- We don't have enough resources to give everyone a Western lifestyle.
- Said lifestyle isn't actually very good at giving us the things which really make us happy.
- We do, on the other hand, have the resources to throw a truly massive party and invite everyone in the world. Drugs - especially psychedelics - require very little to produce, and sex is basically free.
It strikes me that this is a fun thought experiment. Imagine: the Party Party has just swept to power on a platform of gettin' down and boogying. You have been put in charge of the newly-created Department of Dancing, Getting High and Fucking (hereinafter DDGHF)¹. Your remit is to ensure that people who want to dance, get high and/or have sex can do so as safely as possible and with minimal impact on others. What do you do, hotshot? What policies do you implement? What targets do you set? How do you measure your department's effectiveness? How do you recruit and train new DDGHF staff, and what kind of organisational culture do you try to create?
Use more than one sheet of paper if you need.
You have a reasonable amount of freedom here: in particular, I'm not going to require that you immediately legalise all drugs. You might even want to ban some that are currently legal, though if so, please explain why your version of Prohibition won't be a disaster like all the others. However, I think we can take it as read that the Party Party's manifesto commits to at least scaling back the War on Drugs.
Bonus points: how does the new broom affect other departments? How do we manage diplomatic relations with states that are less hedonically inclined? What are the Party Party's policies on poverty, the economy, defence and climate change?
I guess I should give my own answer to the question, so here's what I see as the priorities, and some of the obstacles.
End the War on Drugs. Completely legalise cannabis, opium, leaf coca and psilocybin mushrooms; legalise the possession, use, sale and manufacture (the last two with a license) of heroin, cocaine, MDMA, MDA, speed, meth, mephedrone, GHB, PCP, DMT, LSD, and anything else we can think of. Hand out licenses liberally - I want to see news-stands and street hawkers selling Es. Allow registered addicts to get cocaine, heroin and amphetamines on prescription, on the Swiss model (which used to be called the British model...). Roll out a massive public information campaign about how dangerous different drugs are and what's the safest way to take them. Stress the message that legal drugs will probably be a lot purer than what most users are used to, so they should take it easy at first: this will help when the tabloids go overboard the first time someone ODs on legal drugs. I understand that the quality of your psychedelic experience depends a lot on the setting you take it in: could we organise big First Trip events in public parks with advice and medical help on hand?
Grant pardons to those convicted of non-violent drug offences. Take a note of any particularly photogenic examples, and wheel them out when the Daily Mail starts ranting about pretty Jemma from Caerphilly whose life was ruined by her addiction to legal crystal meth. I'd expect the statistics to be on our side (and Jemma's life to be much less ruined than it would have been under Prohibition), but statistics don't play as well as a good-looking person whose life was turned around when their criminal record went away.
Obstacles: I expect that heroin addicts have a justified fear of authority; no doubt many of them will be reluctant to sign up on a government register. Some Googling turns up a claim that there were 56,000 registered heroin addicts in Britain in 2005, but that the total number was estimated at four times that. But the Swiss must have found a solution to this problem, so we could ask them what worked.
Another problem is what to do about alcohol and tobacco, both of which cause substantial harm today. Tobacco even has the rare distinction of causing harm to the user when used correctly! Something tells me that banning alcohol (even if we wanted to do that) and saying "here, take Ecstasy instead!" wouldn't cut it for most users. My limited historical reading tells me that most of the problems associated with "binge drinking" are really alcohol-mediated problems caused by poverty, but alcoholism affects well-off families too. Dunno what to do about that (suggestions?) but I'd want a harm-reduction approach rather than a "ban all the things!" approach. I'd want to scale back sin taxes, so that drinkers are encouraged back into pubs where their drinking will be monitored. On tobacco, I'd keep the ban on smoking in workplaces, but campaign to legalise snus (currently banned by European legislation) and promote approaches to nicotine ingestion that don't involve drawing particles of burning tar and soot into your lungs.
Another obstacle is sourcing. I really like David MacIver's suggestion that the DDGHF run its own factories that create low-cost, reference-quality drugs. I don't know if it's possible to grow opium and coca in Britain; if not, we might have a problem getting hold of enough raw materials legally. Similarly, I understand that there's been a largely-successful international crackdown on MDMA precursor chemicals: could we synthesise them locally? I'm not enough of a chemist to know. So I'd want to recruit people who are. On opiates, I'd want to return to our 19th-century policy of encouraging poppy farming in Afghanistan, on the grounds that we could use the opium (medically, if not recreationally), and they could use a legal source of income. On the other hand, I understand that cannabis grows reasonably well in Britain, and we have native psilocybin mushrooms.
