The subject of the so-called “War On Drugs” has shuffled back on to the political agenda this week, as Richard Branson – whose stance is, after all, well known – penned an article for the Telegraph, and also appeared before the Commons Home Affairs committee. His message is that the market for cannabis should be regulated and taxed, and drug policy moved from the Home Office.
Moving that policy area to the Department of Health, along with putting Police resources into pursuing those at the top of the pile of organised criminality to which the trade in currently illegal drugs has effectively been ceded for decades, would be priorities for Branson. He reminded the committee that there are many in the UK with drink and tobacco related problems, let alone those caused by other drugs.
So far, so reasonable, but the elephant in the room, as ever, is the body of opinion that intransigently clings to the idea that the law should clamp down on any illegal substance ever harder, while managing not to think this through: there are millions, repeat millions, in the UK who use currently illegal drugs, even though many only do so occasionally. And there are just over 80,000 prison places.
That body of opinion is led, as ever, by the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre and his band of hacks and pundits at the Daily Mail. And the order has already gone out to put the boot in to Branson, who has had a rather easier ride at the Telegraph. First has come a piece declaring “Soft justice on drugs”, detailing how much folks can be caught with and still not be sent to jail.
The guidelines mean that small time dealers will get nothing more serious than a community sentence, which has caused self-promoting Tory MP Priti Patel to erupt in faux outrage: “These people are not just dealing drugs, they are destroying people’s lives” she has told, apparently unaware that the very illegality of these drugs and the total lack of any quality control is what causes much of the damage.
Ms Patel does not address this question, nor the fact that countries are throwing billions at this unwinnable “war” to no avail. For her, and so many of what Robin Day so memorably called “here today and gone tomorrow politicians”, all that matters is the soundbites, the airtime, and the votes. Engaging brain and addressing the problem is not allowed to enter.
Likewise the piece by “Daily Mail Reporter” telling that someone died after a fall, which happened some time after he smoked a number of joints, and that this makes Richard Branson wrong. Once again the lack of awareness of the strength and quality of the drug – because it is all in the hands of criminality – is not addressed.
There will be more in this vein. I expect Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” to be sharpening her pen right now. And it’s not good enough.