Doping the Masses

Exposing Britain's unholy alliance between alcohol prohibitionists and marijuana reformers


Back in the 1960s, hippies, rock stars, pop singers, students, dropouts, and other opponents of The Man demanded the legalization of cannabis in the name of freedom and experimentation. "Free The Weed!" they shrieked. Let grown men and women decide for themselves how to get their rocks off.

Today, in Western Europe at least, things couldn't be more different. Dope lobbyists now demand the legalization of cannabis on the basis that it is a safer, less swagger-inducing alternative to alcohol, that is more likely to make people feel zonked (which is good) rather than riotous (which apparently is bad).

Some advocates explicitly celebrate marijuana's "calming effects" and its ability to dull our "aggressive disorders." They have even championed sinister social experiments, where European authorities have encouraged young men and women to smoke dope rather than consume alcohol in order to stay "relaxed" and "in control."

This is no 60s-style call for free living. It's a Soviet-style call to promote drugs as a way of doping the masses and to smooth out young ruffians' rebellious edges.

The transformation of the dope lobby into a new kind of booze-hating temperance movement became clear during the David Nutt controversy here in Britain. Professor Nutt was the chief drugs adviser to the UK government until he was unceremoniously sacked last month for publicly challenging the government's line on cannabis. The government wants to keep cannabis as a Class B drug (a "dangerous drug" which can earn its dealers tough prison sentences) while Professor Nutt says it should be Class C (still officially illegal but recognised as not-very-dangerous and thus not really of interest to the authorities).

Yet Professor Nutt's "revolt" against the government—he has become a one-man, government-criticizing media machine since his sacking—has been motivated less by a love for freedom than by a one-eyed hatred of alcohol. Nutt has bigged up cannabis in order to denigrate booze.

He wants alcohol included alongside cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, and the rest in Britain's Misuse of Drugs Act, so that it will be more tightly controlled and its "misuse" more regularly punished. Forget cannabis, it is alcohol that "will kill your kids," Nutt hysterically warned parents, before demanding that there should be prohibition for under-21s (as there is in the United States) and that the price of alcohol should be raised to make it less accessible.

John Stuart Mill dealt with these sly, temperance-driven demands for price hikes 150 years ago. In On Liberty he argued that price rises based on moralism were a form of prohibition-lite, a kind of "sin tax."

"Every increase of cost is a prohibition, to those whose means do not come up to the augmented price," Mill said. "To tax stimulants for the sole purpose of making them more difficult to be obtained is a measure differing only in degree from their entire prohibition; and would be justifiable only if that were justifiable."

That Nutt's sympathy for cannabis-users is really a fear of alcohol-users in disguise became clear during a big public debate on November 11. The professor was at King's College London to talk about his experience of being sacked by the government, and his groupies—the temperance movement—were out in force. A member of Alcohol Concern, which partakes in hysterical scare-mongering about booze, spoke in Nutt's defense, as did a campaigning group of police officers who think drugs should be legalized and booze more tightly controlled.

It was hard to distinguish between the anti-alcohol rants of these killjoy campaigners and the apparently radical arguments of the dope lobbyists. A member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy—a pro-cannabis network of young people—stood up and congratulated Professor Nutt for exposing how dangerous and destructive alcohol is in comparison to weed.

For many years now, there has been a profoundly unholy alliance—in terms of outlook and ideas—between the old-style temperance movement and the hippyish pro-dope campaign. Britain's Legalise Cannabis Alliance says alcohol is the real "hard addictive drug." It talks about "drink-frenzied Britain," where every Saturday night the "police try to control the streets and the National Health Service struggles to cope with the alcoholic aftermath." (A dope campaign expressing sympathy for the cops? Well I never.)

As the author of Clearhead, a blog by a former cannabis smoker, puts it: "[Dope users] look upon the average drinker with a feeling of moral superiority." This became clear in Britain a few years ago when some short-lived, semi-legal dope cafés were opened around the country. These cafés banned booze. One had a sign saying: "No alcohol or drunk and disorderly persons on the premises." Another had a poster reminding patrons: "Will you please bear in mind, alcohol kills 28/33,000 people every year." These figures come straight from the straight-laced fun-haters at Alcohol Concern.

Cannabis campaigners continually talk up dope's "pacifying" qualities in contrast to booze. The Hempire, an online collective dedicated to all things dope, says "cannabis is well known for its calming effects" and can "help with sufferers from aggressive disorders." Such claims have pricked the interest of various European governments, which have carried out dope-promoting experiments as a way of "pacifying" potential troublemakers and tearaways.

