Pity the player who has to lie

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The Independent Culture
POOR OLD Lawrence Dallaglio. He has had to stand before the nation and ask us all to believe him when he says he's a liar. Like the man in the playground conundrum who declares, "I never tell the truth", he's in a no-win situation. For nothing he says has any logic at all.

How drunk would you have to be before you started boasting to people you barely know about being a former drug dealer and current drug user, when in fact you are, as Dallaglio claims to be, utterly against drug use?

Why, if you think that drug use is so foolish, would you imagine that making up stories about your own drug use would "impress" people? Why would such a thing enter your head? Why would you wish to impress a pair of druggies, anyway? Wouldn't you, instead, want nothing to do with them?

Why would you be so completely against drug use, while at the same time embracing alcohol abuse to the point where you forget who you are and what beliefs you hold dear?

And why is it that you can't take a line of cocaine occasionally and still play world-class rugby, when you can play world-class rugby while getting so hammered on booze that you experience a personality transplant?

But the big question is this: Why is it that the story Lawrence Dallaglio told to the News of the World is so very shameful?

Here we have a young and mixed-up teenager, whose older sister has died tragically in the Marchioness disaster. He lives in a part of London that is recognised to be a major area for the distribution of illegal drugs, and where many young people fall prey to the persuasions of big-time drug dealers. He gets into drug-dealing for a while, but has the talent and strength of will to get himself out of it and instead forge a career as a world-class sportsman.

The legacy of his unfortunate past is that he is still tempted to use recreational drugs occasionally, though, just like plenty of well-adjusted 26-year-olds up and down the country, he quite clearly understands their dangers and can keep his drug use under control.

Not all of this is exactly admirable, but some of it is. It would at least be understandable, if people were in the business of understanding the many different experiences people have with drugs, instead of taking worst-case scenarios and spreading fearful propaganda. But people aren't. Which is why Dallaglio now feels he has to lie through his teeth in order to save his skin. He either lies, or loses everything.

It is a stark choice for him, one that he has to try to see though. But in the end all it will do is add another chapter to the stupid book we all keep writing, about the transgressive, dangerous excitement of drugs - all drugs, any drugs. Unless people like Dallaglio are allowed to discuss, without fear of retribution, what they really know about drug culture, every piece of hyperbole about the evil of drugs will simply do what it has always done: increase their glamour.

I truly know what Dallaglio is going through right now, because my husband, too, was involved in a tabloid drug expose. Bizarrely, while that story only confirmed something that had already been reported many times in the media - that Will Self took drugs - his first reaction when he was confronted with the story was to deny it. He denied it to me, to his employers, to the rest of his family, to the press. But after being hounded by all branches of the media for days, he eventually told the truth, which was, quite simply, that at a time when he was under huge pressure, he had relapsed into taking heroin.

This drug, along with crack cocaine, is one that Dallaglio doesn't appear to have had any truck with, even though the drugs he did mention are quite wrongly bracketed along with these fearful substances in the eyes of the law. What people with a heroin problem need is understanding, help and support, not condemnation and criminalisation. And after two years of confusing signals, which have included New Labour's embrace of the drug- fuelled phenomenon that was "Cool Britannia", it seems that the Government is beginning to understand this.

The news yesterday, that the Government will be particularly targeting heroin in their "war on drugs", is the best news I've heard so far in the idiotic blanket of drug legislation in this country, and the first real indication we've had from the Government that they do understand that not all illegal drugs are equally dangerous.

The other main point in their drug strategy is that drug users are now going to be treated with a little more understanding, in as much as they will be given help in trying to rehabilitate themselves instead of being sent to the drug dens we call prisons.

This may be a consequence of the anti-drug tsar Keith Hellawell's wish to concentrate on breaking the link between drug use and crime, because the hideous spiral of addiction set off by heroin makes it the drug most likely to drive its users to criminal activity.

Whatever the reason, it is an important step forward for Government drug policy, and it is a disappointment that the Opposition, which says it views tackling drugs as a cross-party concern, was unable to resist criticism of it. Led by Ann Winterton, the Opposition sought confirmation that the Government had no plans to legalise cannabis and urged Jack Cunningham, who presented the package to the Commons, to reaffirm that to take illegal substances was "wrong, addictive, and dangerous".

But what is wrong and dangerous is her view, and the view of her party. The insistence with which so many people cling to this view suggests that it is in some way addictive as well. (Which, incidentally, some class A drugs are not.)

How many times does it have to be explained that most people's first introduction to drugs is through cannabis; that their experience of it is usually mild, pleasurable, undamaging and without craving for more; that this leads them to believe that therefore the effect of other drugs on them has been exaggerated and distorted as well, and that they then see no reason why they shouldn't carry up right up the chain - until they realise too late that while the dangers of some drugs are hugely over- emphasised, some - principally heroin and crack - really are every bit as life-denying and dangerous as they are made out to be.

Yes, poor old Lawrence Dallaglio. He's caught in a web of lies about illegal drugs for the same reason that all of our society is. It's because almost anything you can say about them is true. And almost anything you can say about them is a lie. You can say that illegal drugs have been scientifically proven to be less damaging than alcohol, and you can say that illegal drugs can kill. You can say that illegal drugs are nothing but a non-addictive bit of a laugh, and you can say that once you're in their grip you'll kill your own granny to get more of them.

All of these things are true, even though they flatly contradict each other. The Government's decision to allow a chink of discernment between one drug and another suggests that the "war on drugs" may be about to become less about hyperbole and more about truth. And the truth is this: people who take drugs are not evil; they are just a little bit reckless, for all kinds of reasons, some of which we might admire under different circumstances (such as on the rugby field). Trying to put reckless people off trying drugs by exaggerating their dangers is like trying to put a person with a sweet tooth off cake by sprinkling some sugar on it. Let's stop sugaring the pill, and instead start lessening its allure by the application of dull and unglamorous common sense.

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