This week we’re looking at the politics behind prohibition and what it is going to take to change the political landscape of this country and get British politicians on board with the rest of the world when it comes to cannabis policy and law reform.
Firstly let’s take a brief look at how prohibition has evolved on both sides of the Atlantic and how these policies have detrimentally affected everyone on the planet.
The modern war on drugs, as many of you will be well aware, is built on hatred, racism and ignorance. Many of these foundations were laid down by Harry J. Anslinger, as well as his contemporaries and the vast wealth of the businessman who had vested interests in criminalising the humble cannabis plant and its consumers. Because of this, they helped to finance campaigns to demonise the plant and criminalised those that used it.
We still face many of the same industrial detractors today with just with a few new ones added in – Pharmaceutical companies, The petroleum/oil industry, International Energy conglomerates, The Alcohol industry, Prison guard and police unions to name but a few.
It was, of course, former US president Richard Nixon, a man who is now known to of been an anti-Semite and racist is the father of the modern war on drugs.
His signing of the Controlled Substances act of 1970, which replaced the defunct Marihuana tax act of 1937, marks the declaration of the war on drugs.
The 1937 act was argued out of existence by former Harvard professor and counter-culture hero Timothy Leary who, following his arrest for Cannabis possession, successfully argued in 1969 that the act was flawed and unconstitutional. Before this, to acquire the stamp of approval from the authorities, you’d first have to present your cannabis, thus breaking the law and implementing yourself in a crime. This is self-incrimination and is protected under the US constitution’s fifth amendment.
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that had two enemies. The anti-war left and black people. You understand what I’m saying?”
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” – John Ehrlichman counsel and Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs under Former US president Richard Nixon.
To quote the late, great Bill Hicks, “It’s not a war on drugs, it’s a war on personal freedom.”
The story on this side of the pond is actually rather different in many ways. The primary reason for these differences seems to boil down to the fact that traditionally the American’s viewed addiction as a sin, whereas the British viewed it as a sickness.
In the UK, for the first half of the 20th century, we separated the medical treatment of dependent drug users from the punishment of unregulated use and supply. Under this policy, drug use remained rather low and stable, with relatively little recreational use and few dependent users.
Those that were deemed to be dependant were prescribed their drugs by their doctors as part of their treatment. This compassionate and sensible approach lasted for decades up to the 1960’s when drug use was increasingly criminalised and consumers stigmatised, perhaps in direct response to the rise of recreational drug consumption in the youth and counter-culture in 1960’s Britain.
Our laws were actually rather unique – until 1916 drug use wasn’t really controlled at all in the UK. However, it was the concern over British troops returning from WW1 that seemed to have been the trigger for the criminalisation of the distribution of morphine, cocaine, and later cannabis in the UK.
To get an idea of why there may be such concern, consider that it was not only possible but popular to buy heroin and cocaine packages that you could send to a loved one away at war.
However, addicts in the UK could be prescribed their drug and avoid criminalisation in what became known as “The British System”
The British system operated up until 1964 under the chairmanship of an eminent British physician Sir Humphry Rolleston. The Rolleston committee released a report which concluded after two years of deliberation that addiction was a disease, that addicts were ill, and that the medical profession was best placed to regulate the distribution of illegal narcotics.
The Rolleston Committee Report was followed by “a period of nearly forty years of tranquillity in Britain, known as the Rolleston Era
This lasted until the mid-1960’s when it was discovered that a small number of doctors had been massively overprescribing, and with the infamous case of Lady Isabella Frankau, the wife of the venerated consultant surgeon Sir Claude, who is said to have almost single-handedly sparked the 60s heroin epidemic.
The signing of the Prevention of misuse act of 1964 signalled that there was going to be a change in approach and policy in the UK from now on.
By 1971, the Misuse of Drugs act had been signed to fulfil the UK’s obligation to international treaties, thus marking the end to liberal attitudes towards drug consumption and addiction recovery.
