A bit of the white stuff

The various candidates for the Conservative party leadership haven’t just been falling over themselves to be sexist and homophobic. Some of them have been keen to talk about their pasts as drug hoovers too. Michael Gove has spoken about his use of cocaine while Andrea Leadsom has admitted to smoking cannabis. That makes her the sixth candidate to admit taking drugs. The others are Rory Stewart, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and Dominic Raab.

It’s all very amusing, and most people don’t clutch their pearls at the idea of any adult taking recreational drugs. Or at least, we don’t until we look at the anti-drug policies these hypocrites have long supported or promoted. For example in 1999, Michael Gove allegedly hosted cocaine parties while writing in the Times about how he opposed liberalisation of drug laws.

Physicians have long urged UK governments and the Conservatives in particular to change their approach to drugs. In 2016, the Royal Society for Public Health concluded that the “war on drugs” didn’t deter drug misuse but did prevent people from getting help and inhibited harm reduction efforts. As Jane Dacre, president of the Royal College of Physicians, told the BMJ: “The criminal justice system is not the place to address the often complex needs of people addicted to drugs.”

Professor David Nutt, former senior drug advisor to the government, puts it simply.

…the attitude of politicians to drugs has always been very dishonest. They seem to feel that it’s OK for them to break the law but not for others to do the same.

It’s not just OK for “them”, but for people like them too. Cocaine use is widespread in media and political circles, and has been for a very long time. If you’re, say, a Times columnist, a tabloid editor or a Conservative politician, there are very few consequences to recreational drug use. Whereas if you’re black, possessing cannabis will get you deported.

The war on drugs is recognised globally as a failure: it does nothing to stem supply or demand, but it does ruin thousands of lives and puts thousands of people in prison.  Very few of those people are white Etonians.

Politicians lie about drugs. They pretend to be ingenues offered mysterious white substances at dinner parties, unable to tell the difference between icing sugar and cocaine. They pretend that they only made their “mistake” once. And they pretend that they regret doing it, when their only regret is that the papers got wind of it.

What they never seem to regret is the damage done by the unnecessary criminalisation of people who do exactly what they do, but who don’t have the right skin colour or didn’t go to the right school.