UK: A debate with a QC about drug legalisation turns out to be more like an argument with a wiseacre in a pub

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I long ago got used to how young the police have become. To me, archbishops of Canterbury, High Court judges and Cabinet ministers look young too. It is an old joke, and a good one. As we grow older, we think the problem is not with us but with other people.

But in the case of QCs, I think, my recent discovery of their rather dismal quality is an objective fact, not a subjective consequence of my advancing age.

Please listen to this Spectator podcast in which I attempt to contest the views of a QC who believes in drug decriminalisation, while also claiming that we currently have “prohibition”.

The segment starts almost 12 minutes into the clip:

Once upon a time, a Queen’s Counsel was something to be, and to hear and to see. They were hired, in their silk gowns and well-aged horsehair wigs, to give a Rolls-Royce smoothness to any prosecution or defence. They were witty. They were profoundly experienced. They knew their law or had the sense to look it up when they didn”t. They were dangerous in cross-examination.

But a few weeks ago I was publicly (and quite without personal provocation) attacked by a QC [Jessica Simor] who used the crudest abuse against me, suggesting that my opinions on the Jo Cox murder case betokened some sort of sympathy or excuse-making for the Nazi leadership. When I challenged her, she made no elegant defence, but swiftly hid behind the claim that I was in some way harassing her, as if a QC was in verbal danger from a mere columnist. This obviously was not a worthy opponent, so I let the matter be.

Then, this week, I was invited, by the Spectator magazine, to discuss drug legalization with another QC [Chris Daw], for a podcast. I accepted immediately. I am, I must admit, a little jaded by having had so many such discussions. My opponents, with very rare exceptions, are clueless regurgitators of propaganda talking points, who have not troubled to study my position and are astonished to find that a contrary view even exists, whereas I am wearily familiar with everything they say.

Foolishly, I thought when a QC was mentioned, that I would be encountering someone of sharp wit and carefully-assembled arguments. In the event, it was like an argument with a wiseacre in the pub. All it lacked was him jabbing his forefinger into my chest and saying at frequent intervals that “it stands to reason”.

He produced so many straw men (absurd caricatures of my position which enabled him to avoid addressing what I actually say) that the Spectator later had to hire peasants with pitchforks to remove all the resulting straw form the editor’s office. He changed the subject whenever he was in trouble, which was a lot, a particularly tedious style of debate. And while I may have been guilty of interrupting him a few times, I did give him a clear run for his opening statement (which he did not give to me) and he was virtually incapable of allowing me to finish a sentence.

By the way, in a brief preliminary skirmish on Twitter, several hours before our encounter, I had taken the trouble to send him links to my most concise statement of my position and also (since he had raised it) the details of my argument about the supposed condition of “addiction”. I, by contrast, had not had any advance sight of his Spectator article urging decriminalisation of drugs.

My opponent asked for figures which I did not have on the smuggling of tobacco and the illicit alcohol problem into this country, which he dismissed as minor. I had no figures because I have never before known anyone challenge the extent of this undoubted problem. Here is evidence recently submitted to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee

The alert reader will notice that it says: “In 2010/11 650 million cigarettes were seized at the border.”

This seems to me to be a substantial quantity.

This HMRC document likewise notes that: “the illicit alcohol market still costs the taxpayer approximately £1.2 billion a year. The criminality involved, including the use of the proceeds to fund other crimes, has a devastating effect on people and businesses across the UK”

It notes that 50 million litres of untaxed alcohol have been seized since 2010. Again, this hardly suggests that the matter is trivial.

In Colorado, where marijuana is legal, strengths of THC are not restricted. Here a CNBC report from March 2015 states that “Colorado marijuana is nearly twice as potent as illegal pot of past decades, and some modern cannabis packs triple the punch of vintage ganja, lab tests reveal for the first time.

“In old-school dope, levels of THC – the psychoactive chemical that makes people high – were typically well below 10 percent. But in Colorado’s legal bud, the average THC level is 18.7 percent, and some retail pot contains 30 percent THC or more, according to research released Monday.”

There is a simple reason why. Any such restriction would simply lead to more business for the continuing illegal, untaxed market. See this CBC report which states that black market production of marijuana has boomed in Colorado since legalisation.

My opponent (at about 28 minutes into the discussion) also appears to think that either that the illegality of drugs began in 1971 with the Misuse of Drugs Act, or alternatively that the Victorian era ended in 1971. This did come close to reducing me to silence, but not the silence of admiration. Shall I say only that neither of these beliefs is correct?

This Wikipedia entry provides a reasonably accurate history of UK legislation concerning drugs:

It is genuinely astonishing to find such ignorance at such a level in the professions.

For complete article The Mail on Sunday (UK) blog, May 3, 2019.


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