WeeklyWorker

21.08.1997
Illegal drugs changing hands at a high price. Criminalisation stands in the way of rational discussion

War of prejudice

If there is one topic guaranteed to inflame bourgeois prejudice and irrationality without fail then it must be the drugs ‘debate’. The latest war of words was sparked off by the brutal killing in Bolton of the five-year old Dillon Hull.

These comments followed on from Jack Straw’s announcement that they were going to advertise for a US-style “drugs tsar”. The fact that the US “drugs tsar” has been a complete failure does not seem to bother Straw, but as far as the Blairites are concerned the implicitly authoritarian job title sends out exactly the right message. 

Now the chief constable of Bedfordshire, Michael O’Byrne, has stepped into the breach. In an article in The Guardian he called for the setting up of a “system of drugs courts” - another American institution - and criticised the government for a lack of “political will” (August 18). His comments ruffled some feathers amongst the establishment of course, but the reactionary nature of his approach was made crystal-clear in the article.

O’Byrne is most definitely not some ‘bleeding heart’ liberal who is letting the side down by surrendering to the ‘drugs barons’. He wants to prevent decriminalisation and legalisation, not encourage it: “The low probability of arrests, and the fact that the initial response is only to caution has effectively decriminalised the use of drugs”. Therefore, “If we do not manage it properly, then we may have to deal with drugs the way that our forebears did with alcohol, and move from criminalisation to legalisation and regulation”. To avoid such a terrible occurrence, and “reverse the current trend of decriminalisation”, O’Byrne believes it is “essential to make the position clear as possible by stigmatising drug use as an unacceptable and criminal activity”.

George Howarth, the Home Office minister with responsibility for drugs, on Tuesday echoed O’Byrne and has himself called for the setting up of drugs courts. Under this system, drugs offenders will be required to register for treatment and will have to submit themselves to regular testing. The testing itself will be conducted on a random basis, with the offender returning to court for review after a stipulated period. This is New Labour’s idea of a “radical rethink” on drugs policy.

As a sign of the times, Liverpool city council has been denounced for - guess what - “sending the wrong messages” by the government. Philip Clein - a Liberal Democrat councillor, please note - has proposed a motion which calls for a royal commission into drugs use. This mad extremist wants the commission to examine “the case for possible decriminalisaton of recreational cannabis use” and a “dispassionate education about drug activity”.

The Labour MP for Liverpool Walton and public services minister, Peter Kilfoyle, could not condemn Clein fast enough. “No way do we believe that legalisation is the answer”, he thundered.  He agreed, naturally, that there should be better education about drugs - so long as this education hammers home the notion that all drugs are evil, that all of them are equally as bad for you, that all of them should be banned and that all people who use them should be criminalised. Apart from these little caveats, like the good Blairite that he is, Kilfoyle is all in favour of a “radical” and “honest” debate on drugs.

Communists treat with scorn the super-hypocrisy which surrounds the entire drugs ‘debate’ - nor do we meekly call for a royal commission or, for that matter, any other other sort of rigged enquiry. In reality, the ‘war against drugs’ is one waged by the bourgeoisie against the victims of the capitalist system - there is no liberating or rehabilitating content to this war. The FBI or the British police force make phoney ‘saviours’ indeed.

We call for the legalisation of all drugs. This is necessary for there to be a truly rational debate about drugs of all hues (including tobacco, alcohol, valium, prozac etc) and the role they play in human culture and civilisation.

Danny Hammill