Peter Hitchens is wrong to argue for banning cannabis, but he is far more thoughtful than his liberal opponentsby Peter Lilley / October 17, 2012 / Leave a comment
A legalisation campaigner joins a protest in Hyde Park on International Cannabis Day
When I wrote a pamphlet advocating legalisation of cannabis in 2001, I was congratulated by friend and foe alike for my “courage.” But it required no courage. On the contrary, for the first time in my career I felt the warm embrace of the liberal establishment. Interviewers asked me what questions I would like, confided that they had lined up a reactionary nutter to argue for prohibition, and quizzed me with almost embarrassing bias in my favour.
What requires real courage—which Peter Hitchens displays in his new book The War We Never Fought: The British Establishment’s Surrender to Drugs—is to argue for a serious effort to deter drug taking, and cannabis in particular. At best, this argument guarantees ridicule, at worst, neglect by the bien pensants who dominate our broadcasting networks and to a lesser extent our press.
Hitchens’s book has not persuaded me to change my view on legalisation. But he leaves me with more sympathy for his approach than for that of the liberal allies whose company, on this issue, I keep. Above all, Hitchens is far more honest in facing up to the alternatives and acknowledging the true reasons for concern about drugs.
First, he realises there are only two logically coherent policies: prohibition and legalisation. Decriminalisation, the fashionable option of the intelligentsia, makes no sense, though it is the destination which policy in this country has moved towards for several decades. One of the book’s most interesting aspects is Hitchens’s revelation of the manoeuvring, from Roy Jenkins onwards, to all but decriminalise cannabis use.
Moves to reduce or stop enforcing penalties on cannabis users have always been accompanied by promises to crack down harder on the “evil drug dealers.” But, Hitchens argues, if sale of cannabis is evil, then its use must be evil. If a drug is inexorably addictive, enslaving the hapless user and rendering him a danger to society, then it is as important to deter the buyer as the seller. Conversely, if cannabis use is a harmless lifestyle choice, its provision can scarcely be evil.
So we can opt for one of two models: Sweden’s toughly enforced prohibition and the Netherlands’ legalisation of cannabis sale. Hitchens argues for the former. I advocate the latter. Decriminalisation is the worst of both…