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Sunday
Apr032011

Libertarians, drugs and drink

I have returned from the Freedom Forum in Birmingham.

This is a new initiative for students and young undergraduates. There were around 100 delegates at the conference which took place in the bowels of the Birmingham & Midland Institute in a quiet street very close to the city centre. (Delegates were staying in a hostel around the corner.)

In terms of speakers all the usual suspects were there – many took part in our Voices of Freedom series of debates last year – but in my session, alongside Simon Richards, director of The Freedom Association, and Mark Wallace, former campaign director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, we also had Graham Aitken representing Students for Sensible Drug Policy UK which wants to legalise all drugs.

Afterwards we had a chat. Graham was wearing a casual but smart jacket and he told me he wears it so people don't leap to the conclusion that he's a junkie himself.

Personally, I've always struggled with the issue of hard drugs. Well, when I say struggled, I would never condemn anyone who consumes any substance, whatever it is (it's their body, after all) but would I support the legalisation of all drugs? I'm not sure. For me, the arguments for and against balance themselves out and I find it hard to decide. Most of the time I just don't think about it.

Dinner took place at Bank Restaurant in Brindley Place and the guest speaker was Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs. Dressed in a leather jacket and this season's Southampton football shirt (think Peru rather than Sheffield United or Stoke City), Mark gave a polished yet witty speech, well suited to the occasion.

I particularly liked the story about US humourist and journalist PJ O'Rourke who was asked by Clive Anderson, in a television interview some years ago, to explain his conversion from socialist-leaning student to Republican-leaning commentator.

Bemused by the question, the answer to which seemed blindingly obvious to O'Rourke, he replied: "I got a job."

I have noticed that a similar change often befalls students who profess to be libertarians. One minute they want to legalise all drugs and deregulate everything that moves. Then they get a job (or enter politics) and all those fine liberal sentiments are quietly ditched. (I won't speculate why but I think we can guess.)

Anyhow, I declined an invitation to stay the night and my decision was vindicated when I read the following message from Simon Richards, director of The Freedom Association, on Facebook this morning: "You know you're in a student hostel when ... you're woken up at 6.30am - by people going to bed."

Btw, when it was announced during the 'Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs' session that The Free Society would be paying for the drinks at last night's dinner there was a cheer and I got what I think was the biggest round of applause of the afternoon.

So the lesson from the Freedom Forum? Give a libertarian a drink and you've got a friend, if not for life then at least until they get a job.

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Reader Comments (4)

As a court reporter for many years, and a former committee member of a support group for the families and friends of drug users, I have come to the conclusion that illegality is far more harmful that legalisation and control. You only have to look at the smoking issue to see that education and not prohibition is the best way of helping people make sensible choices.

Propaganda is another issue which I think undermines the useful educational work that has led to massive declines in the number of people smoking over the years. Since the ban, for example, we know that smoking rates are beginning to climb as prohibition makes smoking "cool" again.

If hard drugs like heroin were a medical rather than a criminal problem, we would not have so much crime attached to it and not so many deaths of young people.

Drugs were outlawed in Victorian Times for reasons which do not exist today. It's time society grew up about this issue and changed it's unfantile view of it.

Sunday, April 3, 2011 at 14:52 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Yes, I must agree with Pat Nurse on the drugs issue. The "war on drugs" will never be won.

Billions of taxpayer pounds/dollars have been poured into it with the net result of creating the most lucrative criminal enterprise network this world has ever seen. The entire "drug problem" has been created by the illegality of drugs.

You, Simon, should know better than most that prohibition never works. It will always create more problems that it is supposed to solve.

Monday, April 4, 2011 at 8:35 | Unregistered Commenternisakiman

Yes, I'm with the two previous posters. Criminalisation means that most people don't feel free to seek advice if they feel their (often initially moderate) recreational use is starting to get out of control. And giving people a criminal record for wanting to do nothing different from those of us who drink alcohol want (to loosen up, relax, be more sociable etc) is no way to keep them gainfully employed and contributing to society.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011 at 20:24 | Unregistered CommenterRose W

Not all drinks is good for the health as well as drugs. We should be careful in every drinks we intake.

Thursday, November 24, 2011 at 15:38 | Unregistered Commenterplumbing

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