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Was it all just puff?

Are politicians actually capable of thought and articulation or they merely making noises in return for which they think they are going to get rewards?

Barely two weeks after Michael Howard trumpeted his alleged belief that “the people should be big and the state should be small“, he weighs in on the side of big state and against the little citizen:

A future Conservative government would reverse Labour’s downgrading of cannabis from Class B to Class C, Tory leader Michael Howard has said.

His intervention comes a week ahead of the change to Class C, which will place cannabis alongside anabolic steroids and prescription anti-biotics and mean police will rarely make arrests for possession of small amounts of the drug.

Mr Howard said: “After thinking about this very carefully, we have come to the view that the Government’s decision is misconceived and when we return to office, we will reclassify cannabis back to Class B.”

Mr Blunkett’s changes introduced a “muddle” which would send a signal to young people that cannabis was legal and safe, when it was not, said the Tory leader.

Well, there is a germ of truth here in that HMG is most certainly in a ‘muddle’ but at least it is a muddle which is shambling along, after a fashion, in a sort-of, vaguely right direction. The motives may not be entirely logical or even honourable but I think it’s results that count here.

But am I to believe that Mr Howard has thought about this ‘very carefully’? Cannabis is only illegal because people like Mr Howard demand that it be so and the question of whether or not it is ‘safe’ (whatever that means) is entirely irrelevant. If he genuinely wants to the state to be small then he is hardly likely to achieve that aim by reinforcing the principle rubric behind big government, i.e. that it is necessary in order to manage the citizen’s health and welfare.

So is Mr Howard (a) disingenuous or (b) really not thought this through at all?

I think we have a right to know.

25 comments to Was it all just puff?

  • Jacob

    “Are politicians actually capable of thought and articulation …”
    Yes, David they are. (Maybe not all of them).
    Can’t you understand that drug legalization isn’t accepted by the great majority of the public, no matter how illogical that seems to your libertarian mind? And a politician which embraces “extremist” ideas isn’t going to be elected. I’m afraid Mr Howard is right in guessing that opposition to drug liberalization will get him votes. So he is behaving logically, from his point of view.
    I could live with this, if he just embraced the libertarian view on all other issues.

  • Alfred E. Neuman

    Can’t you understand that drug legalization isn’t accepted by the great majority of the public, no matter how illogical that seems to your libertarian mind?

    Yes, this is true, but it mostly based on vast amounts of government propaganda over many, many years. Reefer Madness, anyone? You should see the anti-weed ads that they play in the US as commercials. Absolutely disgusting. If I want propaganda I can go to Cuba.

  • Jacob,

    “Can’t you understand that drug legalization isn’t accepted by the great majority of the public..

    Neither is a free market in education.

  • The problem is, Jacob, that “exceptions” to the rule of “small, unintrusive government” such as this one will soon become the norm. Remember also that nobody is asking Mr Howard to embrace “extremist ideas”. David notes not the (unremarkable) absence of a proposal to legalise drug posession but the specific promise to further criminalise marijuana possession.

    As for the question: I’m going with b)

  • S. Weasel

    Ah. Well. This is where the Right so often disappoints: by identifying vice as the legitimate business of government.

  • Jacob

    ” ‘Can’t you understand that drug legalization isn’t accepted by the great majority of the public..’

    Neither is a free market in education. ”

    Sure.
    I haven’t heard Howard (or any other politician) propose to privatize education. Even vouchers have enormous difficulty being accepted.

    Anyway, I think education is by far the more important of the two issues.

  • “Are politicians actually capable of thought and articulation or they merely making noises in return for which they think they are going to get rewards?”

    I think it’s a bit of both, exactly like the rest of the human race. Assuming that any person, including a politician, is motivated either 100% rationally or 100% like a Pavlovian rat is falsely simplistic.

    Right and left-wing politicians have their characteristic mental blind-spots: personal social issues on the right, ecomonics on the left. They’re not being hypocritical or consciously contradictory when they advocate gay rights plus increased taxes, or smaller government plus stricter laws on drugs: they are interpreting the practical application of their political and moral ideals as requiring different and specific kinds of coercion.

    Their ideals are not libertarian but morally correct according to their own left/right world views, in which they believe that people *should* want to donate more money for “good” causes, or use force to stop the evils of drugs.

    In both cases, their world-views need improvement. But I think the way to understand where they’re coming from is to see their mistakes as symptomatic of how people with adopted institutionalised world-views tend towards different moral errors, rather than diagnosing those flaws as symptomatic of deep wholesale corruption.

