Libertarian – A Dirty Word in British Political Debate
This week, Damian Marley and Frank D’Ambrosio, PhD. joined Jon Snow on Channel 4 news to discuss the prospects of legalising cannabis for medicinal use within the United Kingdom, and to ponder the possibility of recreational legalisation. Two libertarian ideals.
Mr. Marley, son of the reggae legend Bob Marley, is an entrepreneur and operates a cannabis farm in California, capitalising on the liberalisation of American state laws surrounding medicinal and recreational use of the drug. Dr. D’Ambrosio, is an orthopaedic surgeon of thirty years turned medical marijuana advocate, and helps patients with chronic pain issues get a medical marijuana card to alleviate their pain.
Both Marley and Dr. D’Ambrosio advocate fully legalising cannabis within the UK from fairly libertarian perspectives. Marley believes legislation would allow for proper regulation. He goes on to suggest that, if cannabis was legalised, then packets would come with THC percentage values, not dissimilar to the alcohol percentage values found on the bottles in your local off-licence. This would allow consumers to “gauge for [themselves] how strong of a dosage [they] personally need and can handle.”
So while Marley advocates for more regulation, a difficult concession for many libertarians, his argument comes from a position of consumer choice and personal responsibility.
Dr. D’Ambrosio argues that the traditional association between cannabis consumption and psychosis is one of correlation, and not of causation. Therefore in his view, until data can be provided which proves causation, that association is not reason enough to continue prosecution. Snow rebutts this with his own experience taking ‘skunk’, a highly potent form of cannabis that is often sold illegally on the streets of the United Kingdom, which Snow claims robbed him of his personality. Marley quickly dismantles his argument by comparing taking skunk with no experience of cannabis, to drinking a half-bottle of scotch (D’Ambrosio argues three bottles) with no experience of cannabis.
Snow goes on to ask for Dr. D’Ambrosio’s personal opinion on recreational use. Dr. D’Ambrosio begins to respond by saying “Well, as a…, from a libertarian standpoint–” before Snow quickly cuts him off by saying “No from a Doctor’s standpoint, you are the Doctor.”
Herein lies the problem. Both Marley and Dr. D’Ambrosio are essentially arguing for the same libertarian outcome, with Marley even criticising the “law being on my back for a joint”, but Dr. D’Ambrosio deigns to use the word “libertarian.” The use of this word shuts down Snow’s engagement with Dr. D’Ambrosio, with Snow even jokingly questioning Dr. D’Ambrosio’s profession in order to elicit a condemnation of “carbon fibres.” Dr. D’Ambrosio effectively neuters Snow’s tactic by admitting the dangers, but acknowledging the benefits.
Nonetheless, the result is clear. Snow ends the interviews with Marley on a pleasant note, stating that “I hope it’s not another seven or eight years before we speak to you again, thank you” before snubbing Dr. D’Ambrosio by adding “and Frank D’Ambrosio… Doctor, thank you.” The juxtaposition of Snow’s invitation to Marley, and his platitudes to Dr. D’Ambrosio before adding his earned title as an addendum, conveys an apparent inequality in the respect Snow affords each man.
This inequality is peculiar considering that both men are arguing for the same liberalisation of drug legislation, and Dr. D’Ambrosio is able to speak as an scientific, and published, authority on the subject. The only substantive difference in their argumentation is that Dr D’Ambrosio dared name his own political identity, and revealing himself as a libertarian.
So the message from Channel 4 is clear: hold your viewpoints, argue for your reform, but do not use the word libertarian. It’s not welcome here. Maybe Jon Snow is right, maybe Britain really is a “square old country.” Regardless, there is a lesson worth learning here for all advocates of liberty: choose your terms carefully, or risk being stonewalled by your political opponents.
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