Debate Correspondent Fiona Potigny reports that, “Though only the very bravest of DebSocers waded their way through the wind and rain to reach Amory Moot for this week’s debate, those who did were in for a treat with the meaty motion: ‘This House would decriminalise all drugs'”.
— Chloe Bitcon (@ChloeBitcon) February 14, 2014
First up: Adrian Barton, lecturer and author on illicit drug use. Being first speaker on the pro side of this debate was always going to be a tricky one, with those pro legalisation tending to be stereotyped as being overly laissez-faire, devoid of deeper moral consideration. Nonetheless, Barton made his stance clear from the outset: “pro decriminalisation, but anti drugs” before embarking upon his well-justified and incredibly robust argument centring on the “business” of drug supply. With the drug trade being the fifth largest industry on the planet, generating up to $400 billion dollars and having 200 million regular users, Barton was disbelieving as to how such a significant and lucrative market had been left de-regulated for so long. By decriminalising drugs, he argued that violent cartels currently monopolising the market could be dismantled, taxes could be yielded from the profits and invested into health and education initiatives, and quality could be controlled in order to curb health issues arising from poorly synthesised substances. Despite constructing such a strong argument, what seemed to impress DebSoc the most held little relevance for the debate:
Nonetheless, with words such as “market”, “lucrative”, “profit”, and “industry” laced throughout Barton’s speech, certain audience members felt ill-at-ease with his reasoning…
— Abi Devaney (@AbiDevaney) February 14, 2014
Neil Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, our second speaker of the evening, definitely agreed, quite explicitly expressing his acute distaste for Barton’s argument on the grounds that firstly, those selling the drugs would be left in an “impossible moral situation”; and, secondly, that he felt it “wrong” for the government to profit from the sale of drugs, even if their revenue were to be used positively. Unfortunately, Parish’s stance seemed to offer few answers as to how drug usage could otherwise be combatted. When presented with the idea of adopting “supervised drug consumption rooms”, as recently adopted in France, in order to minimise harm to the individual by offering a regulated medical atmosphere with clean needles and nurses at hand, he remained quite adamant that this would still feed into his notion of soft drugs leading to harder ones – the classic slippery slope: the crux of his argument. Barton nonetheless had an answer for this – as he did for nearly everything – using his eloquent way with words to explain why, in fact, this was incorrect: “just as half a cider won’t lead you to a bottle of vodka, there is no evidence to suggest cannabis is a gateway drug”. Whilst Barton deservedly wins best speaker of the week for his excellent balance of facts, reason and rebuttal, his partner did not seem to gauge this balance so well:
85,000 people imprisoned in the UK. 50% of these incarcerated with drug-related offences. 26,013 regularly reconvicted on drug-related grounds. 64% use class A drugs before their sentences. £928 million spent on incarcerating these people… Bored of the facts reel yet? These don’t even constitute the half. Eoin McLennan Murrary, President of the Prison Govenors Association had certainly done his research – there was no doubt about that – but just one sentence…one would have been all it took to neatly round up what we can expect was his argument: decriminalise drugs, and save huge amounts of time and money in criminal justice procedures – time and money that could be reinvested. Sadly, that sentence never came, and he was cut off mid-flow by the bang of the Binks gavel –perhaps we’ll never know what 48% relates to… Whilst the opening speech may not have been his strong point, he did flourish in questioning, speaking of the need for more radical education strategies owing to “Talk to FRANK”’s notable lack of efficacy and the failings of prohibition, naturally drawing on 1930’s America as an example of this. He equally backed Barton’s view that we should dispossess the cartels of their power, limiting the sales power of the “shadier members of society”. The ambiguity in his wording did, however, lead to one audience member joking:
“Minimalising harm” was the theme of Medical Law lecturer Dr Timon Hughes-Davies’ argument. He maintained that individual damage was limited through criminalisation, and that we do not have sufficient information about drugs and their effects in order for a society in which drugs are freely used to operate without a problem. as most came into popular usage “within living memory”. With the opposition having already established that Opium was a favourite of the ancient Roman baker, with it being frequently added to bread for social gatherings, whilst 1800s painkillers were made from alcohol and opium-based derivatives, the “living memory” comment did lead to a little confusion…
— Matt Nichols (@The_Badger14) February 14, 2014
Of course, this debate was always going to be riddled with contention, but, after a long ramble from one audience member which, from what we could gather, was something to do with coffee, The Beatles and chilling out, lead to a vague question about whether drugs are objectively bad after all, both the panel and audience were united in their incredulity; all of whom subsequently denouncing the resulting violence, health problems, and social pressures.
Despite the previous moral contentions, it was the proposition’s regulation-oriented argument that took the vote this evening.
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