College days remembered

In The autumn of 1969 I was a research student in the English department of Manchester University, a late entrant who'd intended to continue his studies at Hull. Despairing of the loneliness of postgraduate life in a new town, I was happy to fall in with a crowd of interesting, bar-based students, the nucleus being a fellow English researcher who'd just returned from a creative writing course at an American university and had been in the same class as reclusive novelist Thomas Pynchon. Cool.

One evening in his flat in the Fallowfield area, I "turned on" for the first time. A bunch of us sat around on cushions as the joint was rolled and passed around. At the time I felt nothing, and couldn't understand why people paid so much for so little of the stuff: I felt the same way several hours later after I'd waded through half a dozen

chicken biriyanis. The person who brought and supplied the dope was new to me. He was Ed Straw, and was and is the younger brother of Jack, then a feisty student leader across the Pennines in Leeds, now the Home Secretary. He was accompanied by his splen did sister, Sue, a blonde ringer for Patti Boyd, then beloved of George Harrison and later to marry Eric Clapton. At the time, Ed was what could be termed "an enthusiastic user", certainly no pusher, not even a dealer, but someone from London, a notch ab ove the rest on the hip-scale, and a guy who could always lay his hands on it, it seemed. God bless him. This incident, pleasantly remembered and lost in the narcoleptic mists, has gnawed at me for some time: ever since such uptight attitudes were assumed by certain members of the Labour cabinet on the subject of decriminalisation; especially since thenews that instead of a proper debate on a subject that remains a fundamental issue of civil liberties, the Government intends to ape the Americans and appoint a "drugs commissar" - aah, those reassuringly English phrases. Though I make no allegations about J ack Straw's behaviour or beliefs - he had and still has his own agenda - the incident does mirror the hypocrisy of a government that on the one hand celebrates its long-haired past, its love of Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, a government that invit es Noel Gallagher to No 10 and talks excitedly about its links with the young, and then - when it suits - tries to deny its own roots, its own history. Several people were present on this evening, three with whom I'm still in touch: one is a company director, another a headmaster, the third a senior lecturer at a college in an area of Wales not known for its progressive lifestyle. Unsurprisingly, none of them wants to be involved though all are sympathetic and, like me, hardly regard a retelling of these sub-hippy japes of nearly three decades ago as an act of betrayal. Of course it may embarrass Jack Straw, may even make him accept that marijuana is not as alien and unfriendly a substance as his previous pronouncements may indicate. I'm sure he considers it a trivial issue: people used to think the same about the laws against homosexuality before their reform, a year before this incident occurred. Then otherwise law-abiding citizens went around scared, risked disgrace and blackmail; now so many people, from plumbers and milkmen to local government heads, head teachers and BBC executives, feel very much the same way. I expected better from this new government: I expected something honest and grown-up, not the same kind of ill-informed, "I didn't inhale" garbage. After all, we survived, didn't we? Those of us, that is, who haven't been driven mad by LSD, killed by her oin, or battered, bothered and bewildered by those more familiar scourges, alcohol and tobacco. "We can't legalise cannabis: we don't know its long-term effects." But we do know the long-term effects of alcohol and tobacco, so why not ban everything? Come on, Jack and co, do something positive about the ludicrous state of our cannabis laws. The drug culture is already with us: in music, on film, in books, on the stage, on television - didn't we all howl with delight as Rab C Nesbitt got smashed in Am sterdam, or when EastEnders threw a hash-cake party? And while Rizla will tell you that its highly successful, king-sized cigarette papers have absolutely nothing to do with the joint-rolling subculture, just ask yourself: do you know anyone who smokes k ing-size, roll-up cigarettes?

The writer is executive editor of 'Time Out'.

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