Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Hashish hoo-ha hots up

And now Lee Child adds his weight to the cannabis legalisation lobby:

‘I’ve been smoking weed for 44 years, five nights a week,’ the author confessed. ‘I’m the poster boy to prove it doesn’t do you much harm.'

Yes, he is a successful writer, with compelling powers of description. I've read a number of his novels and the best for me was 61 Hours, set in the bitterness of a South Dakota winter. The cold and snow are major characters in the book, realized with extraordinary precision. I recall how at one point "spicules" of ice are blowing into Reacher's face and when he enters a house and warms up his visage is all bloody.

But smoking weed doesn't make you a great author, any more than hurling bags of empty whisky bottles into Sepulveda Canyon turns you into Scott Fitzgerald, or poking your fingers up your wife's nose and half-throttling her makes you a millionaire art patron.

Also, it's a bit chicken and egg, but Child's glittering prose covers a cold, cold underneath. Even as you read his work spellbound, you are aware of the utter bleakness, darkness and hopelessness at its core. He says he writes for angry people, and his first book was composed in spitting fury against those who sacked him from Granada TV. Now whether it's that type that turns to "bud", or the causal relationship is the other way round, I don't know. It's well-known that alcohol can induce temporary or longer-lasting changes in character, and maybe the cannabis has firmed up Child's laser-sharp vision and starved heart. All I know is that his books are a habit I have to break, a thought that came to me before he made his drug revelation.

Like the one about climate change, the drugs debate is so polarised that it's more like rival gangs of football hooligans howling at each other. And it misses the real issue, which is how things get decided.

Popularity is one factor, hence the watershed release from the law's clutches of Keith Richard and Mick Jagger in 1967. The general millenarian mood among the young at that time was such that the Beatles felt they had to disassociate themselves from it the following year with their song "Revolution". Their influence could so easily have been used to spark a full-on revolt; I remember feeling disappointed, betrayed. Now, I feel thank goodness. They could have been the Pied Pipers for a suicidal anti-establishment Children's Crusade.

The bigger factor is power cliques. I think it's uncontroversial to say that we have a sham democracy and events are determined by a very small minority, the rest of us clucking away impotently. Otherwise, how do you explain the way our MPs feather their own nests while imposing austerity on the masses and robbing savers and pensioners blind with inflation and low interest rates?

Similarly, the elite who developed a drugs habit in the Sixties and Seventies have social and financial safety nets that aren't available to the poor, and Peter Hitchens is right to point out that they are shaping public policy simply to make it more comfortable for themselves, so that they don't have to put "Watch Out - There's A Fuzz About!" stickers on their study doors.

Like alcohol, marijuana is certainly pernicious for some, and perhaps not for others. There's also the question of how socially acceptable drugs are socially controlled. Lawrence Durrell's "Bitter Lemons" recounts how the old men would smoke dope under the Tree of Idleness in Kyrenia - but this was not for the young and the working population to do all day. And Carlos Castaneda's books about drug initiation in Mexico are cast in the mode of psychic pilgrimage and exploration, not daily casual use.

But to come back to the main point, it's not what I think that matters, or what you think; it's what they think, the people who currently run politics and the media - and business, doubtless with a grinning Richard Branson hopping impatiently from foot to foot to get started on the marketing campaign for Virgin Spliffs or whatever. The powers-that-be have overseen an explosion in gambling and loansharking, they've progressively loosened the leash on the beast alcohol since the 1960s, and legally available "soft" drugs are a-coming, like it or not, good thing or not. The news stories and celeb interjections are just part of the softening-up process.

As ever, the real drivers in the "debate" are power and money, and they'll tell you you're exercising your freedom as you bind yet another chain around yourself.

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