Alex Massie

Swings and Roundabouts in the Great, Endless Drug War

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There's good and bad news this month. The disappointing news is that the latest surveys suggest only one in five American high schoolers smokes tobacco even occasionally. The good news is that one in five smokes marijuana from time to time. According to this year's official figures:

For 12th-graders, declines in cigarette use accompanied by recent increases in marijuana use have put marijuana ahead of cigarette smoking by some measures. In 2010, 21.4 percent of high school seniors used marijuana in the past 30 days, while 19.2 percent smoked cigarettes.

This is good news? Yes it is. For one thing it shows that teenage stoners have a better grasp of risk than the United States government. Pot may not be entirely harmless, but it's hardly the door to ruin that governments tell you it must and always will be. But apparently:

"We should examine the extent to which the debate over medical marijuana and marijuana legalization for adults is affecting teens' perceptions of risk," said Dr. Volkow. "We must also find better ways to communicate to teens that marijuana use can harm their short-term performance as well as their long-term potential."

Well, yes it can. But it's not likely to. The Drug War would be wrong even if it worked. But since it doesn't work and is immoral anyway it's important to normalise the use of presently-ilegal drugs. If more 17 year olds are smoking pot and surviving happily they may be less susceptible to government lies and hysteria about marijuana (and other stimulants) in the future too. One must certainly hope so if the Drug War - perhaps the most pernicious public policy pathology of the past forty years - is ever to end.

The Drug Warriors appreciate the importance of everyday, uncontroversial use of drugs. That's why anti-smoking zealots and harpies want to "denormalise" tobacco use. It's time, therefore, to include tobacco in the Drug War discussion. My guess is that in 10 to 15 years time there will be, if current trends persist, a serious discussion about tobacco prohibition. The battle for minds and lungs is already joined and The Outlaw, Michael Heath's great cartoon strip in this magazine, was prophecy as much as it was satire. Alas.

In the end, the mind-set is the same: it's a battle for control. In this respect and this instance, the present British government is no more liberal than its authoritarian predecessors. Sometimes it uses a big stick, other times it just wants to "nudge" you in the correct direction but always it favours coercion over freedom and your ability to make your own informed choices. That's true whether you're talking about alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, ecstasy or any other stimulant.


Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleSocietydrugssmoking