Stephen Fry's Fierce Rebuttal To The War On Drugs

Stephen Fry will be debuting a new sitcom this month. On October 27, CBS will premiere The Great Indoors, in which Fry plays a journalist who has to supervise a team of millennials running an online publication. The role won't be a stretch for the actor who is a veteran journalist, offering humorous yet insightful commentaries on controversial issues.

He showed his characteristic wit and incision when he destroyed the rationale for drug prohibition by arguing that the public perception of the drug abuser is actually a portrait of alcoholism. We've essentially justified prohibiting one vice by characterizing it with the effects of a legal one, he wrote in his 1992 book Paperweight.

Like most of us, Fry was raised to believe druggies were depraved - a perception that he thinks was central to campaigns trying to eradicate drug use. He imagines that the prohibitionist's logic goes something like this, "If drug users are consistently shown to the impressionable young as spotty, vomiting, reeling and incoherent, there doubt that it loses its appeal." 

Stereotypes don't reflect reality

The problem with that approach is that many people run into habitual drug users in their lives and discover that even those abusing hard substances like heroin don't fit the stereotype. That's what happened to Fry when he met a highly functional junky who was coherent and presentable. But society is so invested in the accepted image of the junky that conflicting views are suppressed. To prove that point, Fry mentioned a documentary that was censored for realism.

"There is a famous story of a television documentary made only a few years ago about a group of heroin addicts. They were in middle age, prosperous and successful. They had been junkies for 22 years. Their behavior, appearance and mode of life was utterly normal, irreproachable and unexciting. The documentary was never broadcast for fear of seeming to show that drug addiction need not be the nightmare that we spent so much money and time assuring our younger generations that it is."

But the image of the druggy does have some truth to it, Fry added.

"The truth is this, if you want to witness blotchy skin, yellowing eyes, incoherent mumbling, uncoordinated staggering, stumbling and retching, then don't look for a junky. Look for a drinker."

However, he wasn't saying that we should repeal drug prohibition and reinstate alcohol prohibition. Rather, he argued in favor of drug decriminalization by arguing that substance abuse is relative. 

"To the educated drinker, the prohibition of a good Islay malt or a Chateau Margaux would be a crime against nature's bounty and man's artistry. The same may be said of the connoisseur of the best Andean flake cocaine or Moroccan gold cannabis. You don't - unless you are mad - solve the problems of burglary by outlawing possessions." 

And to hammer home the point, Fry argued that reality is just another drug trip - and a particularly bad one for alcoholics.  

"Sobriety is a chemically induced state of mind that many find bearable only for short periods of the day. In heaven, I suspect, they drink well and wisely. On earth, we must face up not to alcohol abuse but to the abuse of people's lives that leads them to drink badly."

If you want to hear more of Fry's thoughts on drugs, check out this section from the audiobook of "Paperweight."

Banner Image: Stephen Fry at a West Hollywood event in August of 2016. (Helga Esteb /


With northern California's renowned cannabis festival, the Emerald Cup coming up next month, we're reflecting on all the fun we had last year with cannabis influencer Elise McRoberts interviewing Herbie Herbert, a former Santana roadie and manger for Journey, as well as Steve Parish, who managed the Jerry Garcia Band and went on the road with the Grateful Dead. Back int he day, bands touring the world had to smuggle their cannabis into Europe and other foreign countries. Traveling with equipment and other gear, roadies would have to find secret places to hide the stash.

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