  • Rob Read

    The only use of coercion should be to prevent greater coercion from occuring. This is the only legitimate role of the state. So “we” have to look into whether drug addiction generates coercion? Making drugs illegal makes them much more expensive and as such this state coercion is rewarded with much more (profitable) criminal activity being inflicted on addicts and the community at large! I.E. making free choice over drugs illegal causes much more harm than good.

    It would thus allways be far better to decriminalise (I don’t like the term legalise as it implies the right to ban) and control any possibility of coercion occuring from it’s use e.g. violence on drugs or robbery afterwards to fund it. This brings in the interesting situation of should the state have a right to control conditions of use? Should you have to get a drug license in order to use drugs?

  • Why is this bit of unprincipled pandering by Howard surprising, in light of his equally unprincipled stance on the question of university fees?

  • S. Weasel

    Should you have to get a drug license in order to use drugs?

    Well, you do, if it’s a prescription drug.

    That’s always been my beef. Decriminalizing recreational drugs is one thing. How about ‘de-prescriptionizing’ legal drugs for a start?

    I’m perfectly capable of understanding the necessary pharmacology, I’ve got the resources of the whole ‘net for analysis (don’t laugh – you can get things like free Medline these days) and I’m far more motivated than my doctor to research drug interactions and side effects. How come I have to humble myself before a white coat to change my blood pressure meds?

  • Jim H

    Al,

    “Yes, this is true, but it mostly based on vast amounts of government propaganda over many, many years”

    So, if I have this right, when you are in the minority it’s because the majority’s been brainwashed by the government.

    What does that say about you when you are in the majority?

    Word games aside, I believe a majority of people in but the U.S. and the U.K. are against legalization of any recreational drugs including marijuana.

    DISCLAIMER I lived in the U.K. for 10 years, I’m a former criminal investigator and worked in both the U.S. and the U.K. usually involved in drugs offenses

    People (the majority?) often become uneasy or develop a dread over an issue with little or no empirical evidence to support that uneasiness.

    On this issue, I suspect that is in play. People are reluctant to support any efforts to decriminalize something they intuitively know is fraught with unintended consequences.

    Don’t be so quick to write off that dread as a result of “propaganda.”

  • S. Weasel – the problem is that there are an awful lot of people who pressure doctors to prescribe antibiotics for viral infections. They have access to free medline too but they don’t seem to be using it. Ultimately, I think we should go to a prescription free system but I don’t kid myself that anybody’s thought through the practical problems of antibiotic resistance et al which destroys the market value of antibiotics by breeding up populations of resistant germs by popping these pills like candy. Until that sort of problem is solved putting everything over the counter is simply unacceptable. Plague promotion should not be a feature of a libertarian solution.

    Moving on to marijuana policy. Wouldn’t it be normal and expected that a judgment of which schedule marijuana belongs to would imply a combination of both its health effects and its legitimate uses? If you’re going to have a schedule system (see above why you need one) at all, there should be a scientific weighing.

    I think that it’s a legitimate position for a politician to make that X level of danger combined with Y level of usefulness tips a drug from schedule C to schedule B. The problem with marijuana is that precisely the problem of reefer madness and the suppression of medical research into its dangers and uses.

    What needs to be gotten out of Mr. Howard is a precise understanding of the danger/usefulness levels at the border condition between schedule B and schedule C. I suspect that he’ll trip up and say something stupid which will lead him to accidentally moving large classes of chemicals onto different lists but he’s stepped into the argument so he should outline general policy. Maybe a miracle will happen and it will actually make sense as policy but he’s relying on bad science for the classification of marijuana. At that point, it’s a matter of discrediting bad science and demanding that policy be applied evenhandedly.

  • S. Weasel

    Well yes, TM, that’s certainly so. But, far too often, the doctors give in to that pressure and prescribe, so the safeguard of having doctors as gatekeepers is already not good enough. I’m not libertarian enough to believe in no restrictions on anything – I think it’s perfectly legitimate to restrict your access to something if it affects me.

    But I have absolute right to anything that affects only myself.

  • Bernie Greene

    “the people should be big and the state should be small” is almost as good as “without tomorrow there can be no future”. It doesn’t have the same profundity of “truth” about it but it isn’t something that I would expect any of our current crop of politicians to disagree with. “Big” and “small” are merely relative terms that depend on viewpoint. I suspect Micahael Howard probably thinks the current status quo is about right but has been advised that his statement might resonate with potential voters. So yes I think it was all puff.

  • Alfred E. Neuman

    So, if I have this right, when you are in the minority it’s because the majority’s been brainwashed by the government.

    What does that say about you when you are in the majority?

    Huh? What are you talking about, Jim? I merely said that the government has engaged in a shitload of propaganda about pot–I didn’t say anything about majority control. Stop reading far too into things. My major point: I hate propaganda, and it is not something I like the government engaging in. Let people figure out whether they think weed is bad on their own.

