A Load of Bright
An atheist's views on religion and the supernatural

A Victory for the Drug Law Defenders


Earlier this month, an extremely dangerous, persistent drug criminal was read the riot act in a British court and threatened with a prison sentence for any further offence. This heinous villain, this monstrous mobster, this threat to the very fabric of our society, was none other than 68 year old grandmother of two, Patricia Tabram from Humshaugh, Northumberland, who, with beastliness of forethought, grew and imbibed cannabis to relieve depression from the death of her teenaged son years before, and acute physical pain from two car crashes in which she had been injured. A Northumbria police spokesman said:

“We take drug abuse very seriously and are keen to use all tools at our disposal to eliminate drug dealing and use in the community.”

Well, I for one feel safer knowing that this criminal is being monitored and will reside behind bars if her evil cannabis consumption doesn’t cease immediately. All of those people who defend the drug laws of Britain can all give themselves a hearty pat on the back in light of this great success.

I can’t keep up the sarcasm any longer.

This news story is nothing short of an outrage. If ever one needed an example of why ‘victimless crimes’ are nothing but a fantasy, look no further. If there is no victim, there is no crime. If nobody has been harmed, there is no crime, and there is certainly no criminal! No drug is related to more crime and violence than alcohol, and yet as the millions intoxicate every weekend, we will not allow an old lady the freedom to use a mild drug, in the privacy of her own home, for medicinal purposes? And in the year 2007!

I am completely against drug prohibition. I see no reason to outlaw all drugs except for alcohol and nicotine (and caffeine, for that matter). I believe that people should have the right to do anything in the privacy of their own homes, and in certain specially licensed premises, provided that it does not harm anyone else. Of course I realise that drugs can be harmful to the person who imbibes them, but once aware of the risks, every person should have the freedom to take that risk if they so choose.

As far as the law goes, I don’t think a lot of people base their decision either to take drugs, or not to, on the law. Granted, if you legalised drugs you’d get a few people experimenting, but on the whole I think the people who want to take drugs do, and the ones who don’t, don’t.

All the drugs laws do is channel millions of pounds worth of tax payers money into a ‘war’ that was lost a long time ago, while simultaneously allowing organised crime to fund itself with millions of pounds worth of money, made from selling drugs.

So, where can we trace prohibition to? Why the need to stop people enjoying themselves and harming nobody else? It stems mainly from religion. As Sam Harris says in The End of Faith (published 2004):

It is no accident that people of faith often want to curtail the private freedoms of others. This impulse has less to do with the history of religion and more to do with its logic, because the very idea of privacy is incompatible with the existence of God. If God sees and knows all things, and remains so provincial a creature as to be scandalized by certain sexual behaviours or states of the brain, then what people do in the privacy of their own homes, though it may not have the slightest implication for their behaviour in public, will still be a matter of public concern for people of faith. (p159)

Harris has got it spot on here. If people were less concerned with making a fictional god happy on irrational grounds, and more concerned with making human beings happy, as they should be, we could cut through the nonsense of prohibition in record time. The sooner people, particularly religious liberals and moderates, realise the rewards of humanism, the sooner we may reach a position of sanity, where tired old ladies will be free to go about their business of drinking a hot chocolate with something extra, without fear of being sent to prison to live with real criminals, whose crimes did have victims.

Author’s note: for a very compelling and entertaining statement of the anti-prohibition argument, I recommend High Society by Ben Elton.

8 Responses to “A Victory for the Drug Law Defenders”

  1. If she was suffering from depression and pain, why didn’t she go to her GP and get something free and legal? Much is made of the medical benefits (to the extent that I’ve heard of some US school kids thinking it’s a cure for cancer) but in all cases I’ve heard of there are more effective treatments with fewer side-effects. Self-prescribing an unknown dose of something is not sensible.

    So she actually got community service and a warning. Are we to have one law for gangster style drug dealers and another for sweet little old ladies?

    To be honest, I’m already sickened by the exploitative behaviour of tobacco companies, I don’t like the idea of them having another set of weapons with which to entrap people.

  2. Hi James,

    I’ve read of many cases where people have turned to cannabis because it offered relief that prescribed medicine couldn’t. There are also doctors who are happy to admit that they would prescribe cannabis for pain relief if it were legal. It certainly isn’t a cure for cancer, but it is an effective way of relieving the suffering of cancer patients. I can’t speak from experience, but I understand that cannabis generally doesn’t have negative side effects – that’s why so many people use it recreationally.

    The law certainly must apply to everyone equally, old aged pensioners and gangster drug dealers alike. I used this case study as an extreme example to illustrate the point that drugs should be legalised – for everyone, equally!

    The tobacco companies are exploitative, but compared to drug barons and organised crime leaders, they are saints. Literally a lesser of two evils. I know who I’d rather see get the business, with the government claiming taxes at the same time. And, with drugs being supplied legally, they would have to be tested and meet safety standards, to prevent contamination etc. Drug users, who would take drugs regardless, would be safer. Children would also be safer, as they would not be able to purchase drugs as they can now (drug dealers don’t ask for ID, they don’t care how old their customers are).

    I’m not saying there aren’t draw backs. There are. But the world isn’t black and white, and when the pros and cons of prohibition are weighed up, there’s really no contest, in my opinion.

  3. Perhaps the question we should ask the people who use cannabis in a self-prescribed medicinal way is whether they would be willing to try the cannabis-derived medicines that are already available. These are more effective and have fewer side effects, but they don’t give the patient any feeling of euphoria either. In particular, they are not smoked, which as a means of delivery is terrible. Set fire to almost anything and you’ll get an unpredictable mix of carcinogens.

    Perhaps I’m being uncharitable, but is it possible people are using supposed medical benefits to justify getting stoned?

    I knew a girl who had ME and who claimed that smoking cannabis helped her. Whether or not it made her feel better, who can judge, but those close to her tried to discourage her use, as she was noticeably worse (in terms of coordination and mood) the following day.

    I’m also dubious about it helping with depression. A friend of mine cited mental health problems (including depression) as one reason he wanted to give up smoking cannabis.

    My concern is that by legalising something it gives a legitimacy, even encouragement to its use. I believe you would see an increase in usage and the related problems, but these things are not easy to measure.

    I think drug dealers would still be selling to kids if it was legal for adults.

  4. Perhaps the question we should ask the people who use cannabis in a self-prescribed medicinal way is whether they would be willing to try the cannabis-derived medicines that are already available. These are more effective and have fewer side effects, but they don’t give the patient any feeling of euphoria either. In particular, they are not smoked, which as a means of delivery is terrible. Set fire to almost anything and you’ll get an unpredictable mix of carcinogens.

    Cannabis can easily be added to food. In fact, the old lady in my article didn’t smoke it, she used it in baking and sprinkled it in her hot chocolate.

    Perhaps I’m being uncharitable, but is it possible people are using supposed medical benefits to justify getting stoned?

    I knew a girl who had ME and who claimed that smoking cannabis helped her. Whether or not it made her feel better, who can judge, but those close to her tried to discourage her use, as she was noticeably worse (in terms of coordination and mood) the following day.

    I’m sure there are some people who claim false medical problems as an excuse to smoke cannabis. They shouldn’t have to. If it were legalised, they wouldn’t have to. As for the girl with ME being worse the next day, if her friends and relatives disapproved of drugs generally then they would be easy targets for post hoc fallacy.

    I’m also dubious about it helping with depression. A friend of mine cited mental health problems (including depression) as one reason he wanted to give up smoking cannabis.

    I have to confess you make a good point. The depression thing has never quite sat right with me either. As far as medical advantages go, I’m a lot more on board with it as physical pain relief.

    My concern is that by legalising something it gives a legitimacy, even encouragement to its use. I believe you would see an increase in usage and the related problems, but these things are not easy to measure.

