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Why Was Nigella Lawson Refused Entry To The US?

04/04/2014 15:17 BST | Updated 04/06/2014 10:59 BST

It has emerged that Nigella Lawson was prevented from boarding a flight to America earlier this week, apparently on the grounds that she has admitted taking illegal drugs. The US is known for its hard-line on both drugs policy and border control; whilst US Border Officials refused to comment upon this incident in isolation, regulations state that individuals who have confessed to drug offences outside of the country are not eligible to enter it.

It isn't surprising that the US Border Control has barred Lawson from entering the country, where laws surrounding illegal drug use are notoriously strict. Yet the move was sudden, and somewhat arbitrary; in the time since her confession under oath last year, Lawson has flown to and from the US unimpeded.

This isn't surprising either, particularly in the context of US drug policy. Commentators have long critiqued government drug policy as ineffectual, and illogical. Such a criticism rings even more true against a backdrop of recent state-level cannabis legalisation in Colorado and Washington, where state legislation now directly undermines the principles of US drug policy at federal level.

What might perhaps be considered as surprising is that a wealthy, popular celebrity such as Lawson was targeted by these laws. Few deny the scale of wealth inequality in the US; many civil structures such as the courts seem pre-programmed to protect the 1 percent. It might be seen as bizarre, then, that Nigella Lawson was refused entry, given how much she is worth, and her popularity on American television. Yet Lawson is not American; US society might protect the interests of the wealthy, but more importantly, it protects the interests of its own wealthy.

This isn't the sole instance of double standards implicated in this issue; whilst he has never publicly confessed to taking cocaine in his youth, George Bush memorably said that he couldn't answer to such a charge for fear of setting a bad example. More than this, numerous critics have voiced their opposition to drug policy at both a federal and state level, which is widely considered to discriminate against those from poor and ethnic-minority communities.

It is this hypocrisy, endemic in many of the US' judicial and legislative bodies, which emerged once again on Sunday in the case of Lawson's refused admission. The celebrity chef was never formally convicted of any drug-related offence in the UK following her admission that she had taken cocaine and smoked marijuana. Since confessing to infringing UK drug laws, Lawson has been allowed to go to the US to work on the popular culinary programme 'The Taste'.

Sunday's trip, however, was openly acknowledged as recreational; Lawson posted a photo on Twitter on Saturday with the words 'Packing for my holiday!' US Border Control has refused to comment on the decision to prevent her from flying to California, but it is worth speculating whether they would have done so had she been flying out for a professional motive. As it is, Lawson was flying out for personal reasons, and suddenly her past drug use became an insurmountable obstacle.

Not only is US drug policy applied capriciously, and weighted against black and other minority communities, but it is simply ineffective. There are, clearly, some individuals who have committed such heinous crimes elsewhere in the world that the decision to refuse them admission to the US is justified. Some of these crimes may even be drug-related.

Nonetheless, it is simply irrational to impose a blanket ban on any foreign individual who has committed any drug offence elsewhere in the world, for several reasons. Primarily, because the number of drug users in the US has been increasing since the early 2000s; according to data collected by the National Institute of Drug Abuse in 2012, nearly a quarter of 18 to 20 year olds in the US admitted to having used an illicit drug in the past month.

Some of these young people will, undoubtedly, go on to occupy positions of authority in the US government, or in its courts. It wouldn't be outlandish to suggest that Bush may be just one of many senior figures in American politics with a history of illegal drug use. Denying an individual entry for a mistake they made when they were young makes no sense, particularly when the same survey showed that nearly 10% of Americans admitted to using an illegal substance in the last month.

Given the prevalence of recreational drug use worldwide, it's fair to assume that there are many public figures, and people holding posts of relative authority in other countries, who have taken drugs in the past. Young people are prone to poor judgement, but most of the mistakes they make are harmless; such errors shouldn't go on to define us later in life. The US government knows that, because it allows individuals with DUI (Drink Driving) offences to enter freely.

Ultimately, the decision to refuse Nigella Lawson entry to the US reflects the uglier side of its immigration legislation. It was apparently arbitrary; Lawson's behaviour suggests that she had no prior indication of the Border Agency's decision. It also demonstrated that such policies are underpinned by self-interest, and by hypocrisy; she was allowed to enter so long as her presence benefitted the US, yet found the door firmly shut when she looked to travel for her own gain.