Neither of us is in favour of the status quo. I support full legalisation and regulation; he - I hope this is a fair characterisation - supports harsher penalties and stringent enforcement aimed at near-eradication of recreational cannabis use.
My remarks are intended as a starting point for debate - I've drawn on three of Hitchens's blog posts and addressed a variety of points (his remarks, taken from the specified blog post in each case, are in bold), without pretending to present a comprehensive manifesto for cannabis legalisation.
My starting point is that we should presume that behaviours should be legal, and then ask - are there good reasons to make this behaviour a criminal offence? My answer is no. Ordinary cannabis users derive great enjoyment and – yes – pleasure from their indulgence in the weed. Many report taking it in modest quantities and find that it aids relaxation, enhances their appreciation of food, music, art and sex, and even stimulates creativity. To deny these benefits by more effective prohibition would involve far more oppressive measures, for the sake of preventing abusive overindulgence and the risk of cancer which accompanies smoking (though not as far as I know ingestion or inhalation of vapour). Those risks could be adequately mitigated, or in the case of the cancer risk, properly and – one might hope - honestly publicised, under legalisation and regulation.
Overblown claims about the dangers are rightly seen as ridiculous by those who know anything about it, which makes officialdom look foolish and means that even accurate information is likely to be disregarded. Legal regulated cannabis would be of known strength and free from such very harmful adulterants as wax, petrol, even plastic, which can be found in poor-quality illegal hashish. The current system already exposes users to criminal sanctions and means they must become involved at the margins of the criminal world to get hold of it, with the concomitant aversion to police and contempt for the law.
People need to be treated like adults, rather than infantilised by what some might refer to as the nanny state. Danger may be a reason for regulation, but with few exceptions like weapons, not for criminal sanctions on behaviour which need not be dangerous, and specifically not dangerous to others.
The ban on displaying cigarettes in shops will cause fewer people to smoke, as all the other measures have since the first health warning appeared on the first packet. And in time this strange, self-destructive habit, which is actually very new and only really invaded the civilised world during two disastrous wars, will be banished to the margins of life.
But this is not prohibition – it is regulation. A legalised cannabis would surely face the same – or stronger – restrictions. And that would, on the parallel used here, lead to its use being 'banished to the margins of life'. Prohibition – especially the thoroughgoing, stamp-it-out prohibition that is apparently required, is a very different matter, with criminal records, prison sentences (which impact on family of course) and a vastly expanded police operation.
Then we will have proof prohibition does sometimes work, if it is intelligently and persistently imposed. And the stupid, fashionable claim that there is no point in applying the laws against that sinister poison, cannabis, will be shown up for what it is – selfish, dangerous tripe. Where we can save people from destroying themselves, we must do so.
We will not have such proof, since this is not prohibition, and is also following rather than leading public attitudes (quite apart from other confounding factors which mean this is nothing like a controlled experiment).
In the case of cannabis and other illegal drugs, it is still quite possible, through enforcement, to discourage all but the most determined from taking up the use of drugs which are not part of our culture and which are widely (and justly) viewed with suspicion. For that, possession must remain an offence and be effectively prosecuted.
By the way, I really do hope those posting here who continue to deny the possibility of a link between cannabis and mental illness will soon grow up and start acting responsibly. Don't they realise that some young person, acting on their complacent, ill-informed advice, might end up needlessly in a locked ward? And it will be their fault. Can they really not face the infinitesimally small risk of prosecution, and the still smaller one of actual punishment, as the price of their nasty pleasure? In that case, are they really the bold revolutionaries they imagine themselves to be? Must they sacrifice others for it? And how long will they continue to expect that the rest of us will take their insistence that 'it never did me any harm' at face value? As I've pointed out before, they're not the ones to say. The self-regard of these people is limitless, and is perhaps a sign of the deeper damage done by this drug even to those who appear superficially to be unharmed by it.
