Student drug users
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Student drug users are not quite the devil incarnate

The University of Lagos in Nigeria has announced plans to introduce compulsory drug testing on all new students, to stop those who test positive from enrolling. Raising questions on the potential for a similar scheme in the UK, Lagos represents an increasingly wider world polarisation regarding the drug question.

“The Big Beat Manifesto goes, big beats are the best, get high all the time.” – Before hitting you with the laws and the science, let’s just indulge, for a moment, in this spark of brilliance from the ‘crack addled maniac’ himself, Peep Show’s Superhans. My main problem with the position taken by Lagos University is not necessarily that they seek to discourage drug use because frankly, junkies don’t always make the best students. Rather, it’s about the implication that all drugs are inherently bad and that their users are a scourge on society. The Big Beat Manifesto suggests a world that is, if not very productive, fun, free, and awakened. Not attributes that will boost economic growth or educational achievement for sure, but attributes that, given the sorry state of the world, could at least liven the place up.

The cannabis user is a far more pleasant kind of person than the alcoholic

It doesn’t help that the position taken by Lagos University makes no distinction between different drugs. This is often paralleled in our own social conversation here at Warwick and leads to gross generalisations and misunderstandings. The cannabis user is a far more pleasant kind of person than the alcoholic. They are much more likely to sit quietly at the back of the lecture theatre contemplating relaxation than the alcoholic, prone to aggression and other anti-social behaviour. In fact, in a world ruled by despots and the narcissistic Übermensch, one is swayed to argue that it might be a far safer place if a bong made its way round the next meeting of the UN Security Council. Of course, there are some drugs which are almost undeniably bad, wreaking horrendous consequences on those who use them. But, that 18 year old starting university with a heroin habit doesn’t need to be expelled from society, they just need help.

Sadly, we don’t live in a world where the Big Beat Manifesto could be introduced for global public benefit. Drugs can have very real and harmful physical and mental effects. While there are undoubtedly benefits to using drugs, not everyone is going to blast open ‘The Doors of Perception’ and emerge blinking with a new found love for their fellow man. Yet, aiming to end drug use by focusing on the impact it has on mental and physical health has proved to be futile.  It’s far more likely that your placard-waving vegan will think twice about the line sitting in front of them when they realise how many people died for it, given the drug wars in Mexico and the Middle East. What is needed, surely, is a sensible conversation about individual drugs, their benefits, and their potential for harm.

It’s far more likely that your placard-waving vegan will think twice about the line sitting in front of them when they realise how many people died for it

Leaving aside this backwards step from the University of Lagos, there have been signs of a shift in public discourse. From the start of term, the University of Manchester has been selling drug testing kits to students in order to check the contents of substances and promote safe use. In the words of a union official, “We believe it’s part of our responsibility to look after our student members to make these tests available to students across Manchester”. This, surely, is a step in the right direction, moving to make drug use safe, but also to stop automatically judging it as inherently wrong and detrimental. I’m not going to tell you to go out and “get high all the time”. Only to start talking, start thinking, and maybe, just maybe, to have a little more fun.

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