ANTI-DRUGS POLICY IS LIKE A SLEDGEHAMMER TO CRACK A NUT
Why I'll always stick up for the underdog
IT'S strange that Inspector Gavin Tempest of Operation Enterprise feels I
was "making light" of his attempts to target drug offenders in Norwich in
last week's column.
I was being deadly serious, but I'll try to answer his points on
recreational drug use and the hypocritical sledgehammer-on-a-nut tactics he
currently supports. Gavin would have us believe that sniffer dogs in clubs
are driven by health and safety concerns, rather than legal or personal
freedom issues. Let me just tear that down for a second, if I may.
The dangers of E'd-up dancers overheating in clubs is real, but fairly rare
and even rarer when Norwich clubs kick out at 2am, rather than 6am or 7am as
they do in the capital. If city club owners genuinely cared about their
clientele, they would provide information, free water, chill-out areas and
stand-by medics as most clubs do in London, rather than having their
customers criminalised. There's a big difference' between warning kids about
the dangers of drugs and arresting them for experimenting.
I'm sure Gavin encouraged his children not to talk to strangers, but would
he lock them up for saying hello to someone in the street? I quite agree
that many young clubbers lack education, but the idea that unscrupulous drug
dealers see "inexperienced drinkers" as a "niche" market is sensationalist
Instead, look a little closer to home. Clubs arc there to make money and
they do so by offering things like "drink all you can for a tenner" alcopop
deals (see practically any chain bar in Norwich right now).
According to Sir Donald Acheson ex-Government Chief Medical Officer. "it
seems self-evident that alcopops appeal to those who are still drinking soft
drinks, (and) have a tendency to habituate people to alcohol in childhood" -
a niche market of "potential victims" exploited by unscrupulous drug
dealers? Yeah, that's more like it, Gavin.
Alcohol is a drug. but do you call your local barman a pusher? No? Why not
Every time I turn my TV on I see alcohol ads funded by the brewery giants of
the Government-endorsed Portman Group. Seems like drug pushing to me and I
should know - I've advertised beer. I've also met a fair amount of
drug-dealers in my life, but not one of them has ever tried to "push" drugs
on me. The myth that they prowl outside schools forcing narcotics on
innocents is reactionary Daily Mail twaddle. Drug dealers exist because
people like taking drugs
and they are the only people who supply them.
The uncomfortable truth, rarely mentioned, is the enormous amount of
pleasure that people get from taking drugs like Ecstasy. Accept that treat
them like adults and give them education, rather than arresting them or
driving them to less well regulated underground raves -- you know, the kind
which get raided by Norfolk police using CS gas.
What did make me smile is Gavin's statement that club owners are introducing
dogs to their premises to protect clubbers from the "dangers of controlled
drugs". Excuse me for being cynical, but 1 think it's closer to the truth
that club owners whose customers take controlled substances on their
premises risk losing their highly-lucrative licences and, even more
pointedly, kids on pills don't drink much booze -- they drink water. And
there's no profit in water.
If you want evidence of the link between the breweries and hysterical
anti-drugs propaganda, look no further than the cynical, reactionary and
utterly misleading "Sorted" billboards that followed Leah Betts's death.
This UKP1 million nationwide poster campaign was paid for. For FREE. by
media buyers Booth Lockett and Martin, Knight Leech and Delaney and FFI -
companies whose biggest client is, hang on. Lowenbrau! Impartial and
altruistic benevolence on their part. I think not. Also, the powers allowing
police to impose draconian fines on illegal rave organisers in the
Fntertainment (Increased Penalties) Act of 1990 was a private member's bill
pushed through by Tory MP Graham Bright.
Bright then represented Luton home of the HQ of brewery giants Whitbread
plc. When the 1994 Neil Hamilton "Cash For Questions" scandal emerged.
Hamilton and Bright were both damningly linked to lobbyists lan Greer
Associates, whose leading client was, wait for it, Whitbread' Curiouser and
curiouser said Alice, before the police nabbed her for eating "magic
Any drug death is a tragedy but lets put it into perspective: 5,000 people
die every year from alcohol misuse. On average, seven people die a year from
Ecstacy. Taking into account the very lowest user statistics, that's a
relative risk factor of 1in 1,000,000, making Ecstasy statistically safer
than coarse fishing, playing Sunday football or eating in Italian
Restaurants Oh and by the way. Ecstasy didn't kill Leah Betts --excessive
amounts of water did, just as it would if you sat at your table and did it
May I suggest that any of the "minority" that Gavin predicted would support
my views (any of the 1.000.000 regular users of E or 3.000,000 regular
cannabis smokers) write letters to Lowenbrau and the other big breweries,
suggesting they show posters of people in drink-drive comas, lying in pools
of blood or vomit, or reduced to quivering wrecks by alcoholism with the
catchy phrase: "Hey' Whose round is it?"
Drug addiction is no joke, but there's a vast difference between weekend
pill and dope users and drug addicts. A bit like, oh. I don't know, people
who like a few pints on Riverside and certified alcoholics. say.
When it comes to addiction in this country, alcoholics outnumber smackheads
1,000 to one and heroin and crack will never be the drug of choice for the
vast, vast majority of recreational users. While cocaine. although
increasingly popular, is still out of most young clubbers' price range.
Let's be honest, when it comes to drugs in clubs, this week Gavin is mostly
meaning Ecstasy and hash and I'd refer him to the stats above. And in most
users' minds, Ecstacy and cannabis are about as closely related to heroin
and crack as Stewart White is to Haile Selassie--and unless there's a damn
fine scandal about to emerge, that's not very close at all.
And before you trot out the "soft drugs lead on to hard drugs" cliche, the
gateway drug to heroin has always been tobacco, with 100 percent of
smackheads starting off on cigarettes . - that other great addictive taxed
To group all drugs under the same umbrella is as nonsensical and ludicrous
as saying that because crocodiles sometimes kill people, all animals are
bad. therefore all pet owners should be arrested.
Sadly, some users will go on become heroin addicts or die in clubs. But a
far, far. far smaller minority than Gavin's "thousands of law abiding"
drinkers who will go on to become victims or perpetrators of the 70 per cent
of murders, 75 per cent of stabbings and 50 per cent of domestic assaults
attributed to good old alcohol every year.
My views may be backed only by the minority, but while drug users are
treated like criminals rather than human beings, I'll keep sticking up for
the underdog, rather than the sniffer dog, thank you