Hopefully, the end of the War on Drugs will lead to lots of policemen with time on their hands, as drug crime vanishes and junkies stop turning to robbery and theft to fund their habits. This is not a problem: we'll need those policemen to keep the street parties safe. I anticipate a huge reduction in the prison population, but since British prisons are currently overcrowded we shouldn't have to lay off too many corrections officers.
Let the kids get high. They're going to anyway, and if we don't allow them safe drugs then they'll use solvents. Set age limits on the above-listed substances if and only if there's credible evidence that they damage developing brains. Actually, do we want age limits at all? Dunno. Presumably there's research on whether or not they're (counter-)effective. I did a fair amount of underage drinking, and it wasn't done in a particularly moderate manner. As part of comprehensive, non-judgemental drugs education in schools (another flagship DDGHF policy - and by "comprehensive", I mean "here's how to shoot up safely"), kids should be taught about which drugs have particularly bad effects on the young.
Help everyone get literally high. I seriously doubt there's a drug that's as good as being up in the mountains (and AIUI spending time exercising outdoors is well-established in the research literature as a depressolytic). Expand national parks, lay on subsidised public transport to the countryside, scale up the current system of outdoor instruction. Better funding for mountain rescue and coastguard services. Encourage city-dwellers - especially the poor - to get out into the countryside (suggestions for how to do this?).
End the War on Prostitution. Repeal laws against brothel-keeping, which just stop prostitutes from working in a safe environment, and laws against living off immoral earnings, which are used to harass partners of sex workers. It should of course be illegal for a
We've now taken away two of the obvious sources of income for career criminals. This leaves us with a small but troublesome minority of armed and merciless people who see their exuberant lifestyle threatened. No doubt they'll find some other unpleasant way to make money - that's going to be a problem for my colleagues at the Home Office.
Abortion and contraception on demand. I don't much like the thought of abortion, but it's gonna happen and if we make it difficult it's gonna happen in dangerous ways. So drop the requirement that two doctors need to sign off on an abortion, and make it as easy as possible to get abortions early. Better, obviate the need for abortion by massively expanding existing free contraception programmes. Drop the restriction on selling the morning-after pill to under-16s.
Compulsory sex and relationships education. I wrote "compulsory sex education for everybody", and I'd kinda like to see that - I'm sure there are a lot of adults out there with bad ideas about sex and relationships that are holding their lives back - but I don't like the "compulsion" bit. So let's compromise on really comprehensive SRE that can't be opted out of in schools, and making post-school SRE easily available to adults and widely advertised. As a matter of urgency, let's have a public information campaign on the idea that enthusiastic consent should be required for sex. SRE should be based on the best available scientific evidence, discuss gay, straight, and poly relationships, include a fairly detailed discussion of kink culture, and should (for instance) teach kids how to have anal sex safely and enjoyably (if they want to!). The watchwords should be Your Kink Is Not My Kink, But Your Kink's OK. I'd hire as many academic sex researchers as I could afford to design the curriculum.
Vinay has suggested large-scale teaching of Tantra and tantric sex techniques - I don't know enough about that to have an opinion, and I imagine he'd have his hands full as the Party Party's Minister for Defence and Sustainability, but hopefully he could point me in the direction of a decent advisor or two.
Dancing is the hard one for me. I suck at dancing, and hate clubbing. I'm much more a "sitting in the pub chatting to your mates" sort of guy. Well, that's not entirely true: some friends dragged me to Fabric once, and I had quite a good time. So encouraging dancing is something I'd happily hand off to a junior minister who has more of a clue about these things. But dancing doesn't just happen in nightclubs with DJs - I'd want to encourage traditional dance forms like Scottish Country Dancing (which is taught in schools here in Scotland, and which I actually quite enjoy as long as I'm surrounded by people who dance as badly as me). Actually, maybe that's the key - dancing is fun if you're on a level with everyone else, so we could have different grades of dance events that cater to different skill levels of dancers. And, of course, we'd want street parties. Lots of street parties. And beach parties, quarry parties, barn parties, aircraft hangar parties and disused nuclear bunker parties. Everyone should be within a bus ride of a decent full moon party. Problems here would be ensuring safety (as mentioned above, we'd have lots of spare polis on hand freed up by the end of the War on Drugs), shift workers and local residents complaining about noise (er, provide houses near the parties with free soundproofing? If we're going to be having parties once a month or more, it makes sense), and traffic disruption. Which leads me to another policy I'd want to see enacted - get as many people as possible on bicycles. This is, strictly, outwith the DDGHF's remit. But bikes are Fun and Sustainable, and so they're something I hope the Party Party would encourage.
Edit: LJ seems to silently fail to post comments that are above a certain length, which is very irritating of it. Sorry about that! If your answer is too long, perhaps you could post it on your own blog and post a link to it here? Or split it up into multiple comments, of course.
¹ Only one Cabinet post for all three? I hear you ask. That's joined-up government for you. Feel free to create as many junior ministers as you think are merited.