Sunday, 14 February 2016

Peter Hitchens and Big Dope

In the Mail on Sunday today, Peter Hitchens laments the Economist's renewed call for cannabis legalisation...

Perhaps this will at last alert the soppy vegan Fairtrade types, who bizarrely support the slick, billionaire-backed Big Dope campaign, that they are on the wrong side. The pathetic rump of the Liberal Democrats, now pursuing this greasy, irresponsible cause, should also know better.

I have always thought it odd that people who are (rightly) worried about the ruthless conglomerates who cram us with deadly hamburgers and lethal fizzy drinks, and who (reasonably) regard Big Tobacco as Satan made flesh, ally with Big Dope.

The product which Big Dope so irresponsibly promotes is increasingly correlated with irreversible mental illness, a scourge that has already scarred many families. That’s surely worse than anything a cheeseburger can do.

And Big Dope, now backed by many politicians who hope to levy heavy taxes on human greed, grief and folly, is one of the most unscrupulous and most avaricious of all the lobbies now operating on this planet. It’s no place for gentle people.

Putting the word 'big' before the name of a product you dislike is a dog whistle for the puritanical right to attract the 'liberal' left. Terms like Big Soda, Big Sugar, Big Alcohol and even - if you are into the low carb crusade - Big Grain, are all intended to convey the impression that the entire machinery of government is no match for the lobbying of a few rival companies. It says: 'This is a struggle between David and Goliath. You don't want to side with Goliath, do you? These people are making money and wearing suits. Join us in our fight against The Man.'

The tobacco and alcohol industries are dominated by a handful of global corporations and so can reasonably be given the 'Big' prefix. But 'Big Dope' simply does not exist. Anti-booze and anti-smoking campaigners can get away with the conceit that young people drink and smoke because they have been seduced by big corporations. Anti-drug campaigners patently cannot.

Marijuana is illegal almost everywhere. In the handful of US jurisdictions that have recently relegalised it, it remains a cottage industry. Big corporations have shown little interest in getting involved, but so what if they did?

The drug market could do with a bit more Big Dope and a lot less Big Government. Early twentieth century prohibitionists successfully demonised the 'liquor trust' (AKA Big Alcohol) until the American public found out what the alternative to a legitimate, law-abiding supplier looked like. After 100 years of drug prohibition, people are coming to a similar realisation about the merits of a taxed and regulated marijuana industry that can settle its disputes in court rather than on the streets.

Hitchens' mention of a 'billionaire-backed' lobby presumably refers to George Soros and/or Richard Branson, but neither of these people are in the (non-existent) marijuana industry. Their interest is entirely philanthropic as far as I can see, but even if Branson intends to market Virgin Spliffs I would rather see him take a share of the market than have it run by the smugglers, murderers, organised criminals and small time crooks who currently run the show.

Hitchens is shrewd to play up fears of Big Dope. There are plenty of people on the left and right who don't like the idea of companies making money out of drug use, which is why so many of them support the half measure of decriminalisation rather than legalisation. But if making a profit from cannabis is considered ethically questionable, it is worth remembering that there are modern day Al Capones making incredible amounts of money from cannabis and other drugs. These bootleggers are the real Big Dope and they feel even more strongly than baptists like Peter Hitchens that drugs should remain illegal.

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