Decriminalising possession is not enough Mr. Clegg

Decriminalising the possession of drugs is better than not decriminalising it. But we’re sorry to say that it’s not actually enough: it is also necessary to legalise the production and supply of them.

Nick Clegg will today press ahead with plans to decriminalise possession of all drugs – despite charities warning the move will wreck thousands of lives.

The Lib Dem leader is to pledge that his party will bring forward plans to ensure those caught with drugs for ‘personal use’ will no longer face criminal prosecution. Instead, the maximum penalty would be a fine.

The move covers the powerful ‘skunk’ strain of cannabis and hard drugs such as crack cocaine and heroin, as well as ‘soft’ drugs including marijuana and amphetamines.

Not jailing people for ingesting the stimulant of their choice is of course a good thing. If we don’t own our own bodies and cannot decide what to put into them then we are not free. And freedom and liberty are the aim and goal, of course.

However, this is not enough, welcome though it is. For there are two problems with drugs. The first is that above, the issue of liberty. The second is the issue of safety. It’s all very well to say that we may partake as we wish, subject only to fines. But only with the legalisation of manufacture and supply can there be any form of quality control.

It’s worth thinking back to the adulteration of food in Victorian times. The first investigations into what was actually going into processed foods turned up in The Lancet in the late 1840s and early 1850s. And there was most certainly all sorts of very dodgy stuff being added to food. Sometimes knowingly and sometimes not: we seem to recall people using cadmium salts to make sweets look pretty which really isn’t something to be recommmended but they didn’t know that then.

Legislation to deal with such adulteration really only started in the 1870s. By which time the problem was largely solved. For the information about the adulteration led to producers creating brands which promised no such adulteration. And consumers bought them on such promises. It’s not from quite the same time or place but this is akin to Heinz tomato soup conquering the world. Early canning of soups was slightly hit and miss. Heinz kept better control of that process than other competing manufacturers and thus killed fewer people. This became generally known, the brand became a marker of quality and global domination beckoned.

To solve our second problem with drugs we need to allow those same processes free rein. Brands must be allowed, brands that claim to be free of brick dust, to be of a certain purity and also of a certain dose. Tax the heck out of them as well, of course, but legalisation, not just decriminalisation, is the solution to both of our problems about drugs.

Plain packaging: stop the nonsense

The Adam Smith Institute’s President, Dr. Madsen Pirie, recently spoke at the “Stop the Nonsense” evening by Forest, Parliament Street & Liberal Vision. You can watch his speech below.


Pay as you protest?

Libertarians generally subscribe to several maxims. Here are two:

1) That everyone has the right to express their views, providing their expressions are within the law.

2) That it’s a good thing when people feel the effects of the social costs they impose on others.

A recent debate on Radio 2 – about street demonstrators possibly having to pay to protest after police look to refuse to close roads for them to demonstrate – pits these two maxims against each other. However misjudged I find the views of groups like “The Campaign Against Climate Change”, “The People’s Assembly Against Austerity”, “Global Justice Now”, and “Friends of the Earth”, there is clearly a case here of the immovable object of people’s freedom to protest coming smack bang against the irresistible force of valuable resources being exhausted by the presence of these demonstrators on our streets, in this case in the shape of exhausted police resources, blocked roads, temporary traffic regulations and potential disturbances of the peace.

On the one hand I suggest libertarians wouldn’t want a situation where people’s right and ability to protest was predicated on their ability to pay. But on the other I would prefer protesters to feel the costs of their actions. So while I am all for defending people’s prerogative in being able to demonstrate against actions they dislike – when those actions come at a social cost to others, some are arguing that it is not particularly unreasonable that they should pick up the bill for these negative externalities imposed on others.

It may not be unreasonable, but I don’t think it should be desired either. The state chooses to have a police presence at a demonstration (it is compulsory to notify the police of any planned demonstration), not the demonstrators. A very risk averse state apparatus operates under the ethos that modern life is safe but expensive. Any restrictions of this kind on the ability of people to protest legally is bound to restrict freedom of expression, and at the same time increase the likelihood of people protesting illegally – and that is not likely to make organised demonstrations any cheaper or safer.

This is vile, a stain upon our society

There are those who think that we here at the ASI are simply concerned with economics, or the economy. This is not so: we are really about liberty and freedom, it’s just that we apply those concepts to matters economic as well as to sexual, legal and all the other realms of life. At which point we draw attention to this, something that is entirely vile, a stain upon our society:

But what sort of rule of law allows an innocent person to be locked up for many years and then denied any compensation for their wrongful imprisonment?

