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The Hempire News - December 03

There are three widely held beliefs about drugs. One, they're bad and should be fought. Two, we can and must win the war against them. Three, war is the answer. This is how prohibition has been sold and bought; the only solution to a terrible problem.

Most people believe in prohibition for worthy reasons. They've been told it's best by people they trust. Nothing in their experience contradicts this. And they don't want to see people being hurt.

I think it's important to understand the depth of feeling held by people opposing legalisation. They've been told their future, and the future of their children, depends upon defeating the scourge of drugs. Right now, watered down reclassification is about all they will accept. Confrontation they will not.

I'm not talking about everyone you understand. Just a significant majority of middle-class, middle-England, Daily Mail and Sun reading, floating voters. The type politicians bend over frontwards for. Governments have terrified these people so much they dare not now be seen to be soft on drugs.

Politicians will never act on this issue until they know change will win more votes than it loses. Therefore, the focus for legalisation must be on changing public opinion. Public opinion is deeply ingrained and sincerely held. Therefore, telling people they're wrong, or ignoring their feelings, is unlikely to achieve the results we want. However right we are.

And we are right. Of that I'm convinced. So right, what we must now do is listen to those who oppose us. By doing so we gain in two ways. We become the bigger person, the people magnanimous enough to really hear the fears and concerns of others. Secondly, by listening to others we create a space where they'll be more willing to listen to us.

This is the key. Only respected independents will change these view through argument. Ours are too easily dismissed as vested interests. However, by listening and understanding opposing views we find ways in which we can both get what we want. We also de-demonize ourselves and show we're reasonable people, all of which gives whatever views we subsequently air more credence.

We're two parties in a marriage going wrong. But like most of these couples we're not that far apart. The common ground both prohibitionists and legalisers share is a desire to limit the dangers of drugs. That's where we can all come together and agree. How we do that is the debate. How we have a proper debate is the question. That's what I'll be working on in 2004.

Happy New Year