PCC Complaint. The Mail On Sunday, 19th February 2012
“I’m glad you have given up cannabis, Paul – maybe you’ll think straight now”, The Mail on Sunday, 19-02-12
I wish to make a complaint concerning the above article which is still available online at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2103123/PETER-HITCHENS-Im-glad-given-cannabis-Paul–maybe-youll-think-straight-now.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. The article breaches clause 1.i) of the code in that it publishes inaccurate, misleading and distorted information.
2. It also breaches clause 1.iii) in that it fails to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
3. The article is presented as a comment piece. However, even when clearly distinguished as such, the Independent Reviewer has already ruled (21-07-11 letter to Peter Reynolds) that a comment “should not be published if it is based on an inaccuracy or misleading statement”.
4. This complaint needs to be seen in the context of the Mail newspapers’ systematic campaign over many years of misinformation, dishonesty, falsification and distortion of evidence concerning cannabis. To date the commission has failed to rein in these activities at all or to make any attempt to do so.
5. The author of this piece, Peter Hitchens, is well known for his extremist views on cannabis. While he is entitled to his views, the comments complained about are not matters of opinion but are determined by scientific evidence. He repeatedly fails to report the evidence truthfully and instead promotes scaremongering and inaccurate, misleading and distorted information. In doing so he fails to maintain the highest professional standards as required under the code. I call on the commission to censure him in the strongest possible terms and for a front page apology.
7. In paragraph 13 the article states: “After all, what grown-up, informed person would call for the legalisation of a drug whose users so often end up suffering from incurable mental illness?”
This is inaccurate, misleading and distorted, It is extremely rare for users of cannabis to develop mental illness. Hickman et al 2009(ref 1), a review of all published evidence, so, by definition, not cherry picked, shows that the risk of a single diagnosis of psychosis correlating with lifetime cannabis use is at worst 0.013% and probably less than 0.003%.
8. In paragraph 14 the article states: “The busy, well-funded pro-cannabis lobby…”
This is inaccurate, misleading and distorted. As leader of the largest, membership based cannabis law reform group that has ever existed in the UK and having been involved with the campaign for more than 30 years, it is to my first hand knowledge that the campaign has never been well funded. It presently operates on donations of less than £10,000 per annum and the personal expenditure of its volunteer workers.
9. In paragraph 15 the article states: “The fact so many cannabis users end up tragically mentally ill, or that mental illness has increased since cannabis use became widespread, is not enough for them.”
This is inaccurate, misleading and distorted. As in point 7) above, very few cannabis users develop mental illness. Frisher et al 2009 (ref 2), shows that the rate and prevalence of schizophrenia is stable or declining. Hickman et al 2007 (ref 3) shows that despite large increases in cannabis use, the incidence of psychosis is either stable or falling. All the evidence from across the world irrespective of cannabis use shows that throughout the 20th century rates of mental illness are declining.
10. In paragraph 22 the article states “he realises how much harm he has done by his espousal of this poison”
This is inaccurate, misleading and distorted. Cannabis is not a poison. In relation to PCC complaint 111428, the Independent Reviewer ruled on the same point: ” you have, I believe, demonstrated that cannabis cannot accurately be described as a poison.” (21-07-11 letter to Peter Reynolds)
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.
Refererence 1: If cannabis caused schizophrenia—how many cannabis users may need to be prevented in order to prevent one case of schizophrenia? Hickman et al 2009 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2009.02736.x/full
Reference 2: Assessing the impact of cannabis use on trends in diagnosed schizophrenia in the United Kingdom. Frisher et al 2009 http://clear-uk.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Assessing-the-impact-of-cannabis-Keele-Frisher-et-al-2009.pdf
Reference 3: Cannabis and schizophrenia: model projections of the impact of the rise in cannabis use on historical and future trends in schizophrenia. Hickman et al 2007 http://www.ukcia.org/research/ProjectionsOfImpactOfRiseInUse/ProjectionsOfImpactOfRiseInUse.pdf