    You imply that it does not deserve legitamcy, without explaining why. I don’t think legalising it would encourage it, but it’s open to interpretation by the individual. For reasons I’ve explained in the article, I don’t think it would lead to an increase in usage. When the 24 hour licensing laws were introduced in Britain, everyone said we would all turn into alcholics. It’s been over a year, and all the studies show that people are drinking about the same as they used to, they just have more choice about when to do it. I think it would be the same for drugs. In most cases, the people who take them would carry on, the people who don’t wouldn’t.

    I think drug dealers would still be selling to kids if it was legal for adults.

    I don’t think drug dealers could sustain a business just dealing to children. I’m not saying it would be impossible for children to obtain drugs, of course, but I think it would be a lot more difficult.

  5. You imply that it does not deserve legitamcy, without explaining why.

    To allow or encourage people to cause harm to themselves and tax them for it, seems horribly exploitative.

    I just feel that people ought to be encouraged to overcome drug use. Not actually thrown in prison, which I see as very unconstructive, but helped to get off drugs. I would see them and possibly their family and friends as the victims.

    We should have processes to discourage drug use for the same reasons we have laws saying you have to wear seatbelts. OK, it isn’t always going to go awry, but if it does someone has to clean up the mess.

    I’m not saying it would be impossible for children to obtain drugs, of course, but I think it would be a lot more difficult.

    Well they do seem to find it quite easy to get hold of alcohol.

    All the best,

    James

  6. James,

    It’s not a question of encouraging people to harm themselves. It’s about respecting the right of adults to be free to make their own decisions about their life style and health. If we follow your argument to its logical conclusion, we would have to outlaw alcohol, tobacco, fatty foods and skydiving.

    I COMPLETELY AGREE that people should be encouraged to overcome drug use, and not just thrown into prison cells. I believe that legalisation is the most effective way to achieve that. They wouldn’t be criminals so they could be open about their problems, and we could use the money from the taxes to fund anti-drug campaigns and rehabilitation programs.

    Children certainly do get hold of alcohol very easily. Do you think they would find it any more difficult if we made it illegal? If you don’t, then this is not a reason to keep drugs illegal. Kids generally get hold of stuff they shouldn’t, mischeivious little rascals that they are. It is a problem for society, but I honestly believe that the best way to tackle it is in an environment where we have control of the supply, not organised crime leaders who are laughing at us for the stance we currently hold.

    Very much appreciatiing your contribution to the site James, thanks.

  7. You make a good point regarding fatty foods and skydiving. However, I think that society is right to take some responsibility for protecting people from their own bad decisions. Yes, that means losing some individual freedom. At the opposite extreme is people who say, half joking, “Let’s just take the safety warning labels off things and let evolution sort out the idiots”. I guess it’s a question of where you draw the line.

    The reason we don’t outlaw tobacco and alcohol is that their use is already far more prevalent than that of illegal drugs, ingrained into our culture and to do so would be political suicide.

    I COMPLETELY AGREE that people should be encouraged to overcome drug use, and not just thrown into prison cells.

    Relieved to hear you agree on this important point. What worries me is that many of the drug programs suggested by those most keen to legalise are not so much rehabilitation, as maintenance. I can imagine pharmaceutical companies rubbing their hands with glee at this prospect.

    Children certainly do get hold of alcohol very easily. Do you think they would find it any more difficult if we made it illegal?

    Hard to say, alcohol is already legal and unlikely to go away if made illegal. It seems to me that children can more easily get hold of alcohol than cannabis. If cannabis (or any other drug) was available to adults in pubs, supermarkets and off-licenses would that still be the case?

    Going back to the original story, wouldn’t we expect Patricia to be in at least a bit of trouble if she’d been making/taking unprescribed prozac?

    Very much appreciatiing your contribution to the site James, thanks.

