12 Oct Kathy Gyngell – A Relic Destined For The Museum Of Prohibition

If I may borrow and slightly adapt the famous phrase attributed to Benjamin Disraeli: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics”.

My new version would be: “There are four kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, statistics and arguments in favour of prohibition”.

With this is mind, allow me to nominate Ms Kathy Gyngell as a liar of the fourth kind. Indeed, a fourth-rate liar.

Her latest ramble is one of her most shameful constructions of deceit ever. It is nonsense from beginning to end: “Classifying strong skunk cannabis as a hard drug in the Netherlands marks the end of an era. It should ring alarm bells here.”

Ms Gyngell is a tabloid hack, nothing more. She clothes herself in the pretentious garb of “The Centre for Policy Studies” but her background is a degree in sociology and a producer of down market TV programmes. It is only necessary to read a few of her articles to realise that she is a propagandist, not a scientist, nor a commentator with any credibility or judgment. This latest instalment is risible in its deception, untruths and distortion of the facts.

Last Friday the Dutch government committed to classifying high-potency marijuana – cannabis with 15%+ THC – to the Dutch ‘List 1’ of ‘hard drugs’ joining drugs like cocaine and ecstasy. This is the latest step in the country’s ongoing reversal of its famed ‘tolerance’ policy – the beginning of the end of its liberal experiment with drugs. For the supposedly hard drug/soft drug distinction has seen increasing numbers of damaged teenagers in need of rehabilitation and treatment.

There is no reversal of the Dutch policy of tolerance (“gedogen” is the correct term), merely some posturing by authoritarian right wingers, all of which is falling on stony ground. First there was the attempt to introduce the wietpas and restrict access to coffeeshops to Dutch citizens only but this has been rejected by all the major cities . This latest idea is completely unenforceable and astonishing in its naivete. The commercial production of cannabis remains illegal in Holland so how, exactly, is the THC content going to be tested and monitored? As for the last sentence of Ms Gyngell’s opening paragraph, this is just absolute rot. Where is the evidence of “increasing numbers of damaged teenagers in need of rehabilitation and treatment.”? There is none. Prohibitionist nutters all over the world claim the same thing but when asked to present the evidence they cannot.

Their decision – to ban the possession and sale of strong cannabis with more than 15% of the active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol – follows the recommendations of the Garretsen Committee. It will have profound implications for coffee shop activity and sales. This is because the average THC-content of all the cannabis currently sold in the Netherlands already falls above this limit. Nearly three-quarters of sales has a 15 to 18 percent THC content. It follows the dramatic drop in the number of coffee shops since the late nineties – many municipal areas decided to ban them altogether or to crack down on any abuse of the law regarding their terms of operation. Growers of all cannabis are routinely prosecuted if caught.

Ms Gyngell’s lack of knowledge and failure to adhere to the facts is demonstrated once again. In Holland , people may grow up to five plants without any fear of prosecution.

The Garretsen Committee found (unlike the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs’ two cannabis reviews) that the risks of addiction and psychotic disorders resulting from high THC-content were simply too high to leave things as they were; that strong cannabis poses a serious public mental health issue.

The Garretsen Committee report has not been subject to any peer review or independent verification. By contrast, Marjan Heuving of the Dutch Trimbos Institute, which studies mental health and addiction, said “… it has not been demonstrated scientifically that high THC weed is worse for mental health”

Yet our own advisory body, the ACMD, historically, has been frighteningly sanguine about the risks of cannabis. Its ex-chairman, Professor Nutt, bizarrely continues to ‘legitimise’ adolescent drug use arguing that alcohol and tobacco cause more harm, while advocating cannabis reclassification (downwards) and ‘control’ through coffee shop sales, on his media, school and pub circuits. This downplays the established ‘scientific’ facts that:

* cannabis use increases the risk of psychotic outcomes
* these outcomes are independent of any confounding and transient intoxication effects
* early onset of use and frequency of use increases the risk further
* the risk/effect is much stronger for those with a (genetic) predisposition for psychosis – a predisposition that parents do not learn about until it is too late.

Ms Gyngell’s relationship with fact broke down irretrievably a long time ago. It is a fact that the risks of cannabis are tiny compared to the risks of alcohol and tobacco. To cast doubt on this is deeply irresponsible and malevolent and based only on prejudice and discrimination.

There is no doubt that cannabis use increases the risk of psychotic outcomes. As cannabis is a psychoactive substance, this is self-evident. It is about as helpful as saying that eating fat increases the risk of getting fat. The second bullet point is an invention. Nearly all studies into cannabis and psychosis say exactly the opposite, that confounding and transient intoxication effects have not been accounted for.

I have argued before that cannabis, the most used illicit drug by adults and young people in particular, is a public health time bomb. We simply do not know how much of violent gang behaviour is driven by undetected and undiagnosed psychosis. We do know however that it is a gateway drug, that the cognitive and schooling implications are disastrous and that its use does nothing but make other adolescent problems more intractable.

Yes Kathy, calm down dear, you must be getting frustrated that your argument is getting nowhere. The trouble is when you keep on crying wolf and the wolf never comes, it does tend to work against you. Your sort have been threatening this “public health time bomb” since the 19th century and it still hasn’t happened. The massive increase in cannabis use in the 1960s resulted in absolutely no increase in schizophrenia or psychosis at all. Since 1996, starting in California, the US medical marijuana movement has seen massive increases in regular use of stronger and stronger forms of cannabis with no evidence of an increase in mental health problems at all.

If the Centre for Policy Studies ever does do any work of any value then it is diminished and embarrassed by the appalling travesty of truth that Ms Gyngell’s work amounts to. She really should be deeply ashamed of herself.