the more foolish, poor Anne Marie Cockburn or the pontificating Camilla Cavendish of The Sunday Times?
“Martha wanted to get high, she didn’t want die”, her mother Anne Marie said after the inquest last week into her daughter’s tragic early death. “Society”, she went on, “must move from prohibition of drugs to strict and responsible education … putting doctors and pharmacists, not drug dealers in control …”
Ms Cockburn added that drug education would have enabled her 15-year-old to make a more fully informed decision, as if ‘informed choice’ were not the Bible of modern drug education. Ms Cavendish was all too quick to echo this misguided cry.
Sadly, despite her tender years, Martha knew just how to get high.
Putting to one side the question of whether tested, dose-controlled drugs could ever be made safe for the recreational purpose of getting high (scientifically doubtful to say the least); putting to one side whether a teenager could then be reliably trusted to use the requisite dose according to instructions (the prescribed amount only, with ample water, not with/after alcohol or any other drug etc); putting to one side the cost and possibility of meaningful policing necessary to monitor this, or to prevent onward selling, cutting and undercutting; putting all that aside, I am left with this question:
Does Ms Cockburn really think it is okay for the State to sell drugs and thereby sanction their use to all teenagers?
And at what age, exactly, would she draw the line?
Fifteen years, we must assume. But why not 14, or 13, or 12? Aren’t they too at risk of wanting to get high, but not to die? Or 18, and you are still left with the same problem.
Do they think having kids of these ages queueing at Boots for their recreational drug dose would be OK and safer? Would this be a once a month treat, or every Saturday – or every day?
What about parental consent? Perhaps Ms Cockburn thinks parents could purchase drugs on behalf of their children? Or is the State to take total responsibility for sponsoring the nation’s teen drug habit? Will ID be required? What about older kids purchasing for and selling on to younger ones? Maybe ‘iris recognition’ drug dispensers would be the answer – as with methadone in prisons? She’d have to believe that the police would be more vigilant than prison guards to stop interception by bullies or dealers.
Then what about the impact would be on the vast majority of kids who, unlike her daughter, do not want or need to get high; whose parents would find such sanctioning of their teens’ drug use quite unacceptable? Or doesn’t she care? Does it not matter that most young people (84 per cent of 16-24-year olds) are not that keen on drugs or their effects, that the numbers of those who are have been steadily declining for the last 15 years.
Ms Cockburn’s failure to think these questions through can be forgiven, but not that of Camilla Cavendish of The Sunday Times, who also labours under the delusion that ‘ending the war on drugs’ would protect risk-loving teens.
Moves from prejudice to evidence are hugely cheering, Ms Cavendish wrote. No doubt they are when key facts are omitted – like the successful restriction of regular drug use to 6 per cent of the adult population (compared with 20 per cent smokers and the 80 per cent plus drinkers); like the danger that the current 185 million drug users worldwide could increase to levels of legal drinking and smoking (2 billion and 1.3 billion respectively) with the removal of these controls.
Despite the massive drop in worldwide consumption of drugs today to circa 39 tons of morphine equivalent from 3000 tons at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, according to Ms Cavendish it only went wrong in 1971 with the Misuse of Drugs Act. No matter that London had become of the hub of a new international heroin market as a result of legal Harley Street prescribing.
Cavendish’s confused narrative does not end here. Legalising production, supply and consumption would end the whole vile industry, she thinks, though decriminalisation, which pushes up use and incentivises the illicit trade, is fine too.
She is by no means the only drug-liberalising advocate to avoid inconvenient facts – but as a journalist she should resist her ‘idee fixe’.
Cavendish might ask why school-age drug use in Portugal has doubled. And why Colorado and Washington, the two states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use, have failed to provide the US Centers for Disease Control the requisite information for The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBS). Washington has not participated in the survey at all.
Why wouldn’t they want to know how their children’s drug usage compares with that in other states? – especially given the studies already showing that states with approved “medical” marijuana have the highest adolescent marijuana usage rates.
For a mother, playing the blame game in response to the agony of a teen drug death is understandable if misguided. I have been to the funerals of young people who have lost their lives this way – and comforted their parents.
But for a journalist, spinning a drugs legalisation yarn that fails to investigate the facts on the back of such a death is downright indefensible.