    No problem, glad to contribute, just probably shouldn’t have got into a debate when I don’t really have the time for it. But I’ll make sure I’m around when the fundies turn up telling us we’re all going to hell.😉

  8. You make a good point regarding fatty foods and skydiving. However, I think that society is right to take some responsibility for protecting people from their own bad decisions. Yes, that means losing some individual freedom. At the opposite extreme is people who say, half joking, “Let’s just take the safety warning labels off things and let evolution sort out the idiots”. I guess it’s a question of where you draw the line.

    Yes, you’re right about the line. Personally, I value freedom as possibly the most important thing any human being can enjoy, so I think the line is best drawn at the point that gives as much freedom as is reasonably possible. The government does have a duty to make the dangers of drug abuse as widely known as possible and to offer support and rehabilitation on the NHS, but that is quite sufficient, in my opinon.

    The reason we don’t outlaw tobacco and alcohol is that their use is already far more prevalent than that of illegal drugs, ingrained into our culture and to do so would be political suicide.

    The reason we don’t outlaw tobacco and alcohol is that it would deprive the government of billions of pounds in tax revenue, damage the associated industries and drive the market underground, by creating a vacuum where high demand is not met by supply. The universe hates a vacuum, and this is no exception. All of these points are quickly reversible as arguments in favour of legalising drugs. Drugs are extremely prevalent in society too, and heavily ingrained into our culture, the difference is that the law regards drug users as criminals and as a result, the culture is underground and behind closed doors.

    America tried prohibition of alcohol in the 1920’s and look what happened. It’s exactly what we’ve got with drugs today. In contrast, look at Amsterdam. There crime and violence rates are low in comparison with ours, all things being equal.

    Relieved to hear you agree on this important point. What worries me is that many of the drug programs suggested by those most keen to legalise are not so much rehabilitation, as maintenance. I can imagine pharmaceutical companies rubbing their hands with glee at this prospect.

    This is a valid point, but it’s not an argument against legalisation, it’s a problem to be dealt with and monitored during and after legalisation. Imagine that there wasn’t a police force and we were talking about introducing one. Your argument is like saying “we shouldn’t have a police force because some officers would be corrupt and make crime worse”. It’s a valid point and something to work on, but not a reason not to have a police force.

    Hard to say, alcohol is already legal and unlikely to go away if made illegal.

    Drugs are already here, unlikely to get worse if made legal and extremely unlikely to go away if they remain illegal.

    It seems to me that children can more easily get hold of alcohol than cannabis. If cannabis (or any other drug) was available to adults in pubs, supermarkets and off-licenses would that still be the case?

    I don’t want to hurt your feelings here James, how long ago were you in school? I’m 25, and even when I was in school it was very easy to get hold of almost any illegal drug. My younger brother, who left the same school last year tells me it is now even easier. And I went to a nice, rural school. From my experience, it’s probably easier to get drugs than alcohol, because kids can’t obtain alcohol without encountering adults. Not so with drugs, except for drug dealers who, as I’ve said, couldn’t care less.

    Going back to the original story, wouldn’t we expect Patricia to be in at least a bit of trouble if she’d been making/taking unprescribed prozac?

    I don’t really know enough about prozac to really respond to this point. Cannabis is harmless enough to be taken without prescription. I don’t know if prozac is. If it is, it shouldn’t be prescription only. If it’s not, then it should remain prescription only and it’s not a fair comparison.

    No problem, glad to contribute, just probably shouldn’t have got into a debate when I don’t really have the time for it. But I’ll make sure I’m around when the fundies turn up telling us we’re all going to hell.

    Lol. I’m glad to hear it! I’ve enjoyed discussing this with you, I hope you’ve found it as stimulating as I have. You make some challenging points, but if you don’t mind me saying, you seem to build all of your arguments on a base assumption that drugs are wrong/bad. I think you really need to challenge this assumption in your own thoughts. I hope that doesn’t sound patronising, I just think you’re a little prone to begging the question.

    To any readers who want further reading, this article on Wikipedia sums up the arguments for and against prohibition very nicely.


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