Isn’t it about time we acknowledged that 99 per cent of us take drugs? It’s just that some are legal and therefore “acceptable”. But if all drugs were defined by the harm they can cause, then the current rankings and legal penalties would be pointless.
Dealing with the long-term effects of alcohol and tobacco costs the NHS far more than dealing with those addicted to class-A drugs. Apart from liver disease and heart failure, alcohol abuse causes death on the road, domestic violence, murders and absenteeism from work. Not to mention the damage to family life and relationships. Can we put on a price on all of this and be sure it’s less than the cost of illegal drug use?
The Lib Dems have made a brave attempt to define a sensible drug policy, proposing that anyone possessing illegal substances for personal use should not be prosecuted. It’s hardly rocket science. The “war on drugs” will never be won, no matter how many penalties are imposed.
The Home Office published a report last October concluding that tough laws have little effect. In countries such as Portugal where it’s not an offence to own a small amount of drugs for personal use, the number of users hasn’t increased. In short, legislation makes no difference to personal choice.
There will always be more or less the same number of people who want to try drugs. Over the years I’ve dabbled. Back in the 1960s, I planned to put dope in my wedding cake, but the dealer didn’t show up and the cake was clean. Nevertheless, the police raided my flat, impounded my cake and submitted it to forensic testing. A few months later they returned, and I was charged with possessing a small amount of hash and fined £10. It wasn’t my hash and it wasn’t there earlier in the day, but I didn’t contest the case because I wanted to minimise bad publicity.
Where cannabis is and isn't legal
Where cannabis is and isn't legal
Having been reclassified in 2009 from a Class C to a Class B drug, cannabis is now the most used illegal drug within the United Kingdom. The UK is also, however, the only country where Sativex – a prescribed drug that helps to combat muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis and contains some ingredients that are also found in cannabis - is licensed as a treatment
2/12 North Korea
Although many people believe the consumption of cannabis in North Korea to be legal, the official law regarding the drug has never been made entirely clear whilst under Kim Jong Un’s regime. However, it is said that the North Korean leader himself has openly said that he does not consider cannabis to be a drug and his regime doesn’t take any issue with the consumption or sale of the drug
MARCEL VAN HOORN/AFP/Getty Images
In the Netherlands smoking cannabis is legal, given that it is smoked within the designated ‘smoking areas’ and you don’t possess more than 5 grams for personal use. It is also legal to sell the substance, but only in specified coffee shops
Although in some states of America cannabis has now been legalised, prior to the legalisation, police in the U.S. could make a marijuana-related arrest every 42 seconds, according to US News and World Report. The country also used to spend around $3.6 billion a year enforcing marijuana law, the American Civil Liberties Union notes
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
Despite cannabis being officially illegal in Spain, the European hotspot has recently started to be branded, ‘the new Amsterdam’. This is because across Spain there are over 700 ‘Cannabis Clubs’ – these are considered legal venues to consume cannabis in because the consumption of the drug is in private, and not in public. These figures have risen dramatically in the last three years – in 2010 there were just 40 Cannabis Clubs in the whole of Spain. Recent figures also show that in Catalonia alone there are 165,000 registered members of cannabis clubs – this amounts to over 5 million euros (£4 million) in revenue each month
In December 2013, the House of Representatives and Senate passed a bill legalizing and regulating the production and sale of the drug. But the president has since postponed the legalization of cannabis until to 2015 and when it is made legal, it will be the authorities who will grow the cannabis that can be sold legally. Buyers must be 18 or older, residents of Uruguay, and must register with the authorities
Despite the fact that laws prohibiting the sale and misuse of cannabis exist and is considered a habit only entertained by lower-income groups, it is very rarely enforced. The occasional use of cannabis in community gatherings is broadly tolerated as a centuries old custom. The open use of cannabis by Sufis and Hindus as a means to induce euphoria has never been challenged by the state. Further, large tracts of cannabis grow unchecked in the wild
In 2001, Portugal became the first country in the world to decriminalize the use of all drugs, and started treating drug users as sick people, instead of criminals. However, you can still be arrested or assigned mandatory rehab if you are caught several times in possession of drugs
9/12 Puerto Rico
Although the use of cannabis is currently illegal, it is said that Puerto Rico are in the process of decriminalising it
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The US state became the first in the country to legalise marijuana in January 2014. In February 2015, President Obama recently said he expects to see more states "looking into" legalisation. However, it is illegally to grow more than six cannabis plants and to possess more than 28 grams of the drug
Oaksterdam in Oakland, California, is the world's only university dedicated to the study and cultivation of cannabis. If you are court in California with anything up to an ounce of cannabis, you will be fine $100, but you will not get a criminal record, nor will you have to appear in court
Cannabis is grown in the wild and has been used to treat conditions such as gout and malaria. But, officially the substance is illegal to consume, possess and sell
Over the years, I have taken mescaline (once) and MDMA (ecstasy) half a dozen times. I’ve had fun, but it’s risky. You never know the quality of any drug, which is why they should be legalised, sold in government-controlled shops and produced to safe standards. Cannabis – as the Lib Dems have proposed – should be available on prescription for medical reasons.
