The big practical problem prohibition faces is that it’s built on the assumption people will do what they’re told – even in private or in the company of consenting adults – which is perhaps the sort of assumption only politicians could make about the real world. Because of this naive assumption at the heart of prohibition it was always going to be an uphill struggle to make the drugs laws work. This is, of course, made much worse when people get a very real benefit from using a prohibited drug – not just enjoyment but, for example, relief from pain.
However, in this country Parliament is sovereign and is free to pass any law it sees fit. If it decides that it is Parliament’s will that rice should be banned in China, it is free to pass such a law; practicalities do not limit Parliament’s law making scope. However, there is a duty on law makers to ensure that laws are applied equally and without bias. There is no scope in UK law for making exceptions to laws based on, for example, cultural acceptance of certain aspects of the issue at the heart of the law.
So it is we have the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 which sets out to control drugs which have the potential to be “misused” – which we can take to mean “used for fun” or other uses politicians don’t approve of including, apparently, therapeutic relief. There is nothing in the act which allows for some drugs to be excluded from the act simply because they are already “misused” by a section of the population (which just happens to include the politicians themselves), yet this is precisely the reason given for not including alcohol and tobacco in the Misuse of Drugs Act and thus treating the users of these drugs differently from the users of other drugs including cannabis.
So it was, perhaps, only a matter of time before someone who was getting a very real benefit from his use of cannabis, who was not causing any problem to anyone else with his cannabis use, should object to having his life torn apart and being dragged through the courts by this selective application of the law. That person is Edwin Stratton, recently convicted of growing cannabis as this blog reported a few weeks ago. This is his story in his own words.
My name is Edwin Stratton and I am challenging the legality of my conviction for the cultivation of cannabis from Snaresbrook Crown Court on 26th May.
I was ‘only’ sentenced to three months in prison, suspended for one year with £500 costs, and prohibited from owning hydroponic equipment for one year. Some people would say this is a ‘good’ result, but it is not the sentence that I am now appealing – it is the fact that successive governments have abused the powers given to them by Parliament under the Misuse of Drugs Act. That law was designed to be fair, proportionate, evolutory, and steered by scientific evidence. Had the law been administered as intended, then people like me ought never to be charged with an offence in the first place.
I was prepared to go to prison to make this point – I was offered a caution on four occasions but refused them all – at no point did I co-operate with my own persecution, accept guilt or any censure of sanction against my behaviour. Martin Luther King pointed out that it is our duty to disobey authority if it is abusive of our rights, and if laws are unreasonably made that are an affront to equality then to contest such injustice is an expression of the highest respect for the law. So while I am not behind bars, because the law is being administered in an arbitrary fashion, my arrest, trial and sentencing were entirely unjust.
Criminalising amateur, peaceful drug users and exempting tobacco users and drinkers from drug controls is an example of an unacceptable difference in treatment between different cultural groups, every bit as unjust as criminalising racial or sexual differences. Cannabis can be used responsibly, just like alcohol, and there is no justification for the vast difference in treatment. As many are aware, including many former members of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the government’s explanation for the inequality of treatment, the discrimination between different drug users is grounded in ‘reasons’ which are false: ‘historical and cultural precedents’. Being a user of an ‘incorrect’ cultural choice of drug can cost you your job, house, car, driving license, and even your kids, whereas inviting your boss to a wine-tasting garners respect.
Criminal sanctions in respect of brewing wine or smoking outdoors would rightly be regarded as an assault on civil liberties – yet these are significantly more harmful drugs than cannabis both to the self and society. Hence I don’t accept *any* sanctions applied to responsible adults doing private things to themselves, peacefully. The idea of ‘risk’ to adults exercising an informed choice in cannabis is absurd – just as it would be as applied to the choice of alcohol or tobacco.
By the very same token, ‘straights’ no longer have the right to sentence gays for ‘cultural preferences’, whites no longer have the right to sentence blacks for seeking racial equality, and men no longer to sentence women for trying to gain the vote. By the same token, I demand the right to equal rights and equal protections in regard to my activities with the equally-or-less harmful drug cannabis, as the drinkers who administer the law. I don’t *ask* for it, I demand equality as my right to equality of treatment in a democracy.
Any sentence against any of us for growing or having private cannabis grows constitutes the wholly unacceptable abuse of otherwise entirely innocent people.
During previous court hearings I argued that the government has acted irrationally, unreasonably and unfairly because it misunderstands the law that gives it its powers. The Home Office admits alcohol falls squarely under the Misuse of Drugs Act and is therefore liable to be subject to its controls. I also pointed out that the intention of the Act was to provide proportionate controls relating to the harmfulness of a drug to society, and not exclusively to provide for prohibition: the Misuse of Drugs Act is better than that; it provides for a full spectrum of regulation and control. The notion that it only mandates prohibition is false, and constitutes an error of law. This and two further errors of law were brought up in every hearing, but have not been substantively dealt with.
Thus we still suffer the inequality of treatment. I will not rest until these points are answered satisfactorily. The Court of Appeal is the next stage on the road – I intend to get my conviction quashed as the injustice it is.
This is an interesting legal argument which is quite different from the one usually put forward by drug law reform campaigns including this site which concentrate on highlighting the fact that prohibition is not in fact a form of control. This is about the application of the law, not the law itself.