PCC Complaint. The Independent On Sunday, 5th June 2011
“John Rentoul: the truth about the lies about drugs”, The Independent on Sunday, 05-06-11
I wish to make a complaint concerning the above article which is still available online at: http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/john-rentoul/john-rentoul-the-truth-about-the-lies-about-drugs-2293171.html
I make the complaint on my own account but also in my capacity as the Leader of Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR), a UK political party, of P.O.Box 674, Salfords, Redhill, RH1 9BN. For the purposes of correspondence, please use my personal address as below.
1. This article breaches the Editors’ Code Of Practice clause 1.i) in that it publishes inaccurate, misleading and distorted information.
2. Although the article is presented as a comment piece, the headline asserts that it provides “truth”. It does not. It is seriously inaccurate and misleading. It is therefore also in breach of clause 1.iii) in that it fails to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
3. In the eighth paragraph, the article states that “More and more studies had suggested that a quarter of the population, and especially teenage boys, is susceptible to psychosis that can be triggered by cannabis.” Only one study has ever presented the idea of a susceptibility to psychosis for one quarter of the population. This was a 2005 study from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London concerning a functional polymorphism in the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15866551. The study was disproven two years later by a team at the University of Cardiff led by Dr Stanley Zammit, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the subject. It announced in the British Journal of Psychiatry that the link between cannabis use and the COMT gene was “unfounded” – http://bjp.rcpsych.org/cgi/content/abstract/191/5/402
4. In an attempt to rebut this point, the IoS cited a study from the University of Maastricht in 2010 stating:
“As reported at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/728121, Dr Cecile Henquet of the Department of Psychiatry and Neuropsychology at the University of Maastricht stated in 2010 that ‘We know that subclinical psychotic symptoms are present in 15% to 20% of healthy individuals at some point in life, and we know that these are associated with liability for psychosis….We then wanted to see if cannabis is one of the risk factors interacting with a genetic liability for psychosis. We found the risk of persistent symptoms be higher after cannabis use, again with a dose-response relationship.”
This clearly goes nowhere near the substance of my complaint. There is no figure of “a quarter” mentioned and in any case the figures of 15% to 20% relate to something entirely different. This is an entirely spurious attempt to defeat my complaint.
5. In the last paragraph, the article states that “For all the vogue for “experiments” with decriminalisation, it is notable that nowhere in the world has conducted such an experiment successfully, while the medical evidence against cannabis has mounted.” There have been several such “experiments” with decriminalisation all of which are continuing because of their success. These are in Portugal, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Poland, the Czech Republic and five US states (I exclude decriminalisation or regulation for medicinal purposes which is even more widely implemented). Without exception these have all resulted in a decrease in cannabis consumption, particularly amongst children and young people. Furthermore, if anything the “medical evidence” of the risk of psychosis from cannabis use has pointed towards a lower risk than previously suggested. Professor Glyn Lewis of the University of Bristol reviewed all the published research and announced in the journal Addiction in 2009 that the risk of psychosis from cannabis use is at worst 0.013% and perhaps as little as 0.0030% – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19832786. Also the “medical evidence” of therapeutic benefits of cannabis has increased exponentially.
6. In an attempt to rebut this point, the IoS claimed:
“This is the writer’s opinion, as what could be considered ‘successful’ is largely subjective and it is his view that the medical evidence against cannabis has mounted. John Rentoul’s reference to experiments in other countries was intended, and its meaning was clear, as a response to those who argue for legalisation of all drugs. In his view, the limited experiments in decriminalisation do not provide evidence for that argument.”
This may be “the writer’s opinion” but it is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of fact. It is clear from Mr Rentoul’s words that he was referring to cannabis, not “all drugs”. To attempt to suggest otherwise is disingenuous at best. Whether an experiment is “successful” is not by definition “subjective” but something that is determined by objective and empirical observation. I have provided thirteen examples of where such experiments have been conducted successfully and I submit that a decrease in cannabis consumption can only be defined as a measure of success.
Also, it is not a matter of opinion whether “the medical evidence against cannabis has mounted” but a matter of fact. I have provided evidence that it is in fact diminishing and that the positive evidence is increasing. All that the IoS can offer is baseless and misinformed opinion which it has published as inaccurate, misleading and distorted information.
7. Prior to making this complaint I tried to engage with the Independent on Sunday (IoS) in an effort to obtain either a correction or the opportunity to submit a letter for publication. I wrote to the IoS as follows:
“As promised, here is a draft of my proposed PCC complaint concerning John Rentoul’s article on 5th June 2011. I shall also forward you shortly a draft complaint concerning Patrick Cockburn’s article.
I think the point here is that both these articles were seriously “inaccurate, misleading and distorted”. They completely misrepresent the scientific evidence about cannabis and are little more than scaremongering and propaganda.
I am concerned that the truth about cannabis should be made clear. It is a psychoactive substance so it does have potential for harm and it certainly should not be used by children. The sort of misinformation in Mr Rentoul’s and Mr Cockburn’s articles is exactly what leads to widespread disrespect of information about drugs and consequent harms.
In deciding whether or not to pursue these complaints, the most important thing is that you give due prominence to any correction, article or letter in response. I would hope that you might take this opportunity to look at the subject in real depth. I believe that there would be real interest in a serious examination of the subject, extending into the extraordinary therapeutic potential of cannabis into which all the major pharmaceutical companies are pumping millions in research funding.
Please let me know whether we can reach an agreement on this.”
The IoS made no offer of a correction or of an opportunity to submit a letter. It sought to rebut completely each point of my complaint.
I would be grateful if you would deal with this complaint at your earliest convenience. I shall be happy to provide any further information required or to give oral evidence in support.