Now the Government wants to crack down on legal highs. More than 350 different substances were reported in 2013, and there are at least 250 head shops in the UK and God knows how many online. Some councils are talking of closing them down. Banning these substances will just encourage a black market, or result in users switching to illegal drugs, booze or prescription painkillers.
Which brings me to another huge drug problem, one the Government seems reluctant to acknowledge – the rampant misuse of over-the-counter painkillers. Does it think limiting the sale of Nurofen Plus and other pills containing codeine (which the liver converts to morphine) to 32 tablets at a time stops long-term abuse and addiction?
I know plenty of people – alcoholics, for example – who need the buzz from high doses of codeine. A US study found that half of the people who took codeine-based medication for three months were still taking it five years later. Another study concluded that, over time, codeine becomes less effective and actually increases sensitivity to pain. So you are taking it only for the high.
More than 32,000 people are addicted to codeine in the UK – another cost for the NHS to mop up. In the US, legal painkillers cause more deaths than guns or car accidents. And a new study says that paracetamol can double the likelihood of an early death if taken daily over a long period of time.
There are plenty of paracetamol addicts, and the drug can cause stomach bleeds and ulcers if misused. You’ll never find an honest politician who says they took recreational drugs and it was fun. I just can’t be a hypocrite. I am not an addict and I haven’t taken any drugs for a long time now. But I don’t want the nanny state to decide that some are “safer” for us than others. Anyway, if the Government legalised dope, think of the money it’d make in tax.
Beauty and the beast in one fashion package
The hype surrounding the V&A’s Alexander McQueen exhibition opening next week grows. A preview on Radio 4’s Front Row was a sycophantic chat with stylist Katy England and photographer Nick Knight. This is the second show devoted to Lee’s work; I loved the exhibition Daphne Guinness curated at Somerset House. Will anyone have the guts to say that these clothes might be sculptural but some are unwearable and even ugly?
Andrew Wilson’s new biography of McQueen is a sensitive portrait of a very difficult character. After reading it I had nightmares for several days. It reminded me of all the chaos, the tantrums and the madness of the fashion business which I worked in for years.
He made me a boldly striped suit for the opening of Elton John’s Aida in New York. As I arrived, Elton’s mother said in a very loud voice, “What’s Janet come as, a fucking deck chair?” I never wore it again. Lee gave me a wonderful long leather coat with a train, which I wore to a party at the Tate. I fell over on the way in (always a risk with his creations) and then an elderly posh bloke in pinstripes begged me to go back to his flat and perform unspeakable things for him.
A welcome addition to the dominatrix’s wardrobe
Forget Fifty Shades of Grey: the most erotic (and touching) new film about sex is the intriguingly named The Duke of Burgundy, by British director Peter Strickland. In a crumbling grand house somewhere in Eastern Europe, two women act out their S&M fantasies in a series of bizarre rituals. It has a cracking soundtrack I couldn’t forget (by Cat’s Eyes), and moments of pure genius, as well as gentle comedy.
Afterwards, I realised there hadn’t been a single man in the movie, and it’s not often you can say that. It stars Sidse Babett Knudsen, of Borgen fame, as a middle-aged dominatrix who rebels by donning pyjamas because they are “comfortable”. I know where she’s coming from.
Empower the young, not middle-class gender worthies
All week London’s South Bank centre has been hosting Wow, celebrating what it is to be a woman in 2015, with live broadcasts, mass mentoring sessions, uplifting speeches and comedy nights. Men get their own gig in November, at Bam (Being a Man).
I’m not a curmudgeon, but both reek of middle-class worthiness. I’d rather money was spent on “empowering” events for young people all around the country – in Rochdale and Rotherham, for example, where recent court cases indicate that some sections of the population desperately need support and encouragement to achieve their dreams and understand what is appropriate behaviour.
Paloma puts her faith in rock’n’roll politics
Singer Paloma Faith has decided that fans coming to see her on tour should get the benefit of some political rabble-rousing. She’s hired lefty columnist Owen Jones, once of this parish, to come on stage as the warm-up act. He says she’s worried that her fans might be seduced by Ukip or, even worse, not bother to vote after Russell Brand told them it was pointless.
I’ve got my doubts about Owen’s chances of success. I hope he’s polishing his put-downs for hecklers.Reuse content