Leading article: Harmless or not, these pleasures are illegal

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RECREATIONAL DRUGS of the sort associated in recent days with Lawrence Dallaglio are illegal. Their use is also more widespread than almost anyone not directly involved with them can imagine. Dallaglio's alleged description of his sometime activities as a drug dealer, as reported in the News of the World, evoke credible images of cars criss-crossing various metropolitan middle-class enclaves to make deliveries in a manner, businesslike and unobserved, that is equally characteristic of other parts of the country.

In a post-industrial society, this may indeed be Britain's biggest commercial enterprise, or at least the fastest-growing. And ever since The Beatles owned up to smoking a joint in the Buckingham Palace lavatories during their investiture ceremony, it has had its lighter side. Tales of heroin epidemics among children in former mining communities in the Yorkshire coalfields, however, are no laughing matter. The real question concerns the linkage, or absence of one, between the two sides of the phenomenon.

The case of Lawrence Dallaglio straddles both aspects. As a professional sportsman, he is a part of the entertainment industry. We are invited to giggle along with his reported offer to snort cocaine off the body of the (female) journalist who so adroitly contrived his downfall. But when he was given the captaincy of the England XV, he accepted a tacit responsibility to act as a role model.

Public attitudes need to start taking account of the fact that people leading blameless and productive lives may also be regular consumers of recreational drugs. As harmless as their activities may be, however, they are contrary to laws which can be presumed to be enacting the will of the people. In time, those laws will be modified to take account of changing attitudes. For now, perhaps we should be grateful for the role of sport as the catalyst of behavioural debate.