It has always been my understanding that traditional conservatism should have two major roles in society: Firstly, it should be there to protect the most vulnerable from harm and moral breakdown; and secondly to protect the bonds that bind the generations together – particularly those that keep us free and safe. Since the rise of Thatcherism and neo liberalism, these elements of traditional conservatism have all been just about lost, with very few prominent Tories, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg (often touted as an eccentric extremist) having a somewhat cult following in the Party.
Despite this, the recent election of Boris Johnson has given many of the traditionalists renewed hope that he and his new cabinet may start a revival of sorts. But any hint of a revival of social conservatism hangs over the Tory Party like a bad smell. Despite a good start over the issues of Brexit and crime, many have been concerned over Mr Johnson’s apparent Cameronesque social liberalism. Immediately, concerns were raised about his desire for an amnesty for illegal immigrants. Then, there was a heartfelt discussion about the legalisation of cannabis after Mr Johnson appointed two special advisors to his top team who are known supporters of legalising the drug.
Since the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal use, there can be no question that legislation is on its way. But I often wonder why there is this strange obsession within the Tory Party over the legalisation of this drug. There seems to be a convulsion of anti-prohibition, allied with a confusion that this is somehow getting in the way of “freedom”.
Despite this, cannabis has been correlated with mental health issues over many years and is now beginning to be correlated with criminal violence. At a time when this is at epidemic proportions, a pursuit of this policy would be deeply irresponsible. The Conservative Party was once the party of law and order, free markets but with a deep moral conscience. Now, once again, it is preparing to compromise with itself in the face of ultra-neo-libertarians, who know the price of everything and the cost of nothing.
But why? The libertarians in the party argue that cannabis consumption is about freedom – freedom to choose, freedom to poison your own mind, freedom to get as high as you want – and it is the cornerstone of why some Tories believe standing in the way of this is authoritarian. This is of course ludicrous. Firstly, there can be no comparison between the great freedoms granted to us which have kept us free and safe for centuries, those of speech, assembly and movement. In any case, why is it a freedom to do great harm to yourself? Considering now that cannabis use is correlated with severe problems with mental health, the freedom to damage your body is simply a selfish act. Everyone has a responsibility to their loved ones and society – you have a duty to your family and your country to be as fit and healthy as possible so that you are productive. Whilst I can accept that people will make mistakes in their lives and there should be a safety net, indulging in illegal pleasure drugs and expecting others to pick up the pieces is immoral. Why would conservatives want a society which is high and passive?
However, the argument is growing that making cannabis legal will help to tackle the growing violent crime epidemic – an epidemic continually growing on the back of successive governments (mostly Conservative) adopting progressively liberal criminal justice policies. It is often cited by many that this illegal market would be better in the hands of big business and taxed so that at least the Treasury can gain some revenue. The precept is that it will reduce crime overall. Canada is often upheld as the new progressive force in the “War on Drugs,” having legalised cannabis use for recreation in October 2018. Statistics from Canada’s own statistical service show that 80% of the cannabis market is made up of illegal sales – almost $4.7 Billion. In another progressive liberal US state, Colorado, cannabis is not completely under the control of law enforcement, five years since legalisation. Their Department of Revenue recently made an admission that a huge 30% of the market is still in the hands of the illegal gangs. The point here is simple – the criminal gangs do not go away. Violent crime on the streets of London and elsewhere is not solely driven by the illegal cannabis market, especially considering that cannabis is not routinely enforced by the police. Any suggestion that the criminals will simply go away is demonstrably untrue.
Why has it become accepted Conservative thinking that we should give in to the criminal gangs because we don’t have the political will to face them down? Who says that giving this market to business will be any better than stopping the criminal element by enforcing the law? What might come next in the long line of crimes that we cannot be bothered to do anything about?
What about those who say that a regulated market is better than a free-for-all? Cannabis is now strongly correlated with severe problems with mental health – regulation will not make it safer, just like cigarettes are not safe. Regulation might mean a high rate of tax is placed upon it, like cigarettes. But much of the illicit cannabis available in Canada and Colorado is a direct result of the taxes placed upon it. Regulation might also mean that people only have access to low potency cannabis (such as at 15% THC), but again, there is little evidence to say that users will only seek the smaller levels of THC. People, when freely allowed to indulge in their pleasures, will always seek to advance this pleasure as quickly and as cheaply as possible. We’ve seen this with alcohol (stronger brands to get drunk quicker), gambling (cheaper, quicker and easier access to the online market) and pornography (free, online video sharing).
There is a complete mix-up in the Conservative thinking, in that the market must direct everything, as this is the concept of true freedom. But conservatism should also seek to protect people from the ravages that the free market can bring. There is then the strange argument that we should use the taxes raised to invest in mental health schemes and other drug treatment programmes on the NHS, to combat the adverse effects of cannabis. Notwithstanding that this argument is contrary to any reasonable arguments against criminal offending, it is also entirely speculative. Because the effects of cannabis use are now only coming to the fore, there is no way to predict the costs to the health service about treating its adverse effects. If alcohol consumption is anything to go by, the costs of abusing this drug on the NHS far outweigh the revenue from taxation on it. There is no real evidence to prove the validity of this argument.
Make no mistake, the Prime Minister has many things to worry about, but this current violent crime epidemic is surely among the highest priorities for his administration. But what conservatives, and the public at large, are crying out for is a tough stance on the perpetrators, with a zero-tolerance attitude to all aspects of criminality, especially that which could lead to a life of violent crime.
The rush to legalise cannabis would show that this government has the wrong priorities.
Photo by GoToVan on Flickr.
Enjoying our online exclusives? We’re sure you’d like our print issues, too. For more detailed, and longer explorations of social conservatism in the world today, find our list of issues HERE, or subscribe HERE.