Media reports of the event are a little sketchy, because reporters on a topic which, eventually, was all about personal freedom and enjoyment and not “serious” moral issues were only ever going to get space to pick one sound-bite and play it up. Personal reports will vary enormously, and considering that even within a row of me were folk ranging from sixties burn-outs and semi-pro tree-huggers to conservative clergy and hardcore UKIP groupies that is no surprise.
So, for the record, if you have already seen David Nutt on, say, that live Channel Four Ecstasy experiment last year or read his book then there was nothing new. He ran through his routine in a manner calculated not to frighten elderly ladies, hung together with a jokey slide-show, and finished by politely answering questions from mostly middle-aged, middle brow types who had, quite reasonably and with admirable public spirit, turned up to find out what they could about illegal drugs from someone who ought to be able to tell them. The questions from the public were fair enough, and he answered them objectively and in comprehensive detail.
Actually, I did clarify a couple of my own local suspicions from these questions.
Firstly, that the only real drug threat on Manx sink estates is the latest generation of prescription drugs (the ones which were supposed to replace benzodiazepines, AKA “mother's little helpers”).Secondly, that those who set up and have benefited from the Chief Minister's Task Farce on Drugs and Alcohol still pan-handle for cash and tell whoppers without shame. These whoppers would be immediately discredited the moment our Public Health professionals have the courage to publish - in full- all the surveys they have conducted at public expense into drug and alcohol “abuse” exactly as they were published in peer-reviewed journals, including the methodology and the true parameters and numbers of the survey groups. They never will, because even the two examples I was able to obtain from university libraries via friendly academics clearly show that neither the experiments nor the findings bear much resemblance to the 500 word press summaries (and, sadly, even they went unread by the local media once a couple of shock stats had been quoted, wrongly and out of context).
The more serious question posed by Nutt on the night was if the island could and should profit from the problem caused back in 1971 by a UK government which, in ensuring cannabis must never be legally available, simultaneously ensured that university research could never explore any medicinal benefits because to possess it was a common crime and even to cultivate it under licence was prohibitively expensive. Since the 1980's research in other countries has begun to open up some amazing possibilities (just check the excellent and extensive Wikipedia entry on cannabinoids to get a sense of these). Meanwhile UK scientists, once world leaders, are now reduced to reading other people's research and begging knee-jerk politicos to look beyond the next focus group and ballot box. With just a little of the horse sense that saw us develop the TT and the finance sector, we could develop a niche pharmaceutical industry to fill the gap when both of those vanish – as they must within a decade or two at most.
But the only real question is do you trust mature adults to take decisions over their own lives, and then be responsible for the results? Just that.
If so (and as a libertarian my obvious answer is ”Yes”) all that remains is how you organise things (legally, socially, economically..) so that the mature and responsible are free to get on with it, those who refuse to take responsibility will find it too much hassle and those who cannot (the young and otherwise vulnerable) are not going to be capable or exploitable. The question itself should be no different when it comes to other adult pleasures, such as cigarettes and alcohol.
Nutt half addresses it with the comparative risks of rock-climbing, horse-riding etc. and the way that pleasures enjoyed by the relatively powerful never seem to get restricted while working people's cheap relaxants do, but then screws up by setting up alcohol and tobacco as alternative folk panics to dope. He starts off by correctly pointing out that alcohol is also a drug, but then it all goes rapidly downhill, and he ends up peddling a variation on “reefer madness” about currently legal (if increasingly socially proscribed) substances in order to advance his own special interest.
Those who follow the debate seriously (rather than with one hand on the bible or the bong) know about Nutt's shortcomings already. He causes defenders of drinkers or fag smokers in particular to grind teeth in despair as the “evidence” of his prattlings is taken up by dopey Guardianistas and neo-puritans alike. When he should be identifying and seeking common cause with all who oppose a prohibitionist industry which out-prudes the Victorians (and lacks even their genuine social concern for the dispossessed) he hands it half-truths to shoot down all opposing views (including his own expert opinion).
For a real attempt to put the wider picture in context, try Chris Snowdon's excellent little book The Art Of Suppression: Pleasure, Panic and Prohibition since 1800. Towards the end, in assessing current threats to liberty of the responsible adult, he comprehensively covers the wrong done by government and tabloids to David Nutt, but also Nutt's unfortunate habit of shooting himself and potential allies in the foot. If you cannot find time to read the book, at least check out some of the short and pertinent blogs on Snowdon's website (Velvet Glove, Iron Fist) and those of a few endangered fag smokers ( Dick Puddlecote is a prime example). If you cannot then begin to see the bigger picture, then maybe the liberties you are losing are just liberties you never deserved.