I can’t agree with this: the reason given for extending much harsher penalties to a substantial proportion of the population is that cannabis is 'not part of the culture' and 'widely (and justly) viewed with suspicion'. The justice of the suspicion is treated as an afterthought, despite being the important point.
If cannabis use is so harmful that we must attempt to stamp it out by the use of harsh penalties and vastly expanded detection efforts, rather than bringing it under regulatory control by legalisation, one would expect to be able to find good evidence of such extreme harmfulness (assuming that we are willing to accept that extreme social engineering should be brought to bear in any case). So where is this evidence? There actually doesn't seem to be any worth the name.
There is a burgeoning industry of producing studies that aim to find a link between cannabis and diagnoses of psychotic conditions, and of publishing those which do purport to find some evidence of such a link. But almost every such study includes a caveat stating that it has not been possible to establish a causal link from cannabis use to psychosis. The fact that those diagnosed with mental illness are much more likely to smoke tobacco, more likely to smoke cannabis and more likely to drink than the general population is not as far as I know in doubt among mental health professionals, and is generally regarded as a form of attempted self-medication. But of course there are no studies being done into the effects of alcohol or tobacco on psychosis, because this hasn't been rendered salient by the talking points of the pro-alcohol and other interest groups.
The fact that schizophrenia tends to emerge at around the age of twenty in the population at large, and that most people who start smoking cannabis do so in their late teens provides a ready source of bad statistics. Perhaps the most important kind of bad evidence adduced in support of this thesis is anecdote, often accepted by the general public because it is vivid and emotive and may come from a trustworthy individual who is not to be suspected of lying. But first, there a crashingly obvious selection bias here (as in the publication criteria for 'reefer madness' studies) - parents are not queueing up to testify that their offspring smoke a fair bit of cannabis without ill-effect, and if any were, their accounts would not be considered newsworthy. And second, there is a more personal source of bias - cannabis provides a handy exogenous explanation for a variety of ill-effects, from truancy to chronic paranoid schizophrenia.
The real division between me and the druggies - who can't see it because the concept that anything *they* do might be wrong is foreign to them - is this: I contend that it is morally wrong to stupefy yourself, and morally wrong to damage yourself or take a conscious risk of damaging yourself, with the aim of getting physical pleasure...in a period of moral weakness, relativism and uncertainty, such as we now live in, the law must intervene where personal self-restraint has failed, or the weak and gullible will suffer at the hands of the strong and greedy.
Stupefaction: that it is morally wrong does not of course entail that it should be subject to criminal sanction. The hoary example of adultery will do for one. Further, the claim that it is morally wrong in itself – rather than when done in some specifically irresponsible way such as when driving or in charge of children - is a hard one to justify. I confess to not really knowing where to start in rebutting thus argument – it just seems obvious to me that this isn’t the case, and that's not going to convince anyone who disagrees with me. I suppose I would say the burden of proof, as with regard to the need for prohibition, lies on those who make the claim.
But certainly Peter Geach – an eminent philosopher who has examined the issue in depth from a traditionalist, Christian perspective - concludes in The Virtues that such a case can't be made out – a view shared by his wife Elizabeth Anscombe:
If drinking alcohol is wrong, the reason is not that it makes you less alert than you might possibly be, but that makes you less alert than you then and there ought to be; and the degree to which you ought to be alert varies very much… a man safe tucked up in bed has no duty for even the lowest degree of alertness, for he could lawfully just go to sleep. There are mediate cases, into the casuistry of which I will not enter.
If we may for the moment abstract from the question whether the law-breaking that may be involved is morally objectionable, then we ought, I think, to judge about cannabis indica much as we judge about alcohol…
I have only considered the relaxation of the intellect from the height of attentiveness; a height, let me repeat, that we have no obligation to try to maintain.
(I should add here that Geach slightly obfuscates his first formulation of the principle that drinking in bed is acceptable by making it conditional on the aim of self-healing by consumption of hot toddy – but he makes it clear that there is no obligation to remain fully alert. In eth section that follows he makes a curt and I think inadequate argument against 'blowing one's mind' with hallucinogenics, but that need not really concern us.)
