Drugs wreck lives, so when will society stop treating them as cool?

We have to get away from this sense that the people who take drugs are cool, man, and even beyond prosecution, so says John Dolan in his weekly column
Drugs wreck lives, so when will society stop treating them as cool?

HIS ROYAL HIGH-NESS: Prince Harry confessed to several episodes of drug-taking in his book as a young man, but there was no backlash.

I IMAGINE if a middle-aged Queen Elizabeth II had confessed in the 1960s to snorting cocaine as a teenager, there would have been uproar and disbelief.

Or if Prince Charles in the 1980s had fessed up to smoking weed while he chatted to his plants, there would have been an equal sense of outrage.

But we live in different, supposedly enlightened times.

So Prince Harry, in his explosive new book Spare, can make a raft of confessions about drug-taking in his younger days, and it barely merits a headline amongst all the tittle-tattle about frozen willies and frosty relationships with his brother Willie.

Which is odd, when you think about, because his admissions amounted to criminal offences at the time. 

A member of the royal family breaking the law - and brazenly boasting about it - is not something you hear every day.

But the muted reaction to it is not odd at all, when you consider how society now views drugs and the people who take them - with a shrug, or even a pat on the back.

Among the public, whether it’s royals or politicians, rock stars or supermodels, drug-taking appears to be de rigueur and universally accepted - it even offers a sheen of kudos - while being ignored by the media, the law, and the courts.

And sure, Harry was talking about his younger years when he revealed he took cocaine as a teenager, smoked marijuana and later tried magic mushrooms, at a party in the home of - bizarrely - Friends actor Courteney Cox.

He writes: “Of course, I had been taking cocaine at that time.”

But of course! A man with far too much money and time on his hands, mixing with the great and good, is bound to have been sucked into the drugs and party lifestyle. We can’t expect any different. I mean, what was he supposed to do, say No?! Crazy idea...

Harry’s confession may not have been an attempt to make him look down with the kids, but it certainly will do him no harm among the people who decide what and who is cool these days.

It may also, inadvertently, encourage other young people to take drugs, since Harry admitted that, although cocaine didn’t make him feel “fun”, it did make him feel “different”, which was the effect he was craving as he tried to deal with the loss of his mother.

There you go, kids, if you feel messed up and want to feel different, Prince Harry has just the solution for you.

His Royal high-ness indeed...

But, at the risk of sounding ike a po-faced square here, I’m baffled by the tolerance and laxity with which drugs generally are viewed in western society.

After all, we live in the age of the nanny state, where alcohol is frowned upon and has been raised to such a high price, that it makes a tipple of an evening an extravagantly expensive treat.

Snorting cocaine though?

Ah, you’re only young once. (Or, if you’re sad and middle-aged, you can pretend you’re only young twice).

We also live in an age where talking about your mental health is not just encouraged, it is virtually forced out of you by myriad media and celebrities.

Protect your mental health.

Look after your mental health.

Talk about your mental health.

Such is the constant barrage, it would make anyone blessed to not have mental health issues start wondering if they actually do!

Yet, at the same time, study after study shows that so-called ‘soft’ drugs can have terrible effects on a person’s mental health. And yet, cannabis seems to get a free pass from all the nannying.

For the record, a study has shown young people who smoke cannabis regularly are three times more likely to attempt suicide than people who never use it. Long-term cannabis users are more likely to report thoughts of suicide than non-users.

And many influential people want to legalise it?

It strikes me that one of the best ways we can reduce what has been described as a mental health epidemic in this country is to clampdown on cannabis dealers and users, and have a zero tolerance attitude in prosecuting those who take the drugs.

We can certainly take a helpful stride in the right direction by at least not being impressed by people who take such drugs, and putting them in some kind of cool, prosecution-free zone.

This brazen attitude to drugs is not just an Irish thing, but extends to all western societies.

It’s worth noting that the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was fined £100 last week for briefly not wearing a seat-belt in the back of a car while filming a video. Zero tolerance shown there.

Ah, that’s not a historic offence like Harry’s, you might say.

But his uncle, Prince Uncle, was shown no such leniency when it came to his historic alleged offence, while the media are also chasing down the UK’s former chancellor for alleged taxation anomalies from his past, and Paschal Donohoe has similarly felt the heat here about historic queries over election expenses.

So, previous alleged crimes and misdemeanours can he pursued by the law, if there is a willingness.

Do you think Prince Harry will face similar retrospective actions for his confessions of criminal offences? No, because.... drugs.

Let’s be clear: Drugs wreck lives, they wreck livelihoods, the most vicious criminals in our nation buy and sell them to make vast, tax-free fortunes. The drugs trade is built on misery. Taking drugs facilitates this misery.

Drugs are illegal too. Under Irish law, it is an offence to be in possession of a controlled drug and doing so could mean a fine or a a year in prison.

Having a glass of wine at night is not illegal (yet).

Having a fiver bet on a GAA match is not an offence (as long as you’re not playing in it).

But it is an offence to cultivate, import, export, produce, supply and possess cannabis, except in accordance with a Ministerial Licence.

We simply have to change this lax attitude, we have to get away from this sense that the people who take drugs are cool, man, and even beyond prosecution.

Taking drugs isn’t a rite of passage for young people, it’s a conscious decision to break the law and possibly embark on a slippery slope that so often ends in crime, destitution, homelessness, jail, and mental health issues.

Influential celebrities in our societies have long played a role in making drugs appear cool.

For too long, the bad boys of rock have been in competition over the epic quantities of drugs they ingest, while the likes of, say, Cliff Richard are pilloried as goody two-shoes.

How we turn that ship around is a tricky one, sincd nobody wants to be Cliff. But we can start by, as a society, treating drugs use as the offence and dangerous pastime it really is.

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