So what happens is:
The government’s top drug adviser suggests that ecstasy is about as dangerous as horse-riding.
Politicians fall over each other in their haste to tell the top drugs adviser that he doens’t know what he’s talking about.
Then, they remind him that not only is he ignorant, ill-informed and exceptionally stupid, the claims he is making are wrong and bad – it “makes light of a serious problem, trivialises the dangers of drugs, shows insensitivity to the families of victims of ecstasy and sends the wrong message to young people about the dangers of drugs”.
Fortunately, after sufficient repetition of “there is absolutely no equivalence between the legal activity of horse riding and the illegal activity of drug taking”, normalcy is restored, the troubling ideas are driven off, and people can get back to their depressing, frustrating lives, reassured that the only acceptable form of escapism is to fantasise that voting for a politician will make the country better.
Obviously drugs (ecstasy, tobacco, alcohol, salt) carry risks, like most things. Whatever you may think about whether this means people should or shouldn’t use them, it has nothing to do with why politicians oppose them, which is why the suggestion that the risks aren’t all that high after all is greeted defensively and painted as not just mistaken but immoral to even suggest.
The attitude people take towards self-damaging behaviours is extremely complex and usually inconsistent. Dangerous sports, but not all of them, are acceptable; body modifications, up to cosmetic surgery, are acceptable; self-harm as a coping mechanism is pathologised; extreme BDSM is debated; self-starvation is encouraged, when not too extreme; unhealthy eating is condemned, tacitly facilitated, and thoroughly mystified to make people associate it with being thin; alcohol drinking is acceptable, but people who do it too much are ‘bingeing’; working in unhealthy conditions is fine, within limits, because it’s profitable and encourages investment.
Does anybody really have a coherent account of how all of these differ and resemble each other, and which ones can be consistently regarded in what way? I don’t. I doubt most politicians do. Yet people’s lives are utterly ruined by being sent to prison over this tangle of knee-jerks. It all makes as much sense as executing people for attempted suicide.
Note also the class associations of the two activities. Who goes horse-riding? Who can afford to go horse-riding? Conversely, who can afford a few ecstasy tablets?