Conscious risk: I would dispute the degree of risk, though of course for those who smoke cannabis rather than ingesting it or using a vaporiser there is a risk similar to that of smoking tobacco. But I would simply say that this seems a highly paternalistic doctrine, and recalling that the discussion is of imposing harsh penalties on users, it seems to grant unacceptable power to the state to regulate private conduct, by means of a 'cure' that would impose severe penalties and intrusive policing so as to be worse than the 'disease'.
Obviously this prohibition doesn't apply to pain-killers or anaesthetics properly used, since these do not have this trivial aim.
This is to rest a good deal of weight on one's assessment of what is a trivial aim – by this standard, who is to say that bungee jumping, hang-gliding, driving through country roads, watching television, playing scrabble do not have a trivial aim and merit prohibition? Are we really going to legislate this kind of question?
It does apply to people who smoke tobacco (on the wilful self-damage argument), hence my support for legal restrictions on its sale and use.
But not stamping it out by a comprehensive prohibition campaign.
It applies to some, but in my view not to all, drinking of alcohol. The distinctions here (unlike with cannabis) are usually a matter of quantity, so I support laws limiting the sale of alcohol and taxes and pricing policies intended to discourage public drunkenness, and acts of violence committed when drunk.
But alcohol is just as much a matter of quantity as cannabis. And again, alcohol gets regulation and laws directly addressing its ill-effects, while cannabis is to be eradicated if at all possible.
The rank injustice of criminalising weed-smokers while pubcos are allowed to churn out alcopops is notable. And the laws which regulate alcohol use are not notably successful in moderating its ill effects – effects which are absent in the case of cannabis. You don't get the A&Es full of dope-smokers at the weekends: you don't have dope-smokers crowding the city centres fighting and swearing and smashing the place up. You don't have wife beating-cannabis-smoker syndrome. You don't have people traumatising their children by being visibly psychotically drunk when they smoke dope.
It's worth mentioning too that cannabis is a competitor for alcohol as a way to spend the night - and to a large degree the later hours of the night out - which is much less damaging to the individual than heavy drinking and makes people more considerate and much less aggressive than a drunk while they're on it.
I also support the teaching as truth of the Christian religion, which specifically counsels moderation in drinking and by implication opposes the stupefaction provided by the illegal narcotics.
A law which failed to distinguish between the person who drank a couple of glasses of wine or beer with a meal, and the person who consumed several pints of strong lager followed by large quantities of vodka would be a silly law, because it treated wholly different actions as the same.
Whereas anyone who smokes dope or takes cocaine or heroin 'at all' is in the same category.
Again, this is incorrect.
Drugged, zonked, stupefied, self-deludingly euphoric and in some cases hallucinating. That's why they take these things, for heaven's sake.
See my introduction for an alternative – and of course I would say much more accurate – view.
Drunks know they are drunk. Dope-smokers often don't know that they are stoned, or how stoned they are, or that they are talking or writing gibberish.
Again, they do know they are stoned, and how stoned they are – and of course drinking alcohol has been known to make people talk nonsense, often aggressive nonsense – and this effect does not necessarily require a very heavy dose. But so what if people talk a bit of nonsense when they are having a smoke?
Of course the pro-legalisers have a lot of big money behind them, and one has to wonder where it comes from, given that the legalisation of the major narcotics would be an enormously lucrative business among the wealthy pleasure-seekers of Western Europe and the Anglosphere.
I don’t think this is accurate, either. while at one point (in the 70s I believe) tobacco firms did prepare packaging for legal joints in case legalisation should become a reality, I'm not aware that anyone has found them to be lobbying directly for such legalisation, nor funding the pro-legalisation movement. On the contrary, cannabis being in large part a competitor with alcohol, the campaign against it is known to be supported financially by those with an interest in the big drinks companies. See e.g. http://blog.mpp.org/tax-and-