Brendan O’Neill is perhaps one of my least favourite British columnists. I disagree with him on almost everything, from Brexit to student politics and the populist right. But his article this week is really interesting. O’Neill laments the effect of legalised cannabis on the culture of Los Angeles. He decries how it has become all pervasive- you can smell it everywhere, despite being supposedly illegal to smoke it in public places. It makes people too chilled out and stupid. And far from being a social lubricant like alcohol or cigarettes, cannabis makes people less sociable. You can read the full piece here https://www.spectator.co.uk/2017/11/la-used-to-fun-dope-has-just-made-it-dull/.
I don’t entirely agree with the article. Part of it relies on stereotypes about cannabis users: overly-educated, annoying middle class hipsters who are very fond of peddling a particularly pedantic form of political correctness and moral superiority. I certainly don’t believe cannabis is all that much worse than alcohol or cigarettes. The former is more likely to make people violent and abusive, the latter smells just as bad and carries a far greater cancer risk. Having said that, I wouldn’t want cannabis to become a part of the youth culture the way it has in LA and so many other places in America. Because of the smell, it’s quite an anti-social drug in my view, one which could prove seriously divisive were it to be used widely. The last thing Britain needs is yet more social divisions. Also, I’m sure cannabis makes people more stupid and boring, particularly if they use it regularly, even if the cliche O’Neill presents isn’t quite accurate.
Epicurus stood for moderation and enjoying your life. He certainly would have disapproved of the war on drugs, which costs huge amounts of taxpayers’ money, and results in a higher incarceration rate- needlessly splitting up families for non-violent offences. Taxing and regulating cannabis is far more humane than leaving it in the hands of criminals. But moderation also means taking into account the effects of smoking cannabis on other people. It’s certainly wrong to smoke it when children are present. Cannabis may not be life-threatening, but that doesn’t make it healthy. Strict regulations and a social stigma against heavy use will be necessary if it’s legalised anywhere else.