This morning’s Australian carries a mildly amusing satirical piece on the Cronulla riots by resident humorist Emma Tom, but there’s a message in it that merits serious thought.

There’s been a fair bit of commentary on the role of alcohol in the riots, but none that gets to the heart of it quite as sharply as this: “Someone else in the pub … piped up and said the Cronulla hoo-ha had as much to do with alcohol as with racism. He said when was the last time we’d seen 5,000 heroin addicts, dope smokers or pill poppers run amok, chucking bottles at ambos and so on?”

In other words, different drugs have different effects. Our official stance of social acceptance for one and demonisation for others not only inhibits rational debate but is one of the culprits when it comes to scenes of mob violence like last Sunday.

Sydney has form in this area. Back at New Year 2000, the so-called “millennium” celebrations, crowd violence was a great deal more subdued than had been anticipated. The local police commander at Bondi made the mistake of pointing out that this was because alcohol had gone out of fashion with many of the young people, who were taking ecstasy instead. He was quickly disowned by headquarters.

And we’re still getting mixed messages. The same paper that publishes Emma Tom also has another instalment in its series of beat-ups on the dangers of cannabis.

Yes, cannabis and even ecstasy have their dangers, however they pale by comparison with the damage alcohol causes. Of course, alcohol itself, used responsibly, can be safe and probably beneficial. But the law’s differential treatment of them makes no sense.