By coincidence, I have just re-read Ben Elton's novel, High Society, which centres on a hitherto-little-known politician's ultimately unsuccessful campaign to decriminalise drugs, set against the backdrop of drug use and abuse across British society. It's a very good novel, blending satire, humour and typically savage social observation. Indeed, while no-one, least of all Ben Elton himself, I suspect, would say that he is a great writer, he is a wonderful commentator on many of the big issues of our time. In one memorable passage, the lead character, Peter Paget, compares the absurdity of the "war on drugs" to the USA's failure with alcohol prohibition. "That one insane experiment [prohibition] tells us everything we need to know about drug control. People didn't drink less, they just drank illegally. They paid no tax, some of them went blind from wood alcohol, and they financed the birth of organized crime that has plagued American society ever since."
Each publication made a compelling case for decriminalisation: taken together, the argument is overwhelming. The "war on drugs" cannot be won.
So why are most Governments around the world so wedded to the "war on drugs"? It's an interesting question, for which there seem to be two main possible answers. First, they know it, but consider the social consequences of decriminalisation to be worse than fighting the long, expensive and inevitable defeat. Second, and a more cynical explanation, waging "wars" is a convenient way by which Governments are able to subjugate and control the populace, both through the erosion of hard-won civil and individual liberties (as has been so clearly demonstrated in the "war on terror") and through the creation of an external bogeyman, whose wicked and malign intentions threaten the very fabric of our society, and who provides the justification for excessive regulation and intrusion into the way in which individuals choose to live their lives.
Recently, I read an extraordinary item on the news: namely, that the British Government was seeking to introduce a system that required anyone leaving the UK to disclose their travel plans in advance. This will, apparently, assist in the control over two bogeymen, terrorism and organised crime. It probably will, but what sort of society do we want to live in? Every new regulation is justifiable, taken in isolation, but they make each one of us just a little less free than before.