The coalition government (the “condems” seems to be their unofficial title) have opened a real can of worms by playing the “freedom” card. Lord Young went on Radio 4 last week to announce he wants to “scrap ‘excessive’ safety regulations” in the name of allowing people to take risks which they decide are reasonable and to use their own judgement. Make no mistake this is something most on this side of the drug law reform debate would support whole heartedly.

However, when interviewed on Radio 4 Today  Programme the interviewer, Evan Davies, asked what in truth was a simple and quite reasonable question which the usual bigoted sections of the media totally failed to understand. As the Daily Mail reported

BBC presenter Evan Davis sparked controversy last night after being accused of using a new purge of health and safety rules to promote the legalisation of cannabis.

Which isn’t what happened isn’t at all. What actually did happen – as the Mail reports after the howler at the start of the article – all started when Lord Young was quoted as saying:

‘Frankly, if I want to do something stupid and break my leg or neck, that’s up to me.’

Describing it ‘a statement of libertarian principle of a very interesting kind’, Mr Davis added: ‘Did you really say that?’

When Lord Young replied: ‘Yes, haven’t you ever been skiing?

Evan Davis then asked Lord Youg

‘So if I want to smoke cannabis, that’s up to me as well, presumably?

‘What principle distinguishes between me doing something dangerous that can break my neck and having a spliff?’

The “principle” Lord Young fell back on was that using cannabis is illegal, skiing isn’t. Lord Young apparently demands freedom only within the existing laws, although he seems to want to change some of the more “excessive” health and safety ones.To be honest, it sounds like Lord Young hadn’t really thought it through properly.

Let’s have a reality check here. It has been known for laws to be passed from time to time which eventually come to be seen as unjust, if not actually immoral and wrong. Their very existence can ruin careers, destroy peoples lives and be used by extremist regimes to repress and spread fear, many of us in the drug law reform camp argue that is precisely the situation now with prohibition. Another such example was the laws against homosexuality, these things can and do change and it is surely right that they do.

These days few would argue that a persons sexuality is something that should be criminalised, yet presumably Lord Young with his love of personal freedom would have supported the anti gay laws simply because it was a properly constituted law at the time.

How can it be right then to argue that the right to freedom stops when a law is passed to prevent it? Lord Young’s idea of freedom is a fig leaf, a PR exercise and no more. If we are to really promote individual responsibility and real freedom then, as Evan Davis put it, surely  we have to be allowed to do “stupid things” if that’s what we deicide to do, that is what real freedom is.

This is important because the government has made a big thing of it. We are being offered the opportunity to take control of our lives, or so they tell us. Yet it seems to come with a restriction that we can only have the freedoms over our own lives they allow us to have, somehow that’s just not the real thing.

The hysterical way the Mail reported this probably shows Evan touched a nerve. At no time did he promote the legalisation of cannabis, he simply extended the logic Lord Young was arguing to another area of government policy which looks set to become even less libertarian. His use of this argument exposed a smokescreen of hypocrisy  and a glaring inconsistency in government propaganda.

The readers reaction in the Daily Mail was interesting with a pretty large number supporting Evan’s argument and the reaction (shown by red and green approval arrows) strongly supporting him.

It’s worth also mentioning the Express which was actually worse than the Mail in it’s reporting and just as rabidly inacurate

BBC presenter Evan Davis was last night at the centre of a row over “irresponsible” remarks about smoking cannabis.

The “row” he was “at the centre of” seems to be with the infamous Debra Bell of Talking about cannabis fame, the famously fact free anti cannabis website which seems to have had a major influence on government policy because the right gutter press keep promoting it. Debra’s reaction was

It is not safe to smoke cannabis and it is very irresponsible to make these comments.

Which, considering Evan Davis actually compared it to a pastime which could lead to a broken neck can hardly be labelled as arguing that smoking cannabis is “safe”. But that’s the shallow, hysteria packed level of coverage of the drugs debate we’ve come to expect from the media in recent years. That is is so influential on government policy should be a matter of grave concern.

From the UKCIA point of view Lord Young’s basic argument about allowing people – adults – to make their own bad choices in life is the correct approach, but to qualify it by saying it only applies to things that are within the law is contemptible. No-one is saying cannabis use is “safe”, although it would be a lot less unsafe if properly regulated and the commercial trade properly controlled. If the government is really, honestly interested in promoting freedom then prohibition is surely the most freedom restricting regime conceivable.

Anyway we don’t ban dangerous things as a rule, why should it be different for drugs?

Well done Evan, a true “jewel in the mud” of media reporting.