24 Aug Manchester Magistrate’s Reefer Madness

Yvonne Davies

It’s the silly season so I suppose we should be grateful that this is the worst “reefer madness” story this August.

Deputy chair of Manchester Magistrates, Yvonne Davies, has become the latest member of the judiciary to express ludicrously inaccurate and false personal opinions about cannabis. It started in the Manchester Evening News but, inevitably, has been picked up by the Daily Mail. We’re back to “killer cannabis” nonsense. I don’t know why the gutter press can’t concentrate on harassing Prince Harry over his private party. All these so-called journalists are fit for is telling lies and destroying people’s lives. We want rid of them!

The Manchester Evening News story.

The Daily Mail story.

The good news is that anyone who comes up before Ms Davies on a cannabis matter has a strong case for requesting her removal. She is clearly biased.

I have written to her and I suggest you do the same but please keep your correspondence polite and well mannered.

Ms Yvonne Davies
Manchester Magistrates’ Court
Crown Square
M60 1PR

24th August 2012

Dear Ms Davies,

This is an open letter which has been released to the media and copied to the Magistrates’ Association and the Lord Chancellor’s office.

I was horrified to read today about how you have used your privileged position as a magistrate to promote wholly false and misleading propaganda about cannabis.

It is clear that you have suffered a family tragedy and it is possible that your brother was one of the tiny minority of people who react badly to cannabis. However, the scientific evidence is that cannabis is very, very safe – much safer than alcohol, tobacco, all prescription drugs, most OTC medicines and even peanuts. Although anyone would sympathise with your story, it is quite improper to extend your personal views into falsehood and misinformation. I think you should very seriously consider your position and whether you should remain on the bench, particularly as you are bound to have many more cannabis related cases come before you. Henceforth, any defendant appearing before you would have legitimate cause to request that you be removed.

Your conduct would appear to be worthy of a complaint to the Office of Judicial Complaints. However, we have experience of previous instances where members of the judiciary have expressed scientifically inaccurate and prejudicial opinions about cannabis and, regrettably, the OJC does not deal with these in a fair or reasonable manner. It is in fact a sham organisation, intended to deflect complaints and not deal with them properly or at all.

I hope therefore that you will examine your own conscience and if you cannot see how your position has now become untenable then perhaps your colleagues on the bench or the impossibility of your presiding in future cannabis cases will bring you to your senses.

The scientific evidence about “cannabis addiction” is that the prevalence, rate (about 9% among users) and withdrawal symptoms associated with cannabis dependency are similar to or less serious than for caffeine dependence. (Hall et al 2001, Coffey et al 2002, Copeland et al 2004, DSM-IV)

The scientific evidence about cannabis and mental health is:

1. Hickman et al, 2009. A review of all published research so, by definition, not cherry picked. It shows that the risk of lifetime cannabis use correlating with a single diagnosis of psychosis is at worst 0.013% and probably less than 0.003%.

2. Hospital Episode Statistics. Count of finished admission episodes (FAE) with a primary diagnosis of mental and behavioural disorders due to use of cannabinoids (ICD10 code F12) and alcohol (ICD10 code F10)

Cannabinoids (F12)

2009-10 713
2010-11 799

Alcohol (F10)

2009-10 47,402
2010-11 47,287

Source: Hospital Episode Statistics (HES), The NHS Information Centre for health and social care.

There are three million regular users of cannabis (Atha et al 2011) and 31 million regular users of alcohol (NHS Information Centre 2009). Therefore alcohol use is six times more likely to result in admission for mental and behavioural disorders.

3. Frisher et al 2009. The ACMD commissioned a study by Keele University into the trends in schizophrenia specifically to test the claims in the media of a link between it and cannabis. It looked at almost 600,000 patients and concluded that “..the incidence and prevalence of schizophrenia and psychoses were either stable or declining” despite alleged increased use of allegedly more potent cannabis.

Your conduct in expressing your opinions which diverge so clearly from the facts and evidence is irresponsible, dangerous and entirely unforgiveable. Please issue a public apology and resign.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Reynolds