Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Note by Conor McNicholas on opposition to the taking of drugs in principle

  This further submission is intended to cover a question posed to me by Mr David Winnick that I realised, having read the transcript, I failed to fully answer.

  Mr Winnick made the point that he was against people taking drugs in principle, this is my response.

  I fully understand your position of being against drug taking in principle—many people are and it's a perfectly valid position to take. Sometimes it is indeed the role of government to take moral positions on behalf of the general citizens.

  However, if we are to take a moral position then we must be prepared to live with the consequences of that moral position. In the case of drug law—a system clearly based on morality and socially accepted behaviour rather than on personal or social harm—the moral position we have taken as a society has resulted in immense social harm, the criminalisation of large numbers of young people, deaths as a result of lack of information and support, alienation of many young people from authority, and contributed, I believe, to a spiral of social depravation, particularly in inner cities.

  I believe government makes effective moral decisions when they are broad and flexible. We consider gambling a vice and many individuals have horror stories of what gambling has done to their lives, but we do not make it illegal and leave it to a criminal underworld to control—we accept the reality of its place in society and take it into a legal framework where we can protect people from any rare adverse affects and give them support should there be trouble. However, many people simply do not wish to gamble because they just don't like the thought of it. (I am one of them!)

  We make a moral judgement in society that we believe young people should have sex only after they become 16 years old. We know sex is a potentially dangerous thing for young people (witness the huge rise in sexually transmitted diseases) but we recognise that it happens and rather than try and prohibit it we encourage young people to talk about it, encourage them to practice safe sex and try and provide as must support as possible. That said, many people choose to wait until much later in life to have sex because they feel that is appropriate to them.

  So I believe it is with drugs. I believe there can be safe recreational drug use as long as there is education, openness and support where it is needed. I believe that taking supply out of the hands of criminals and putting it within a strong legal framework can only benefit us all. I also believe that were this to happen we would see almost no rise in drug use generally. Those who currently have an inkling that they may want to take drugs have no problem finding them. The vast majority of people don't take drugs because they just don't want to. Bringing them within a legal framework isn't going to make them want to try. They are quite possibly against drug taking in principle, which is an entirely valid position to hold. But when drugs are taken within a legal framework people have the flexibility to make their own, personal, moral decisions, and I believe we should be trusting them to do just that.

6 December 2001

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