Peter Hitchens, What Have You Been Smoking?


Peter Hitchens’ views are so unpopular among the chattering classes that he deserves to be listened to; the effortless way he riles Question Time audiences packed with right-on know-nothings warms the cockles of the heart. But how he manages to be so wrong, so often, about drugs and drug laws is a feat in itself, and a subject which transforms him from the consummate debater into frothing mad man.

Mr Hitchens has produced three blog posts this week pertaining to the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into drug policy  (for which Richard Branson was the celebrity evidence giver of choice). Hitchen’s argument  against the decriminalization of drugs is based on little more than emotional appeal and other logical fallacies, but essentially it all boils down to, “Drugs are bad, Mm’kay?”

The fact that narcotics are harmful is no argument for prohibition: Radio 1 is bad; Dianne Abbot is bad; The Guardian is bad- to name but three things which would make the world a better place if they ceased to exist- but that doesn’t lend any credence to the argument that banning them is the right thing to do. Like Dianne Abbot, drugs should be something which responsible adults chose to consume in the privacy of their own homes and most definitely should not be given to Minors.

Hitchen’s case is so hollow he resorts to a cheap character assassination against Branson by scoffing, “Hands up who remembers his [Bransons’] gormless support for Britain joining the Euro on the BBC’s Question Time. He could hardly get the words out, he had so little grasp of the subject. Yet he unerringly knew which was the stupid side on any major question, and equally unerringly supported it. And -which is much worse- people listened with respect”.

This is Hitchen’s biggest mistake; He wrongly assumes that everyone who supports decriminalization is a wet, Euro-luvvie of no fixed principle. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. There are many of us who despise the EU for precisely the same reasons that we hate drug prohibition. Namely, that they insidiously erode our liberty and cost the country many billions of pounds for the privilege of doing so. In fact the Transform Drug Policy Foundation estimated that costs to victims and the Justice system from drug related crime was in excess of £16Bn in 2003/2004.

Despite the colossal financial burden of prohibition this should not be the ground on which the debate takes place, the real issue is one of personal liberty and the folly of paternalistic governance. Hitchens appears to realize this, saying, “people write to me saying they couldn’t understand how I could be in favour of liberty of thought and speech and against identity cards, and simultaneously in favour of criminal punishment for drug users. I grasped at that moment that drug abusers actually see the taking of drugs -especially cannabis- as an exercise of civil liberty.” He continues, “This is plainly ludicrous. Drug taking makes its victims passive, fuddles their ability to think and makes their speech incoherent. It is, in those ways at the very least, the ally of authority and the enemy of thought and speech.” It is strange that Hitchens should highlight his own hypocrisy yet remains unmoved to change his view. For whilst it is true that some naive teenagers might think that sucking on a soggy roach is an important expression of their rights, most people who smoke weed do it because the enjoy the effect and are harming no one but themselves besides.

Hitchens then treats us to a bit of scare mongering by evoking Huxley’s Brave New World, in which the population is drugged by the police. Although quite what this has to do with current British drug policy I do not know. But if I cannot, then perhaps Aldous Huxley himself can change Mr Hitchens mind? It was Huxley who said, “Hell isn’t merely paved with good intentions; it’s walled and roofed with them. Yes, and furnished too.” By decriminalizing, or better still legalizing, narcotics we would not only save vast sums of money but we would be free from the ludicrous situation of punishing people whose crimes are committed against themselves. And we would save ourselves from the good intentions and mistaken moral surety  of prohibitionists like Peter Hitchens into the bargain.

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