Sunday, 1 November 2015

"Why are drugs illegal?"

David Nutt on top form in The Guardian:

... the short answer to the question “why are (some) drugs illegal?” is simple. It’s because the editors of powerful newspapers want it that way. They see getting drugs banned as a tangible measure of success, a badge of honour.

He then ruins an otherwise excellent article by finishing off with this:

And behind them, the alcohol industry continues secretly to express its opposition to anything that might challenge its monopoly of recreational drug sales. But that’s another story.


Rich Tee said...

My explanation for that has always been just that alcohol and tobacco got in there first. That is to say, alcohol and tobacco pre-date government prohibition (ie. 500 years ago government used to be small and weak and didn't ban things). If heroin and cocaine were the first drugs, they would be legal and alcohol and tobacco coming afterwards would be banned. It's just a historical accident as far as I'm concerned.

The Guardian article over-complicates things, as left wing theory tends to do because it assumes that there is some kind of over-arching structure and meaning to everything, rather than just that current drugs policy is an accumulation of decisions made over the past 200 yesr or so.

The Stigler said...

I think Rich Tee's explanation is better: People often have a disproportionate fear of the unknown simply on the basis of being overcautious. Our culture and our politics pander to this.

As someone who has an interest in film history, there's been a real shift from the mid-80s to today. The mid-80s was the point where dope shifted from being a small drug for a few rich urbanites to being quite common. And at that point, popular cinema was awash with drug dealing villains: Beverley Hills Cop, Lethal Weapon, Crocodile Dundee 2, Commando, Robocop 2, License to Kill. OK, they were also generally murderers as well, but... Anyway, my point is that this was popular entertainment in the 80s mostly watched by young adults. This wasn't tabloid inspired - it was about the fears of people. But within a decade, that had changed. Cinema was making films that took a more subtle view of drugs, like Traffic. Today, you have films like We're the Millers which has a drug dealer as the main character. Or Knocked Up where people smoke a lot of weed. The Wire is a condemnation of the war on drugs.

And that change happened because people either smoked some weed and were OK, or know people who smoke some weed and are OK. To me, it's all utterly ridiculous. I knew some top students in the 80s who smoked a bit. One of them is on the board of a large company today. If I revealed that, no-one would care. No-one would call for his head.

I'm not even sure that anyone but maybe the Daily Mail is bothered out of the tabloids. Did The Sun condemn how the police have pretty much stopped bothering with small drug crimes? Or the Daily Mirror? It was hardly a story anywhere.

I don't even know how much pressure the alcohol industry exerts. I know they paid for the Leah Betts poster campaign, but that was 20 years ago.

Lola said...

All narcotics were 'legal' once. It's the attempt to cure the illness of addiction with the law that is flawed.

The Stigler said...


The attempt to ban or drugs is also about societal collapse, and how bansturbators view the bulk of humanity as being children who need to be shown what to do, who if they are not controlled, will become bestial.

I remember the warnings by some groups about all-day drinking. How the economy would collapse as people would just spend all afternoon in the pub. And most people did a couple of afternoons down the pub, trying out their new found freedom, and then went back to normal.

Graeme said...


If your interest in films extends back to the 1920s, you can see scenes of people wandering into US drugstores - at a time when alcohol was prohibited - and emerging, rubbing their noses or gums where they had ingested a paper of cocaine. How times change!

Bayard said...

"He then ruins an otherwise excellent article by finishing off with this:

And behind them, the alcohol industry continues secretly to express its opposition to anything that might challenge its monopoly of recreational drug sales."

Well it depends what he means by "the alcohol industry". I am quite prepared to believe that sort of thing of drinks giants like Diageo, but you cannot extend it to your average small independent wine merchant or off-licence with any semblance of credibility.

The Stigler said...


I rarely go back that far. 1930s is normally as far as I go. Any recommendations (not just films with cocaine ingestion)?

Graeme said...

I would recommend any film with Lon Chaney...apart from Phantom of the Opera or Hunchback of Notre Dame. The films he made with the director Tod Browning might interest you, especially The Unknown. The Penalty is a good film to watch as well, if you allow for cultural differences between 1920 and now. If you can see a documentary about Lon Chaney made by Kevin Brownlow for the Turner Classic Movies channel, you might get an idea.