In 2004, police in Portugal instituted a policy called "Here We Blow," where they allowed English soccer fans visiting the country to smoke dope, while simultaneously clamping down on drunken behavior The aim was to "reduce the chance of a punch-up between rival soccer fans." The Legalise Cannabis Alliance cheered this authoritarian experiment, arguing: "If people are drinking they lose control; if they smoke cannabis they don't."

In Holland in 2000, during the Euro 2000 football tournament, the authorities allowed cannabis cafes to remain open late and encouraged soccer fans to spend their time smoking rather than drinking. The aim was to "relax the fans." One cannabis campaigner in Amsterdam—home of so much dope-smoking—said: "Have you ever heard of anyone smoking a joint and then starting a riot?"

That is what's attractive about cannabis both to contemporary dope lobbyists and to people in authority: It slows us down; it makes us sleepy; it metaphorically castrates us; it reduces riotousness. Booze, by contrast, makes us cocky and arrogant and up for fun and fighting—which is the nanny state's worst nightmare.

Cannabis should be completely decriminalized. But that should happen in the name of giving people full freedom of choice over what they ingest and how they have fun, not in the name of doping the apparently troublemaking, booze-consuming sections of society.

Brendan O'Neill is editor of spiked in London.

NEXT: Federal Judge Says NYPD Plagued by "Widespread Falsification by Arresting Officers"

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  1. I've never touched a drop of liquor, ladies.

    1. That picture will cause me to drink more.

  2. See? I believe Reason did a blogpost recently where someone said something nice about Marijuana, but the subtext was about the evils of alcohol and the lack of regulation of same?

    Tax us! Regulate us! Set us free!

  3. The picture associated with the article is one of the best arguments for alcohol consumption I've ever seen. How did someone manage to find so many ugly women and put them into one area?

    1. I would need pretty thick beer goggles to want those women.

      1. I met a woman about a month ago and she wanted me to take her home so I thought "I have to drink until this girl is good looking". the only thing that happened was I got sick. Luckily I got out of there before I did something I would regret the next day.

  4. I am amused that the ads I get along with this article include "They said marijuana wouldn't lead to harder drugs / THEY LIED / Get the straight facts / drugfreeworld.org".

    1. I prefer the Passages Malibu ad. It looks like a spa and near the ocean too.

  5. A gramme is better than a damn.

  6. "Have you ever heard of anyone smoking a joint and then starting a riot?"

    Not a riot per se, but didn't the original assassins get their name by getting stoned on hash before they went out and did their dirty work?

    1. Correct, they were called Hashishins, which morphed into assassins eventually.

    2. Incorrect.

      The whole thing about getting stoned before going out to battle (the people who inspired this term were not assassins in the modern sense of the word at all) is a good example of fearmongering laced with xenophobia. The thinking was that these fierce fighters, who were willing to die for their masters and beliefs, must be ON something... Crazed, amoral and drugged, and scary as hell. It was good press for their enemies to paint it in that light.

      But no, they didn't get stoned as some kind of ritual before slaughtering people. Tho there are plenty of prohibitionists out there who love that fairy tale.

      Also, it's Hashashin and the etymology of the word is by no means certain. It may not have had anything to do with the use of hashish in the beginning, but was possibly imbued with that 'meaning' later. There are multiple theories about it.

    3. no, people SAID they smoked, because they carried out suicide missions. But that was what their oponents said to explain their behavior.

      I guess suicide killing is just the thing to do over there.

  7. It'll be worth it if they legalize cannabis for this reason, saying it will lead people to substitute it for booze, and then decide, "But it would be too hard to stop liquor mfr. & consumption, so we won't try that." It will definitely not be worth it if they "buy" the legalization of cannabis by simultaneously criminalizing liquor, thinking it will be easy to do so once people have a legal cannabis alternative.

  8. Yeah, every marijuna post gets that ad with Benicio Del Torro smoking a bong.

  9. At this point. I don't even care. If I can have a legal market in pot that's enough for me. And while as a true libertarian I support the right of the people to take whatever drugs they want (antibiotic exception), alcohol is the one drug that actually is as bad as it's detractors paint it.

    1. Nah, I'm at my desk, drinking right now. No ill effects whatsoever.

  10. While I fully support the rights of people to do whatever drug they want, let's not pretend that certain drugs don't encourge certain behaviors.

    Alcohol, does in fact increase the propensity for fighting and violence etc, just like speed tends to make you paranoid, and extasy, loving, and all touchy feelie.

    I for one don't have a problem at all with the government "enoucaring" people to get high instead of drinking. I think the nudge principle is fine as long as it's just a nundge.

    1. Exctasy makes you retarded.

      It removes all sense of fear and caution. Even the reasonable ones that keep you from doing stupid shit.

