JIMMY MCGOVERN’S “Fitz” is a marvellous character. Played by the irrepressible Robbie Coltrane, Fitz is an anarchist, a hedonist, and a forensic psychiatrist of genius who is seconded to the Greater Manchester Police to get inside the minds of offenders their detectives cannot catch. Fitz is all the more compelling as a character for being a deeply flawed human-being. Though thoroughly aware of his addictions, he makes no real effort to overcome them. Perhaps his most serious compulsion is truth-telling. When asked why he drinks, smokes and gambles to excess; he replies, with uncompromising honesty: “Because I like it!”
When someone asked me recently how I would have handled the campaign in favour of legalising Cannabis, I immediately thought of “Fitz”. The hero of McGovern’s television series “Cracker” would have taken a very different approach to the careful promoters of the real world “Yes” campaign.
Fitz would, of course, have rattled-off all the evidence in favour of legalisation in a single, supremely detailed, multi-clausal sentence. (McGovern, as a writer, excels at writing these, and Coltrane, as an actor, is even better at delivering them.) But that would not have been the end of it – not by a very long chalk.
Fitz would have saved the real passion for his follow-up remarks – beginning with the enormous level of hypocrisy surrounding the whole issue of intoxicants.
In his commanding Lanarkshire accent, he’d talk about the billions-of-dollars-worth of profits cranked out by the perfectly legal manufacturers, distributors and retailers of alcohol. Describing, in horrendous detail, the bloody carnage he’s witnessed, and the emotional devastation he’s come face-to-face with, on account of booze. He’d talk about the way the reality of alcohol’s destructiveness is only permitted to travel so far before being silenced by the glib unrealities of the liquor industry’s lobbyists.
Pivoting to the draft legislation setting out the comprehensive regulation of Cannabis use: the legislation we are being asked to answer “Yes” or “No” to in the referendum; Fitz would invite us to imagine how the liquor industry might respond if it was required to abide by the same rules.
A limited number of outlets across the country. Strict limitations on potency. No advertising whatsoever. Monopolisation of the market forbidden. Restriction of the product to persons over the age of 20 years. “How do you think the booze barons would react to that?”, Fitz would ask. “Why can’t we impose on them the same controls over the production and distribution of alcohol that we are demanding from the growers of cannabis?”
As a psychiatrist, Fitz would, of course, be well aware of the effects of heavy and prolonged cannabis use on young people afflicted by a variety of mental illnesses. Well aware, because, of course, he’s dealing with these kids every day.
“Prohibition doesn’t prevent these youngsters from using the drug,” he’d tell us, intruding his impressive bulk into our personal space to emphasise the point, “it just makes them less likely to get help until they fall foul of the law and the courts send them to me.”
Pausing only to flick his cigarette ash into his empty beer glass, Fitz would continue. “And the millions of dollars raised in taxes on legalised cannabis would allow more people like me to be trained to help these kids. Which makes a damn sight more sense than giving them a criminal record and locking them up in prison!”
All of this would, naturally, be leading us towards Fitz’s moment of truth. The recitation of the clinical data. The stinging rebuke of our society’s ingrained hypocrisy in regard to alcohol and tobacco. (The latter, perfectly legal, product kills 5,000-plus New Zealanders annually!) The utter failure of cannabis prohibition to prevent mental illness. These are just the hors d’oeuvres of Fitz’s rhetorical feast.
In the climactic sequence, Fitz would stub out his cigarette, and fix us with that hard look Robbie Coltrane does so well.
“Shall I tell you the real reason to legalise cannabis? Because all the stuff I’ve told you, while true, isn’t enough. You should legalise cannabis because you’d like it. No, actually, you’d love it! Cannabis makes food taste better. It turns music into magic. It suppresses pain and nausea naturally. And, it transforms sex into a holy sensory sacrament. So, go on, what are you waiting for? Just say YES!”
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 16 October 2020.