"Marijuana is taken by .....musicians. And I'm not speaking about good musicians, but the jazz type... ~ Harry J. Anslinger, Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 1948
When I heard Jacqui Smith and a catalogue of other ministers putting their hands up to having smoked cannabis in their youth, saying they were wrong and that the war on drugs must continue, a shiver ran up my spine. Forty seven years ago, the barrister Mervyn Griffith-Jones made his case for the prosecution of Lady Chatterley's Lover. "Is this a book you would wish your wife or servants to read?" he asked. This question shocked the public and effectively ended the "one law for THEM and another for US" society, a society which denied respect and independence both to women and to the great unwashed.
Is that attitude now returning? Those ministers – some of whom had the benefits of an education system which allowed children of ability but no money to gain access to opportunity – are drawing the ladder up behind them. And now they are saying, "I experimented with drugs and survived, but let's close the door on the youth of today".
What will it take to prove that the current drug strategy is as much a failure as Prohibition was in the US in the 1920s? It has created the same raison d'être for organized crime. It is also filling the prisons, contributing to social exclusion, and placing a strain on the NHS.
What will it take to tear up this failed policy and look at new ways to control the use of drugs? And what will it take to persuade those ministers that their own experience is relevant. Cannabis did them no harm (if they had been caught, it would have wrecked their careers and we would not have the benefit of their abilities in the higher echelons of government – oops, I did not mean to go there, but what the hell, it's on the way to being true and these ministers might turn out OK).
A large number of media celebrities – welcomed into Downing Street by Tony Blair and hobnobbing with the royals – get away with being part of the drug culture and still manage to live rich and fulfilled lives. It's a cliché, I know, but treating people like children, telling them what they can and can't do, makes them behave like children. Treating them like adults, on the other hand, will give them self respect and a desire to behave in a more mature way.
So ministers, ask yourselves, "What is it about me and Elton John and Kate Moss that is different from every other man and woman who strays into drug taking?" Think again, please. Try to find a better way.