      1. Actually I think it's one of the greatest self-psychiatric truth serums in existence (certainly the funnest).

        unfortunately most people waste it on techno and backrubs.

        1. which should be their right, I just think they are underestimating the experience.

          1. I probably did E over 100 times, and I would never say that it removed all sense of fear and caution. Although it didn't make me paranoid like some other things.

            Also, nothing wrong with a bit of dancing or a backrub 😛

      2. It also makes you like house music.

        1. Actually, I never really liked house. I do like Breaks, or D&B though.

  11. I don't care how dumb or misguided their reasons. Legalize it.

    Singer smoke it
    And players of instruments too
    Legalize it, yeah, yeah
    That's the best thing you can do
    Doctors smoke it
    Nurses smoke it
    Judges smoke it
    Even the lawyers too

  12. It's a Soviet-style call to promote drugs as a way of doping the masses [...]

    Looking from today, it might seem Soviets were all into "doping the masses", but reality was a bit more complex. Vodka was primarily a revenue measure, and pretty important one. Every five or ten years, Soviets would start a sobriety campaign but soon realize they cannot afford that. Only Gorbachev took it to the limit; some even suppose it brought down the USSR, but probably oil price collapse was more important.

    I was born in the USSR in 1971, so I didn't get to drink much, but I remember wild swings of vodka price pretty well because everyone was talking about that, even teetotallers. 🙂

    And yeah, there were lots of teetotallers those years, probably more than in Eastern Europe now.

    [sorry for offtopic :)]

  13. I think the alcohol comparisons are natural. Alcohol is a more dangerous drug that is allowed. That it is illegal and marijuana is not is bad logic.

    If the activists are pushing for swapping the two, though, thats just getting stupid.

    It reminds me of a quote from a Cato member that the documentary "Supersize Me" used. He said that if you're going to be suing the tobacco companies, you should logically be suing the fast food companies as well, as they have done as much health damage. Obviously the person speaking meant that this was a ridiculous notion meant to argue that tobacco companies should not be sued, but the filmmakers used the statement in the reverse.

  14. That ATVs are legal and marijuana is not shows the depths of the American derangement concerning drugs.

    I of course think they should be be legal, especially in the absence of socialized medicine.

  15. I think this whole argument about booze vs. weed is utter bullshit. I have known plenty of stoners with a propensity to violence, even when stoned, and plenty of drinkers who get all "i love you man" sentimental when they drink (and not just drinking wine). The government has no business telling you what to do, encouraging what you should do, or waging a multi-million dollar campaign informing you of alternatives to what you are doing. Cannabis should be legalized, and taxed at the standard sales tax rate without any vice taxes (hence, the Mill argument cited above). Alcohol should be considered in the same vein, with all vice taxes removed from it.

    And let's be frank: alcohol may lead some people to become a little more irresponsible and out of control on friday nights, but weed abuse leads some people to sit on their asses all day playing video games, doing almost nothing remotely productive. Its a wash.

    1. I don't have a problem with government encouraging or advising you to do anything. IMO, there is nothing wrong with a public service annoucment as long as it stays as such.

      In fact, that is often the most effective way to do something. For example, smoking has reduced, even though ciggs are still legal.

      1. yes, but that has come through an extreme application of excise taxes, just to keep in mind

  16. Alcohol doesn't cause behaviors, only releases ones that are already there.

    Get an asshole drunk, he's a bigger asshole.

    Get a not asshole drunk, and he's a bigger not asshole.

    1. That is flat out wrong. I've known many a sober not-assholes that become drunk assholes.

      1. In vino veritas has been in wide circulation for a long time for a reason.

        I've never known one violent or jerk drunk that didn't have that undercurrent already within them. Some people keep it more bottled up than others.

        Loose inhibitions? Sure. Bad judgment of risk and reward? Sure. But no one's essential nature is changed by demon rum.

      2. they were assholes underneath

    2. That blueprint does not seem to apply to that Native Americans.

  17. Exctasy makes you retarded.

    It removes all sense of fear and caution. Even the reasonable ones that keep you from doing stupid shit.

    That's exactly what Tequila does to me. All other alcohol? No problem. I am a peaceful drunk. Get me tequila drunk and I am all about doing stupid shit.

  18. We don't smoke
    and we don't chew
    and we don't go
    with guys that do!

    1. Is this a reference to Heinlein's Farnham's Freehold?

    2. too bad, women that chew are hot

  19. The public in the UK does not take its cue much from discussions at King's College London, but its an interesting article nevertheless.

    The drinking public (which is most people here) is hardly going to give credence to a student group who don't even drink themselves and are barely old enough as is. Booze has rarely been cheaper and most people like it that way. Contrary to the hopes of the people who cluster around events like this, there is no great credible prohibitionist movement in the UK.

