||Issue No. 144||12 July 2002|
The Lotto Economy
Interview: Capital in Crisis
Industrial: No Sweat
Bad Boss: Super Spam
History: Living Treasures
International: Axis of Evil
Solidarity: Pride of Place
Technology: The Art of Cyber-Unionism
Poetry: The Masochism Tango
Satire: Foxtel-Optus Merger 'Anti-Repetitive'
Review: Bob Carr's Thoughtlines
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Up In Smoke
The impenetrable grey that dominates the English summer sky seems to share a lot of characteristics with the body politic these people find themselves stuck with. The odd shower or ray of sunshine may occasionally crack the veneer, but sure enough, it doesn't take long for a depressing consistency to reassert itself. The vacuous pragmatism of the Blair Government is the ultimate post-modern politics. There is no black and white, and the prospect of offending any section of the community severely is considered worse than leaving everyone moderately disenchanted.
The Government's recent plans for law reform in regards to cannabis are classic New Labour. On Wednesday, July 10 British Home Secretary David Blunkett revealed his plans to Parliament. Based on a trial in the South London suburb of Brixton, individuals found in possession of cannabis are now given an informal caution, taking away the maximum gaol term of five years for possession of a class b drug. With marijuana reclassified under the overhaul as a 'class c' drug, the substance is now considered less dangerous. As the Home Secretary was careful to point out, the reforms stop short of full legalisation or decriminalisation. The police are still endowed with reserve powers if an offence involves children, public disorder or 'flagrant disergard for the law'. Hash cafes are unlikely to pop up in the middle of Kent.
Despite this apparent liberalisation, the paranoia of the spin-obsessed Blair Government means that a progressive move such as this can not be left standing on its merits, to be debated and sold to the public. Instead, the Government wants to have a few bob each way, by doubling the maximum prison sentence for dealing class c drugs to fourteen years. For users, this creates the perverse situation of having to purchase drugs from criminals, but then effectively having the green light to smoke.
The glaring inconsistency of the reform package sends mixed signals, and the tabloid media reflects the polarities that the drug issue throws up. On Thursday, 11 July, dailies such as 'The Sun' and the 'Daily Express' ran with headlines such as "Great News for Dealers, Grim News for our Kids" and "Middle Class Under Attack". By way of contrast, 'Daily Mirror' columnist Paul Routledge exclaimed "Britain has to be a safe place to live - and to get stoned. That's why I back this leap in the dark." One can only conclude that the lack of uniform opinion on the topic is actually the aim of Blairite spin doctors. It seems the only way the Government knows how to deal with such a sensitive issue is through obfuscation.
In justifying the move, Blunkett argues that whilst drug use is dangerous, the use of marijuana is not 'widely dangerous to one's future and mortality'. Blair has remained consistent to a line he first formulated in his role as Shadow Home Secretary, "Attacking crime and attacking the causes of crime", adding "Reclassification allows police to focus on drug dealing of any description."
There is merit in these arguments. The logic of tying up policing resources in arresting and charging fifteen year old adolescents for possession of one gram of Marijuana is clearly lacking. Policing resources are of much better use when directed toward crime prevention and the arrest of hard core criminals. However, as media pundits and liberal democrat politicians have pointed out, if the Government considers marijuana to be a relatively harmless substance, why is the penalty for profiting from the sale of this substance being increased?
Surely if the Government were to remain consistent to its own logic, the way forward would be State sanctioned sale of dope. That way the substance could actually be taxed, allowing for cannabis users and dealers to make an indirect contribution to the public health system their actions may place greater stress on. Of course in the 'New Labour, New Britain' world, such arguments don't stack up. After all, where's the 'tough on crime' headline going to come from with that sort of policy?
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