Outside the summit jamboree, for which a ticket would cost you £1,750, were some people who could have given the delegates a slightly less rosy picture of Britain’s supposed superiority. They included those who had been wrongly convicted but who have been denied any redress under the ruling introduced last year, which virtually says that it is not enough to be innocent – in most cases you have to find the real culprit of the crime for which you were convicted before you can be compensated.

Among those challenging the new regulation is Victor Nealon, a former postman, who was convicted of attempted rape in 1996. He served 17 years, 10 years longer than his recommended tariff, because he continued to protest his innocence. In 2013, after fresh DNA evidence taken from the clothes of the victim pointed to “an unknown male” as responsible for the crime, Nealon was freed with just £46 in his pocket to try to rebuild his life. The Ministry of Justice now declines to compensate him because, under the new rules, his innocence has to be proved “beyond reasonable doubt”.

Another man who feels equally bemused by this is Barry George, whose conviction for the murder of Jill Dando in 1999 was quashed in 2007. The police file on who was the real murderer in this case remains open, but George has never received compensation for his time behind bars.

These rules started to change back in 2006. About which was said this:

CHARLES CLARKE’S announcement that he is limiting the compensation available to those wrongfully imprisoned has been met with the hoots of derision it deserves. What is more important to work out is why the Home Secretary made such a lunatic decision in the first place.
The proffered reason, to save £5 million a year, is simply beyond satire. The Government, in its infinite wisdom, annually disposes of about £500 billion of the nation’s production: denying those innocents unjustly banged up will save some 0.001 per cent of public expenditure. Just to provide some context, the £5 million saving is less than the £5.7 million spent in 2003 on subsidising the swill bins at the Houses of Parliament. No, it can’t be about the money.
The mark of a liberal society is that more care and attention is paid to those innocents wrongly found guilty, than to the guilty who escape justice. Any criminal justice system designed and run by fallible human beings will make mistakes. The important thing is how we react when a miscarriage of justice occurs. Shamefully, under the Home Secretary’s proposals those who find their guilty verdict overturned at their first appeal will have no right to compensation. For others compensation will be capped at £500,000.
But let’s remember this. It takes from 20 months to two years to get a first appeal against a conviction heard: long enough for those convicted to lose careers and jobs, marriages and houses. Yes, there always will be those who unjustly enjoy Her Majesty’s hospitality, and whatever compensation we offer in a monetary form will not be enough to fill the gap of years of liberty denied, lives wasted, opportunities lost and families sundered.
But do we really expect those afflicted by the mistakes of the state apparatus simply to shrug and smile it off as just one of life’s unfortunate things? Can the Home Secretary not see that it is our solemn duty to those wrongfully convicted that we both apologise and make amends as best we can?

Whatever the motivations for this decision they do not change the fact that it is a disgrace. Just as mother always said: you make a mistake, you apologise, make what amends you can and promise not to do it again. When the State makes a mistake and steals someone’s liberty it is indeed our duty, to compensate those wronged. Whether the Home Secretary is ignorant of this moral fact, or simply wishes to ignore it for other reasons, it is appalling. Shame on you, Mr Clarke, shame on you.

We have not changed our view. This is a vileness that must be eradicated from Britain.

Now that we’ve extended marriage to all let’s not make it compulsory

Recent years have seen significant changes in marriage: it’s now essentially available to all potential pair couplings of whatever gender definition one wants to use. That doesn’t therefore mean that it should become compulsory though. And yet that is roughly what is being proposed:

In 2007, the Law Commission recommended reforming the laws that apply to cohabitants if they separate but no legislation followed. There are nearly 6 million unmarried people living together, many under the illusion that they have the same rights as married couples if they separate.

Resolution is calling for a legal framework of rights and responsibilities for unmarried, cohabiting couples to provide some legal protection and secure fairer outcomes at the time of a couple’s separation or on the death of one partner.

To which our answer is no. For we are believers in choice.

Believers in choice over who you might mingle genitalia with, as we always have been. And also choice over who you might share accommodation with. And even choice as to the economic arrangements that you might want to make surrounding who you mingle or share with. That choice is there in the law as it stands. One is entirely at liberty to live with someone without making formal economic arrangements. One is also able to take up that contract of marriage, something well defined in law. This current suggestion is that that first choice should no longer be available. And as a reduction in choice we’re therefore against it.

There is the point of any children that might come from a relationship but their rights and the responsibilities of the parents are already well defined in law.

Essentially the proposal is to introduce common law marriage as a legal position. And English law (except in very odd circumstances involving being in foreign) simply has never recognised it. For the plain and simple reason that if yout want the protections of the contract of marriage then go and get married. Now that all can do so it really isn’t the time to make it compulsory.