Since the 1970’s on both sides of the Atlantic we’ve seen an unprecedented ramping up of the war on drugs and its unintended consequences. The UK’s most prolific undercover cop, Neil Woods describes this escalation best in his book Good Cop, Bad War as an “arms race” – the perfect metaphor for the nearly half-a-century of suffering that global prohibition has inflicted on the world.
Prohibition has been an unmitigated disaster for the majority of the population and is the root of so many of the ills and inequalities in our society.
It’s now some 46 years later, and we are finally beginning to see the cracks appearing in the British government’s drug policy. The Liberal Democrats ran in the last election with a policy that would decriminalise all drug use in the UK following a similar model to the Portuguese.
There is also the incredible work being done by Durham constabulary’s PCC’s (Police and Crime Commissioner) Ron Hogg and his chief constable Mike Barton, who hit the headlines in 2015 with their policy of deprioritising personal cannabis use and cultivation.
This is a successful policy which has since been adopted by several other police forces around the country. In Durham, they have now announced that they intend to tackle the criminal element directly.
They are looking to do, for the first time in decades, what could be viewed as a return to “the British system” – handling addiction and addicts compassionately via medical services.
Their policy towards Cannabis is already paying dividends and needs to be adopted nationally by the other 42 constabularies that are failing to achieve what Ron and Mike have, which is to be the only force ranked outstanding.
Cannabis consumers in the UK are left in what has been termed a “postcode lottery” as in one constabularies boundaries you will be aggressively targeted by police for possession, let alone cultivation, but in another, you’ll be left alone entirely to grow your own.
These inconsistencies and the arbitrary application of the law is evidence that the law itself is deeply flawed. The prohibition of Cannabis and other substances is one of the biggest contributory factors to the breakdown of civil cohesion and the rise in antisocial behaviour in this country.
Global attitudes towards Cannabis are liberalising, slowly, but surely. The War on drugs is losing its enemies one by one. The Californians are not resting on their recent victory of legalising cannabis for recreational consumption, they’re already pushing to decriminalise Psilocybin containing “Magic” mushrooms.
“We see this as a civil rights issue.” – Marina mayoral candidate Kevin P. Saunders
A far cry from this the British government who’ve recently implemented one of the most draconian and backward thinking drug policies in history.
The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 which defines as a “psychoactive substance” anything which “by stimulating or depressing the person’s central nervous system affects the person’s mental functioning or emotional state”.
The act as you can imagine, given how corrupt our government is, bans all such substances but exempts alcohol, tobacco or nicotine-based products and of course caffeine and other food and drinks, medicinal products and any drug that is already regulated under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
Our policymakers have nearly a dozen bars in the palace of Westminster in which to get intoxicated.
Alcohol is well known to affect decision making, So shouldn’t it be that those deciding the fate of one drug not be under the influence of another?
This hypocrisy is painfully palpable given the number of British politicians that have admitted to consuming Cannabis.
(It’s a lot higher than you may think)
The current foreign secretary and once frequent guest on Have I got News for you, Boris Johnson when answering questions about his cocaine use was also asked if he had tried any other drugs, responded “Cannabis, you mean? Yes, I have. There was a period before university when I had quite a few spliffs.”
The same hypocrisy can be observed across the pond where the last 4 US presidents have admitted to Cannabis use. With Barack Obama apparently rather liking it according to anecdotes and stories in his biography, (Barack Obama: The story)
In 2015, as MPs pocketed a 10% pay rise the commons commission voted to freeze all but 6 individual prices (all food) in the 11 subsidised bars and restaurants in the grounds of Westminster Palace.
Taxpayers subsidise the sale of alcohol in around a dozen bars on the Parliamentary estate to the tune of £4m a year.
So while food bank usage increases exponentially MPS are free to overindulge on subsidised food and booze which is all paid for by you, the taxpayer.
We can only imagine how much better off the world would be if only there was at least one cannabis cafe in the halls of the house of commons.
I mean MPS having a joint or two after a long day of here-here, Booing and jeering at each other, surely couldn’t be a bad thing?