    That’s it; no majorities, minorities, pluralities, or fairies involved.

  • Are politicians actually capable of thought and articulation or they merely making noises in return for which they think they are going to get rewards?

    That was a rhetorical question, surely.

  • Doug Collins

    the people should be big and the state should be small” is almost as good as “without tomorrow there can be no future”.

    And I just discovered that half the people in this country make less than the median income!

  • I often wonder why a lot of people on the right believe that banning smoking in public and other laws designed to stop people smoking is very wrong and an infringement on our civil liberties etc. but that taking other recreational drugs like cannabis is morally wrong and should remain outlawed completely. This seems to be the Tory party line and it just seems somewhat inconsistent.

  • Cydonia

    T M Lutas:

    “the problem is that there are an awful lot of people who pressure doctors to prescribe antibiotics for viral infections.”

    Somehow I doubt that people would be clamouring for useless treatments for minor ailments if they had to shell out hard earned cash for them.

  • A_t

    “Somehow I doubt that people would be clamouring for useless treatments for minor ailments if they had to shell out hard earned cash for them.”

    They already do, in the form of the prescription charge, which often exceeds the real-world cost of many common antibiotics.

  • JSF

    It strikes me that after showing some signs of political savvy under Howard, the Conservatives look like going back to the dismal incompetence of Hague and IDS with this.
    Contrary to Jim H’s comments, polls tend to indicate that a hard line on cannabis is not desired by a majority of the public. And perhaps even more important is the likely age/background effects.

    The Conservatives may pick up some previous Labour voters with this approach, but they are likely to lose a lot more in the “young middle class” bracket where they desperately need to boost their performance.

    As Simon Jenkins says in todays Times “Now it is telling millions of young people that a Tory vote is a vote to put them and their friends in prison.”
    Brilliant tactics, Howard. Ass.

    Incidentally, I’ve noticed the recent prohibitionist line that, “of course, the weed that was around in the 70′s and 80′s (ie when they smoked it) was not too bad really, but now there’s this skunk stuff. One puff and your brain drips out your ears.”

    Well, IIRC quite a lot of joints those days got made with a mix of leaf and resin. As the hashish around then seems to have averaged a LOT stronger than normal now, I’d guess that those things would not have been far off the vaunted ‘superweed’ in potency.

    Advice for Mr Howard FWIW: leave the drugs issue alone, let people find out for themselves (if they must) that it’s not called ‘dope’ for nothing, and concentrate on the important bits of law (and where the votes are): effective action on crime against persons and property.

  • Devilbunny

    A_t, that’s a sunk cost. They didn’t know it was viral when they went to an MD. (Quick tip for those who don’t personally know how to tell: if you haven’t coughed up or blown out anything green or nasty yellow, it’s viral in almost every case. See a doctor if it lasts > 10 days or so.)

    If the prescription regime were eliminated for non-scheduled, non-antibiotic medications – to say nothing of what would happen if scheduled meds were set free – I would hate to be working in an emergency room for the next few months. It doesn’t mean that the current system is right – for example, letting pharmacists prescribe most drugs seems a pretty good idea to me, and plenty more could simply be OTC – but watching fools kill themselves would make a very unpleasant few months. (One blood pressure pill, good. Ten blood pressure pills, dead.)

    As far as marijuana goes, the health of the dregs of society would be vastly improved if it were legalized and alcohol banned. I tell all my fellow medical students that I’m going to begin a one-man campaign to convert all my alcoholic patients into marijuana users. They all smoke two or three packs of cigarettes a day, so a few joints really wouldn’t do much extra damage to their lungs. It would spare their livers and brains. It doesn’t kill you if you run out of it and can’t get to a hospital. It doesn’t make people violent. It’s hard to tell, but I think I’ve gotten at least a few of them to think seriously about it.

  • S. Weasel

    watching fools kill themselves would make a very unpleasant few months

    Yes, indeed. When a freedom is abruptly restored to people, some proportion of them will mis-use it. Legalizing drugs, prescription or recreational, would have a body count. Expecially at first.

    The correct answer, of course, is never to have taken the freedom away in the first place. Second best is to grit your teeth and pay the price.

  • Gerald Joly

    A bottle of beer, wine or spirits costs about 10% of its seeling price, to make. A cigarette costs less than 5% of its selling price, to make. Where does the extra cost come from. TAXES Just imagine the incredible revenue that could be realized if illegal drugs were legalized? I find it almost impossible to believe that our politicians have not taken advantage of this lucrative source of added revenue. NO pun intended Ha! Ha! Ha1

  • The skin of this blog doesn’t outfit a democratic look. I saw that gun upon those books and it lookes weird. :S