    The very word 'prohibition' is British political shorthand for a public alcohol policy that doesn't work and which leads to gangsterism. Any waverers are soon convinced by news that the crime it spawned it bankrolled the Kennedy clan.

    There is, granted, a movement to expose the UK government's anti-marijuana policies and demonstrate the idiocy of the claims it has an evidence-based underpinning. Professor Nutt has pretty well won that argument with the public. Ask much of the public and they would legalise cannabis now.

  20. I agree with SF. I don't think booze makes people more prone to fighting as much as just generally lowers inhibitions - what you get out of it is a reflection of your underlying personality, hence some people are happy drunks, some are agressive drunks, some are sad drunks and so on. I'm a happy drunk so I'm probably less likely (the n for actual fights I've been in is too low to draw firm conclusions) to get in a fight while drinking than sober because my happy-go-lucky disposition while under the influence makes me more likely to laugh off a source of offense than get in the other party's face about it.

  21. What happens when you smoke dope and drink at the same time? You get aggressive, out of control and eat Cheetos all night?

  22. One time I got really drunk on tequila, smoked weed and did x.

    I just beat up and abducted people and forced them to come over and have a cheetos/back-rub/fighting/cartoon/house music party. And it was every bit as fun as it sounds.

  23. Mr. O'Neill is in denial about alcohol. Dr. Nutt had been stating facts, not making hysterical comments. We are an alcohol-drenched society that needs to come to terms with how very problematic this recreational drug is. Cannabis is simply not in the same league. That's a fact.

    1. /obvious troll is obvious

  24. Sure pot may pacify 90% of the population, but the other 10% will turn into Reavers.

  25. im about to go get "pacified" in about an hour

  26. It is true that cannabis is an economic substitute for alcohol and other psychoactive substances, and as a consequence, when cannabis use goes up, "drug-related" social costs go down.


    Cannabis law reformers might not be as inclined to point this out if cannabis prohibitionists did not predict that society would collapse if cannabis were legal, but I doubt it, because the hypocrisy of prohibiting cannabis while tobacco and alcohol are legal is so glaringly obvious.

    That said, I think you'll find that those who point this out, such as the authors of "Safer," http://www.saferchoice.org/, explicitly reject alcohol and tobacco prohibition.

    While cannabis might make people more peaceful, or at least not make them violent, it does not make them more compliant and docile. On the contrary, pot tends to stimulate free association and cause users to question authority, dogma, ideology, and social customs and mores, explaining why cannabis consumers tend to be radical and anti-authoritarian.

    Were this a socialist conspiracy to dope the masses, we'd be pushing tranquilizers and anti-depressants, which are also often replaced by cannabis.

  27. Horrible article. Way to misread and misrepresent the position of legalization advocates. No one wants to take away your alcohol, you big baby. So quit whining. Your disrespect for cannabis users is rivaled only by your disregard of your own physical health as you destroy your liver, and overall health. We merely argue that we should have the same protections under the law that drinkers of alcohol enjoy, to make their own choice as adults.

  28. Why is it after 20 years of daily use I am neither lazy or stupid.
    I am a successful hard working wealthy taxpaying citizen deserving the right to celebrate this wonderful modern free society in a fashion I choose.
    The author of this article is an incredibly ignorant dinosaur.
    True liberty means I can put whatever I want into my person.

  29. Terrible article. No presentation of correlation between the two arguments, just vague assumptions and hyperbole. Prof. Nutt presented evidence that alcohol was more damaging than cannabis, and highlighted the contradiction in the law. He's a scientist and that's all he's been saying. The sensationalism and the complete lack of a coherent argument make this article worthy of The Sun, and completely against what reason tries to be. There have been other such articles recently, and it's beginning to make me question the worth of any material presented by reason.

  30. Prohibition of any kind can kill people, as did alcohol did during that Prohibition era. Though alcohol can kill more than a lot of the other harder drugs, legistlating human sin is even worse. Most everyone has had the desire to intoxicate themselves, and many get carried away over it in the long run. Ranting about legalizing marijuana while demonizing alcohol and their pushers is going to be counterproductive, the prohibition of which still in this day and age will lead to mostly the same human miseries of our american prohibition era. As much as I despise alcohol like this gentleman does, he really should focus more on the cause of freedom. It will be to the benefit of himself and the marijuana lovers he wants to vindicate!

  31. good post,I can not express my feeling now

  32. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I'm sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won't get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there's more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I'm not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It's just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight...the Bible's books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on...the Bible's books were written by people with very different mindsets.

  33. Now, apparently, it's a penalty when the government stops giving companies piles of cash simply for engaging in practices that are inherently beneficial to them.

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