THE neo-classical splendour of Gosford House, one of Scotland’s finest stately homes, would appear to be a far cry from the misery caused by armed drugs cartels in Mexico.
But an aristocratic member of the family which owns the Robert Adam mansion in East Lothian is leading a high-profile campaign to decriminalise drugs in the belief that it is the only way to tackle the suffering and violence caused by the illicit drugs trade.
Celebrities including Sting and Yoko Ono, a string of Nobel Laureates and the former US president Jimmy Carter are among those supporting the Countess of Wemyss in her bid to reform drugs policy.
Her impressive list of backers, which includes the Nobel Prize-winning scientists Sir Harold Kroto and Sir Anthony Leggett, are calling on the British government to recognise that the global war on drugs has failed and look at taking a new approach.
Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, Wemyss said she felt “passionately” that it was her “social duty” to persuade the government of the merits of decriminalising drugs.
“I have seen what terrible damage drugs do in the world – what terrible suffering it causes,” she said.
“It is probably the issue that causes more suffering in the world, which could be greatly lessened by better handling. Because of the taboo that has grown up about drugs, politicians around the world are not willing to discuss it.”
The suffering caused by the Mexican drugs war is a driving force behind her Beckley Foundation, the body she set up to research drugs policy and which is behind her latest campaign, backed by celebrities and scientists, named after her mansion in Oxfordshire.
“Mexico is really in a state of war, because the Americans buy the drugs for guns. These cartels are amazingly well armed and have billions of dollars to hide away and wash in different ways. Keeping drugs criminalised isn’t the way to go, because there are now millions of people in jail for drug-related offences – mainly little fish, like users and small-time dealers and, in my opinion, we should not treat drug use as a crime, if there is no other crime attached.”
Wemyss, 67, who has admitted using cannabis and LSD herself, believes that the first step the UK government should take is to license the production of cannabis. That would enable the drug to be taxed and would ensure the quality of the drug, and tackle the issue of extremely potent forms, such as skunk, being sold to the unsuspecting.
“It [cannabis] can be grown by government licensed growers so that the content and strength would be carefully labelled. So people know what they are buying and it wouldn’t have damaging insecticides. When it is grown by criminals, you don’t know what is in the substance, what the strength is, what the constituents are. If it was a regulated market and there would be very strict controls, no advertising, no selling to people below a certain age. People would lose their licences if they sold to the underage. It would then be taxed and the tax would be high, because one wouldn’t want the price to drop too low.”
She added: “Some people maybe prefer cannabis to alcohol and cannabis is less harmful medically than alcohol. Most people suffer nothing from its use and on the whole probably drop the habit in their 30s when they get married and have children – not all but most people do.”
The aristocrat is no stranger to controversy. Aged 23, she was filmed drilling a hole in her skull – an ancient practice known as trepanning – that aims to give the brain more oxygen as a means of getting “high”.
Provocatively, she believes more progress would be made towards decriminalisation if politicians were as candid as she is about their drug use.
“We need all the people in positions of authority who have experimented with it – like many members of our government – to say ‘yes, I recognise why people experiment with them. They do have benefits and they do have harm’,” she said.
“We need to approach it in a rational, scientific manner and not think that anyone who smoked cannabis is a reprobate.
“Many of the top scientists, philosophers and thinkers have tried it.”
David Cameron, of course, has been dogged by speculation he might have taken cocaine as a younger man.
“I think it is a terrible pity it should be thorny issue and don’t think that should in any way deflect his intention to try to be a leader in trying to solve this problem. Don’t let’s hold it against people and he shouldn’t be ashamed if he has or if he hasn’t. That is his personal business,” Wemyss said. “Over 50 per cent of people of his generation and younger have experimented. There is nothing wrong with experimenting. We like our young people to be experimental.”