"Full control of the drug-trade must be completed in order that the government of all countries who are under our jurisdiction will have a monopoly which we will control through supply. . . .Drug bars will take care of the unruly and the discontent, would be revolutionaries will be turned into harmless addicts with no will of their own." - Royal Institute of International Affairs.
Heroin Is 'Safe And Fun' Says Shocking BBC Program.
By Anthony Browne
The Observer - London
Taking cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and even heroin is not dangerous but
extremely enjoyable, according to a controversial BBC television programme
to be shown this week.
Smoking a cannabis joint is as relaxing as drinking a glass of wine, while many people find taking ecstasy the most pleasurable experience of their lives. Injecting a modest dose of heroin can make mundane but essential household chores enjoyable, drug users say on Chemical Britannia.
In dozens of interviews the users explain why the popularity of drugs is escalating, despite the overwhelmingly negative message in schools, the media and from government.
The number of illegal drug-takers in Britain has risen from around a million in the Sixties to three million in the Eighties, and to around 10 million now. Some surveys suggest that the majority of people under the age of 40 have taken illegal drugs at some point.
Debbie Christie, the executive producer, who used drugs in the past, said: 'It's an issue that needs airing. It's a responsible piece of television showing why people take drugs - which is because they like them, not because they are pushed them.'
The presenter, Mat Southwell, is a former NHS employee who says he has taken ecstasy for 12 years, and still does so regularly. He enjoys drugs and argues they should be legalised.
'Most people take drugs because they want to relax and feel good, much in the same way they might have a drink at the weekend. But while alcohol is socially acceptable, people are being put in prison for the chemical equivalent of buying a round of drinks,' Southwell said.
One user on the programme explains: 'Heroin is my drug of choice over alcohol or cocaine. I take it at weekends in small doses, and do the gardening.'
A regular ecstasy user says: 'Ecstasy is one of the nicest things I have ever tried. I know it is a positive force.' Another said: 'You can form great friendships with someone you have never met before. I am in control of what I have - I don't take it habitually every weekend.'
However, the programme was lambasted as irresponsible by John Griffith, chief executive of the group Drug Abuse Resistance Education, which works in 500 schools to warn children of the dangers of drugs.
He said: 'It's very disturbing that any programme is produced in such a way that it makes people think there are benefits to taking drugs that may harm them in the long run. It makes our work harder in making young people realise that most people don't get involved in drugs.'
But producer Christie denied it would encourage people to take up drugs: 'It would be remarkable if one programme changed the numbers of people taking drugs.'
In the UK, all drugs were legal, and used routinely across society, until 1860. The former Prime Minister William Gladstone and Florence Nightingale used opium, while Queen Victoria used cannabis. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a graphic description of Sherlock Holmes injecting drugs with a syringe as a normal way of relaxing.
However, the temperance movement succeeded in getting drugs progressively banned until all but alcohol and tobacco were made illegal early in the last century. The US went further, banning alcohol during prohibition, until it was forced to abandon the policy as unworkable.
The show's presenter argues that banned drugs should be made legal again. 'As a drug user I am sick of having my life attacked and being forced outside the law. It's time to turn the spotlight on the politicians who, despite all the evidence, refuse to accept that the war on drugs has failed and, in fact, has done more harm than good,' Southwell said.
When cocaine was criminalised, global production was about 10 tonnes a year, but it has since swelled to 700 tonnes a year. Illegal drugs now account for eight per cent of global trade, making it one of the three largest businesses in the world - with oil and the arms trade.
Southwell claims that if the banned drugs were legalised and regulated, the quality and distribution could be controlled, and a large percentage of the revenue could be spent offering realistic and effective education to young people about drugs. Legalisation could also make them less dangerous, by allowing people to seek medical help for any side effects. For example cocaine users who find that their noses are being burnt by the powder could be given 'nasal douches'.
Southwell insists this is a simple matter of human rights: 'The principle of individual freedom linked to social responsibility lies at the heart of our democracy. As an adult and responsible member of society I absolutely assert my right to take any mind-altering substance, be that ecstasy, alcohol, heroin, tobacco or cannabis. No one, least of all the state, has the right to tell me otherwise.'
Chemical Britannia airs on BBC2 on Wednesday at 11.20pm Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001