Drugs: blame kids and aliens

Click to follow
The Independent Online
I CANNOT be the only person venturing an opinion in the drugs debate who has been a regular user. I have been one of the hundreds of thousands of cannabis consumers, a community that embraces arthritis sufferers, schoolchildren and students, computer programmers and farmers and - without a doubt - politicians.

I say 'has been' because I gave up dope when I stopped smoking, and I gave up smoking because cigarettes were killing a friend of mine. I only smoked because I enjoyed dope: it was how I ended my day, like Horlicks or Southern Comfort, an agreeable infusion into an averagely anxious life. Like thousands of others, I have no addictions and I fit no stereotype. Nor did my suppliers - 'traffickers' to Michael Howard and John Major - who ranged from a driving instructor to a carpet salesman. Our transactions involved a commodity that was cheaper and less toxic than alcohol; they were no more exotic than a contract with a newsagent.

The prohibition of both soft and hard drugs has created a class of crime that has little to do with consumption. Prohibition simply removes from scrutiny and regulation a significant component of popular culture and a big part of a global business.

Coming from an erstwhile cannabis consumer, these conclusions may not be surprising, but now they are more or less mainstream. This much has been confirmed by the police, the professionals closest to the problem of prohibition. But, like all professionals, they have attracted the calumny of a Government that prefers populist prejudice to experience that produces uncomfortable knowledge.

When it comes to drugs, politicians take a McCarthyite vow of silence. Quarantined in their political purdah, they managed last week to impose a panicky injunction on the police chiefs who had wanted to inaugurate a candid conversation about the drug business. Now without political allies, the police may consign the debate to the next millennium.

This episode laid bare the polarisation between professionalism and politics. Tory traditionalists are paranoia-junkies who get a buzz out of creating enemies. Without a foreign empire to enlist in their roll call of evil influences that must be subdued by capitalism and Christianity, they depend increasingly on the enemy within. That used to be organised labour, teenagers and Communists. Now it is children.

The iconic children of this era of Toryism are 10-year-old killers and 11-year-old drug-dealers. We do not ask these children, 'What on earth has happened to you in your life?' But we should do. The 11-year-old boy who has a drug habit and whose mantra is 'What else is worth living for?' is asking a serious question of the Government that created the conditions of his existence. A Government that will not ban tobacco advertising and will not support the means of making a legitimate living speaks with forked tongue when it talks, as it did last week, about 'giving the wrong message' if drugs are decriminalised.

It speaks with all the authority that comes from a long and dishonourable association with sedation and addiction as a strategy of the state. It was the Tory government of the 1840s that sponsored the merchant venturers, of whom our own Tories are apparently enamoured, in their conquest of China. British traders in The Triangle between Britain, India and China, were loath to use silver currency to make up the balance of payments problem created by the greater value of Chinese exports. So Britain's merchants enforced opium as a currency.

China's initial relationship with Europeans was as the victim of Britain's drugs traffic. After the country's defeat in the Opium Wars waged by Britain, its entire economy was subordinated to European and American control - and flooded with opium routed through Hong Kong, then sedated and addicted.

The British scripted a new identity for China, as if it had no history of its own before it was orientalised as the 'Yellow Peril'. China the victim was re- imagined as culprit.

Britain was one of the first great, global, drug traffickers. Its empire introduced sedation and addiction to the lexicon of state strategies for domination and subordination. In Britain the very word 'drugs' is still reserved for a special category of intoxication. Unlike alcohol and tobacco, Britain's epidemic intoxicants, 'drugs' carries meanings that have less to do with their transcendental faculties than their racialised associations.

Just as thief became 'mugger', and so invoked the image of the black man as the new spectre of the streets, so the Caribbean Yardie and the Chinese Triad - criminals incarnate - are invoked as the agents of dangerous drug traffic. These spectres are mobilised to relieve Britain of its own history as one of the architects of the world's illegal drugs trade - and to justify continued criminalisation.

Just as it still mobilises the victims of its imperial history as its ethnic enemy, so has the Government conjured up the child victims of the global drugs industry as its contemporary enemy. It cannot release new candour into the debate about drugs because having an enemy is more important than having a solution.