The government’s recent flirtation with setting a minimum price for alcohol has exposed some of the problems government’s have with drug policy generally. Since the US declared a “Global War on Drugs” (GWoD) at the start of the last century, government’s throughout the world have struggled with finding a social policy on intoxicants that has successfully fulfilled some of their basic aims.
This hasn’t been helped by the lack of clarity about what their basic aims actually are. The original intentions of the GWoD were twofold, both core forces in US politics: racism and religious puritanism. Since the original social forces were so unpalatable, it’s not entirely surprising that their achievements have been so destructive.
Racism has always been a key component of laws on intoxicants. It’s an obvious but sometimes overlooked fact that every cultural group has it’s own preferred intoxicants. The preferred intoxicant amongst the vast majority of Europeans has always been alcohol, which is why it has generally been very lightly regulated.
However, if you belong to a less powerful cultural group, your access to your preferred intoxicants will have been severely limited since around 1900. Cannabis, for example, was first made illegal in California. This wasn’t because the drug itself is harmful (it basically is not), but because it was the preferred intoxicant of Mexicans, who at the time were moving to California in great numbers. By targeting Cannabis, the authorities could legitimately abuse any Mexicans they saw.
Since then of course, intoxicants legislation has been variously targeted at blacks, hippies, flappers, ravers, hells angels and pretty much anyone else who is out of favour.
Gordon Brown was explicit about their aims in the climbdown on their alcohol price legislation. He said the aims of the legislation was in response to “the excesses of a small minority”, but that he didn’t want to punish the “sensible majority”.
In essence what he said is that it isn’t alcohol he has a problem with, it’s a specific group of people, and that they were attempting to discriminate against them specifically with a law on the use of alcohol. Unfortunately for them, they are unable to target this group sufficiently, because of the use of alcohol in the general population.
You can be certain that if the people he didn’t like had chosen an intoxicant that wasn’t in general use amongst his own constituency, he would have happily promoted harsh penalties for it’s use, even if it was completely harmless.