Any book by Peter Hitchens is going to be worth reading and his 2012 book The War We Never Fought: The British Establishment’s Surrender to Drugs is not only particularly good it’s also extremely important, drugs being a subject on which there seems to be no sensible debate at all.
Hitchens begins by pointing out that in Britain the war on drugs is a myth and has been since at least 1970. In that year the Labor government of Harold Wilson made an important decision. Cannabis would be reclassified as a “soft” drug and the laws against cannabis possession would no longer be enforced. They couldn’t legalise cannabis since that would have caused an electoral backlash, so it would be “decriminalised” by stealth. Laws against other drugs would also be much more leniently enforced.
When Labor lost office later that year Labor’s legislation was passed by the incoming Ted Heath Conservative government. This marked another crucial step. The entire political establishment was in effect deciding that there would no longer be any genuine debate on drugs.
The decision also marked the end of any actual “war on drugs” in Britain – the idea that there has been such a war is quite simply a myth. The political establishment had decided on a policy of abject surrender.
The new policy would be to concentrate on the supply side. Drug dealers would be prosecuted but the laws on possession of drugs would not be enforced. As Hitchens points out such a policy was doomed to failure. As long as there was no attempt to put limits on the demand for drugs it was inevitable that any attempt to prevent the supply of those drugs would be futile. Which is exactly what the political establishment wanted.
Needless to say the British people were not asked for their opinion on this momentous change. The elites had made their decision and that was the end of the matter.
Hitchens also argues forcibly that the popular idea that cannabis is more or less harmless is very dubious. There has been insufficient scientific research but what evidence does exist suggests strong links with serious mental illness, notably schizophrenia. Given the fact that we’re not sure about the long-term dangers but we do know that there may be a very high risk it is irresponsible in the extreme to make policy on the assumption that these dangers do not exist.
Hitchens also explodes the myth of medical marijuana. The whole concept is based on very little scientific evidence whatsoever and pro-drugs campaigners have admitted that it is merely a public relations exercise to advance the cause of complete legalisation.
He also points out that while laws on cannabis possession are no longer enforced at all
the laws on possession of other drugs have also been progressively softened.
Hitchens is not concerned only about illegal drugs. He is equally worried about the massive over-prescribing of drugs such as SSRIs and Ritalin, given that the evidence for the efficacy of such drugs is very slender and very dubious and there is ample evidence to suggest that SSRIs in particular pose very real dangers.
He notes that the arguments advanced in favour of surrender on drugs have not changed in half a century and were unconvincing and misleading from the start. The war on drugs most certainly could have been won and even in the 1960s it was being won. It is of course impossible to eliminate the drug problem entirely but at that time it was being successfully contained. It is equally impossible to eliminate murder and bank robbery or any other crime entirely – the whole point of a criminal justice system is not to eliminate crime but to keep it within acceptable bounds and most importantly to prevent it from increasing.
While The War We Never Fought is specifically focused on Britain there’s no question that it has relevance to Australia and United States as well. An excellent well-argued book. Highly recommended.