Would Winston Churchill Legalize Smoking Pot?

Would Winston Churchill Legalize Smoking Pot?

The first com­mand­ment of Lady Soames, Win­ston Churchill’s renowned daugh­ter (1922-2014), was: “Thou shalt not pro­claim what my father would do in mod­ern sit­u­a­tions.” How­ev­er, since she enjoyed smok­ing a good cig­ar on occa­sion, she might excuse the sug­ges­tion that if he were around, he would prob­a­bly not object to legal­iz­ing marijuana.

Smoking
Mary Soames savors a Mon­te­cristo, 1990. We puffed a few of these togeth­er, in hap­pi­er days. (Cig­ar Aficionado)

Churchill on Smoking

The jour­nal­ist and broad­cast­er Collin Brooks wrote a spright­ly essay, “Churchill the Con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist,” in Charles Eade‘s col­lec­tion of arti­cles, Churchill by His Con­tem­po­raries(This 1953 book is inex­pen­sive and well worth own­ing. It’s an ever­green col­lec­tion of per­cep­tive pieces on aspects of Churchill’s life and character.)

Churchill’s defense of smok­ing is clas­sic, Brooks wrote. And, like much of his con­ver­sa­tion, this too has passed from the spo­ken to the print­ed word. “Some peo­ple say that I have smoked too much,” Churchill once exclaimed. “I don’t know. If I had not smoked so much, I might have been bad-tem­pered at the wrong time.”

“A Second Choice”

smokingThat’s cute, but not as good as Churchill’s remarks in his 1931 arti­cle, “A Sec­ond Choice.” This was reprint­ed as the first essay in his book Thoughts and Adven­tures. Here Churchill con­sid­ers whether he would make the same choic­es were he able to live his life again:

I remem­ber my father in his most sparkling mood, his eye gleam­ing through the haze of his cig­a­rette, say­ing, “Why begin? If you want to have an eye that is true, and a hand that does not quiver, if you want nev­er to ask your­self a ques­tion as you ride at a fence, don’t smoke.”

But con­sid­er! How can I tell that the sooth­ing influ­ence of tobac­co upon my ner­vous sys­tem may not have enabled me to com­port myself with calm and with cour­tesy in some awk­ward per­son­al encounter or nego­ti­a­tion, or car­ried me serene­ly through some crit­i­cal hours of anx­ious wait­ing? How can I tell that my tem­per would have been as sweet or my com­pan­ion­ship as agree­able if I had abjured from my youth the god­dess Nico­tine? Now that I think of it, if I had not turned back to get that match­box which I left behind in my dug-out in Flan­ders, might I not just have walked into the shell which pitched so harm­less­ly a hun­dred yards ahead? [Sta­tioned in the trench­es in 1916, where he had sev­er­al mirac­u­lous escapes, just man­ag­ing to be missed by Ger­man shells, one of which demol­ished said dug-out moments after he’d left.]

Libertarian Preferences

Churchill was a lib­er­tar­i­an on per­son­al pref­er­ences. He abjured veg­e­tar­i­ans, tee­to­talers, dieters and non-smok­ers, but didn’t attempt to inter­fere with them. In Dundee, Edwin Scrym­geour, a Scot­tish pro­hi­bi­tion­ist, tee­to­taler and non-smok­er, ran against Churchill six times. He final­ly beat him in 1922. Churchill is alleged to have said, though I can’t con­firm it, that Scrym­geour had “all the virtues I dis­like and none of the vices I admire.”

In cer­tain respects Churchill quite admired the social­ist Stafford Cripps, a mem­ber of his wartime coali­tion. But he didn’t approve of Cripps’s diet: “…there is a man who habit­u­al­ly takes his meal off a hand­ful of peas, and, when he gets a hand­ful of beans, counts that his Christ­mas feast.”

To his Min­is­ter of Food Lord Woolton in July 1940, con­cerned about too severe­ly impos­ing wartime rationing, Churchill wrote:

Almost all the food fad­dists I have ever known, nut-eaters and the like, have died young after a long peri­od of senile decay.…The way to lose the war is to try to force the British pub­lic into a diet of milk, oat­meal, pota­toes, etc., washed down on gala occa­sions with a lit­tle lime-juice.

So would Churchill legal­ize the grow­ing and smok­ing of pot? Of course we have no idea. But on the whole, giv­en what we know about his atti­tudes toward life, it’s more like­ly than not.

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