Though the debate over the legalisation of cannabis has gone rather quiet in this country, it is raging in America. Picking up on the issue, Rod Dreher uses his American Conservative blog to feature a thought-provoking argument from one of his readers, Edward Hamilton:

“I’ve always been a moderate supporter of decriminalization (of the ‘these resources can be used better elsewhere’ camp), but I agree that there’s something disconcertingly intense about the way that legalizing a particular controlled substance is regarded as a near-panacea for solving problems of crime, poverty, and social injustice…”

Hamilton goes on to suggest that while cannabis might be relatively harmless to the class from which opinion-formers and policy-makers are drawn, the same does not apply to ordinary working people:

“Roughly speaking, about 90% of the population of an industrialized economy has a problem with boredom and lack of ambition with respect to education and the workplace. They move through an academic experience that revolves around learning things they don’t care about, taught in ways they don’t enjoy. Then they spend a lifetime at a job that feels tedious and revolves heavily around surviving until weekends and holidays. Feeling motivated about that life is difficult. The apparently return on investing extra time and energy in school or work appears low. The temptation is strong to disengage entirely and depend on support from relatives, friends, and the government.”

That leaves a minority of hyped-up go-getters:

“…the other 10%, are highly driven and don’t really understand lack of motivation. They operate in high-powered environments where everyone else is pushing constantly for self-improvement and feels a powerful urge to compete. These people perceive an enormously high need to invest time and energy beyond the minimum required for a school project or job. Most of these people are upper-class, or at least from academically privileged backgrounds.”

One can argue with the exact percentages (and the overly neat categorisation), but Hamilton identifies an important truth about our society: Most people work to live, they don’t live to work – which, incidentally, is why all that ‘hard-working people’ rhetoric is so irritating and out-of-touch.

In any case, Hamilton’s key point is that for the super-stimulated minority a depressant like cannabis is unlikely to prove overwhelming:

“Most of these driven, type-A personalities would benefit heavily from being able to relax and avoid burn-out. If they experiment with drugs that function as source of stress relief (and pot does that better than anything else!), they see their experiences as overwhelmingly positive.”

However, the last thing that ordinary working people need is something to bring them down:

“Middle/lower-class employees in America need the energy and drive to show up at miserable jobs and work long hours for meager wages. That’s something you get from caffeine or nicotine, not from THC [the psycho-active compound in cannabis]. If they mellow themselves out, they become the proverbial pot-smoking ex-roommate on the couch who never holds the same job for more than a couple months, due to apathy and disinterest…”

It should be said that there is no class-based immunity to the more catastrophic risks of cannabis use, such as the link to schizophrenia or its impact on accident rates. Nevertheless, Hamilton’s argument is a valuable one because it addresses the more subtle effects that drug-use can have on different individuals and social groups.

It is said that certain ‘drugs open the doors of perception.’ That’s probably nonsense, but the liberal commentariat should try to perceive their own place in society, which is a privileged one. They are lucky enough to lead charmed lives, full of variety and interest, and very often buttressed by the financial resources to get by should their chosen vices get the better of them.

Not everyone is so fortunate – least of all those on the verge of giving up.