Drugs legalisation debate comes to Bristol Arnolfini
Notorious drugs baron Howard Marks is to go head-to-head with Daily Mail journalist Peter Hitchens at the Arnolfini tonight, in a debate about drugs policy.
In front of a 200-strong audience the pair will discuss drugs protocol from two conflicting perspectives, with Marks arguing for the legalisation of recreational drugs, and Hitchens maintaining all drugs are dangerous and the ‘war’ against them has failed.
The event, held as part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas, will see the duo debate drug policy and its effectiveness, and what should happen in the future.
Marks has campaigned for the legalisation of recreational drugs since being released from Terre Haute Penitentiary, Indiana, one of America's most infamous prisons, in April 1995. Described by the Daily Mail as “the most sophisticated drugs baron of all time”, Marks served seven years of a 25-year sentence for drug dealing.
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In an interview with Urban75 in 2001, Marks said the prohibition of cannabis for recreational, medical and industrial use “contravenes Human Rights”.
He said: “The whole idea that you can't take a naturally occurring substance I just don't understand. I really don't.
"Society would be safer if cannabis was legalised. Not so many people would go to prison, not so many kids would get expelled from schools, kids would not be alienated from their parents, and people wouldn't be fired for smoking the drug.
"Quality would also be better. There would be far less impurities, which would make it safer."
Meanwhile journalist, author and broadcaster Hitchens maintains the ‘war on drugs’ has never been a serious one. In his latest book, The War We Never Fought, he argues there has been no 'war’ in earnest since 1971, when a Tory government adopted a Labour plan to implement the Wootton report.
“The special legal status of cannabis as a supposedly 'soft' drug (in fact, Hitchens argues, the threat it poses to mental health makes it at least as dangerous as heroin and cocaine) began a progressive reduction of penalties for possession, effectively disarming the police,” the book description reads.
In a recent interview with the Guardian Hitchens said he doesn't believe in addiction, while earlier this year he told a committee of MPs he would like to see the government introduce a more hard-line policy on drugs.
Tonight’s debate is part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas, a year-long celebration of theories and concepts. Throughout the year 1,000-plus events are held across the city – from a lecture by food campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to a discussion about what’s next for Britain’s economy.
Tonight Marks and Hitchens will each have a 10 minute slot in which to put forward their case, before the floor is opened to questions and feedback from the audience.
The debate will be chaired by Festival of Ideas director Andrew Kelly. Speaking to This is Bristol, Mr Kelly said: “It’s quite interesting because Peter and Howard know each other well and they do respect each other.
“Both sides have really committed views. Peter does not think drugs should be legalised or decriminalised, and Howard does. So I think there’s going to be no meeting of minds on that. That’s good for the audience because it gives them a lot of choices.”
Mr Kelly said he expected the debate would centre on two key issues – firstly, the decriminalisation and legalisation of drugs, which are “quite different things”, and secondly the research that exists into whether drugs lead to illnesses among users.
“There will be a lot of comments from the audience – we will devote at least 40 minutes to that,” said Mr Kelly.
Tickets for the debate have sold out, but people can sign up to a waiting list and buy tickets in the event any already purchased are returned.
The event will be recorded and the audio uploaded to the festival website in a few days, Mr Kelly said.
To find out more, click here.