I COME from the last generation to have been young at a time when there were no drugs.

That’s making exceptions for rich youngsters who dabbled in cocaine for many years before that. And post-war Britain was certainly a place where most adults smoked cigarettes. There was also a lot of drinking.

But despite living in London until I was 25 and getting out a lot I was never offered any drugs. It was the next generation that experimented with drugs ranging from cannabis to LSD. They started something that has become a scourge of modern society.

I remember going to Brighton magistrates’ court soon after arriving in the resort and covering the first case of someone being charged with possessing cannabis, then rather quaintly known as Indian hemp. He pleaded guilty and was fined £25 which was quite a lot of money in the late 1960s. The case was front page news for The Argus and the presiding magistrate issued stern warnings about the dangers of drug taking.

But within a year such cases became commonplace and attention started to be paid to the dealers rather than the smokers. It also became clear that more potent and dangerous drugs like heroin and cocaine were being taken by thousands of people in places like Brighton and Hastings.

Drugs were not confined to a few people smoking pot with friends at home. They were big business and highly lucrative. And they seemed to be everywhere. From the seaside towns of Sussex, they spread to the villages and hamlets.

Parents were horrified to find discarded needles, not only in notorious trouble spots such as The Level in Brighton but also in the suburbs.

Figures about the amount of drug taking going on are notoriously unreliable. But I remember 15 years ago writing a story on a report which said the drugs trade was worth a million pounds a week in Brighton alone. I don’t doubt that the figure is much higher today.

I’ve been ambivalent about what line society should take on drugs for many years. Many people I respect such as senior police officers and campaigning journalists are convinced that drug taking should be legalised.

They argue that this would take much of the profit out of drugs and would put paid to the dealers. Often they point to the experience of liberal countries such as the Netherlands where drug taking is said to have decreased as a result. But recent research has cast doubt over whether a tolerant attitude towards drugs really does work in the long term.

It also makes the obvious point that drugs offences have declined because so much of it is now legal.

Reformers point out that conventional action against drug dealers has hardly been a success over the last half century. But against that, police can point to successes. Only recently, there were reports of rounding up a number of London gangs who had been operating widely in Sussex.

Where I do have more definite views is on the dangers of cannabis. Some friends still contend the drug is fairly harmless and should be tolerated. But I believe that in many cases it is the gateway to many hard drugs which are real killers. It is also a danger in itself because modern versions are far more potent than they were in the past.

Ask anyone working with mental health treatments and they will tell you that cannabis all too often has exacerbated the problem. It produces a ghastly lethargy which makes many victims unable to work or achieve anything very much.

Friends tell me that alcohol is a worse problem and this may well be true. It is masked by social acceptability but the effects can be terrible.

Cigarettes are as addictive as heroin for many people and they are also real killers. Look outside any hospital and you will see people linked up to oxygen machines still dying for a smoke.

But there are signs of a steep decline among young people today in smoking and drinking alcohol. This may spread to drug taking as a whole.

I have heard young people say to their parents of the baby boomer generation: “You made the mistakes so that we do not have to follow them.”

It makes me hope that this generation may be the first to eschew widespread drug taking through knowledge whereas my contemporaries did so through ignorance. Ask anyone who has ever seen the dreadful decline of drug users once they have become addicted and you will usually find a determination to avoid these evils.

This generation will have enough trouble with other problems such as social media but I am convinced that it will be the first to start winning the war against drugs.