The Independent London Newspaper
26th April 2019

ILLTYD HARRINGTON: Time for a crackdown on drugs? Let matters rest

    If you get time, go to the Glastonbury Festival and smell the air

    If you get time, go to the Glastonbury Festival and smell the air

    Published: 10 December, 2014

    THE drugs question has been disinterred from a forgotten Home Office think tank – it has just come back, predictably producing familiar reactions and cliches. 

    One says “do not decriminalise them” while another pleads for the law to become harsher, forgetting that our prisons are overcrowded and have become centres for drug dealing and taking. 

    To quote Nancy Reagan: just say no. This is where the whole matter wobbles, with earnest pleas for more serious support for addicts, to look at other countries’ approaches, or to decriminalise cannabis. 

    The final school of thought says “do nothing, blame foreigners or rely on any form of coercion”. 

    In 1975 James Callaghan was Home Secretary and he invited myself and others to a weekend retreat in a large country house. I palled up with Bill Deedes who was then the editor of the Daily Telegraph, a sage and worldly man. We were joined on a short walk by the chief constable of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. He was one of those almost military policemen, and he told us in a firm voice that he would stamp out drugs at the forthcoming Isle of Wight festival, a disastrous prediction. If you get time, go to Glastonbury and smell the air.

    In the 1920s the official Home Office register of heroin addicts in London was 27 and they took their prescriptions to a dispensary in Wigmore Street, W1. 

    The latest flurry of interest produced shockwaves; of addicts who are going through rehab, opinionated politicians and grim-faced social workers. 

    Most of it was a sad mixture of honour, hope and regret. Myth is treated as fact. 

    Is it true that smoking pot puts you on an escalator to more dangerous drugs? There is no widespread evidence of that. Cannabis is used widely, in towns, villages, colleges and universities. It is conceded that if you need a drug it can be obtained in 10 minutes, anywhere in Britain. It is sometimes forgotten that sufferers from MS can get great relief from it. 

    There is a powerful case for regulation, and it is not good law when an Act of Parliament cannot be enforced. A dozen policemen turning up and smashing a door down should cause all of us to think when they come out clutching a very small amount of a drug. 

    The Netherlands, with its long liberal traditions, has been pronounced the devil’s playground but the economic and social wealth of that country does not seem to have been impaired. 

    The American states of Colorado and Washington have legalised it. 

    The most ardent opponents of change are the drug dealers themselves. 

    This is now one of the major industries in the developed world. 

    There are cartels which organise the supply. Many of the “shareholders” have their own corporate state, piling up wealth on a massive scale.

    I remember once being rebuked by a hostess for drinking too much at a party. In the cold light of a New York morning I felt chastened by the verbal lashing, until I saw the bowls of cocaine in the dining room, each with an individual spoon made by New York’s top jewellers. 

    After the Big Bang removed all restraint from the City of London, every stockbroker would arrive in work where free cocaine was available. 

    Our revered Queen Victoria was very partial to a slug of belladonna and I will not repeat what I heard about the former Duke of Kent and his drug dealer. 

    Let matters rest.