18 Aug PCC Complaint, Guardian 16th August 2011

I make this complaint on my own behalf and also as the editor of http://www.ukcia.org, a cannabis law reform website.

New improved cannabis, now with genetic modifications – The Guardian 16th August 2011-08-18

I wish to complain about this article which was reprinted from Le Monde without critical comment. This was a news item reported as fact and not a commentary or opinion piece which is misleading and factually incorrect.

The article concerns the “new” form of cannabis on sale in France; the paper claims

Times change and cannabis is no exception, with the arrival of genetically modified grass“.

Cannabis is not “genetically modified”, it is a product of selective breeding, an entirely different process. GM is defined as (http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/genetically+modified+organism)

An organism whose genetic characteristics have been altered by the insertion of a modified gene or a gene from another organism using the techniques of genetic engineering.

Selective breeding is an entirely different process which is essentially entirely natural and does not involve the modification of genes or the insertion of genes from another organism. Selective breeding is the method used to produce everything we grow on farms and has been so for many centuries.

The report goes on to claim

An all-natural product with a low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content is a thing of the past. “In just a few years we have moved from 3% or 4% THC contained in natural cannabis to concentrations closer to 10%, sometimes even 30%, with GM plants,” Thierry explains. These substances bear no relation to what people were smoking in the 1970s“.

This is untrue and factually inaccurate:

1: Cannabis grown under modern intensive conditions is pharmacologically identical to “naturally” grown cannabis, the chemicals it contains are identical.

2: The only difference between the hashish traditionally imported from North Africa and so-called “skunk” cannabis is the ratio of the active chemicals, especially THC and CBD. But that is not a new thing, very strong cannabis high in THC and low in CBD has always existed. North African hashish is not representative of all “naturally grown” cannabis.

2: The statement that “These substances bear no relation to what people were smoking in the 1970s” is simply untrue.

The report states

“Things have changed so much the Dutch authorities are considering putting cannabis back on the list of hard drugs In the streets of Amsterdam, where punters can buy and consume cannabis in the renowned coffee shops, trade in locally produced substances outstrips imported goods”.

Again, this is not true. There have been calls for some of the higher potency “skunks” to be restricted from sale in the coffeeshops, but this is not intended to apply to all cannabis. Indeed, it is only because the Dutch have the coffeeshops that they can even consider regulating the strength of potency of the cannabis on sale.

This article was in fact no more than a reprint of French police mis-information and propaganda and no attempt was made to draw the reader’s attention to this fact. This information was not presented in the item, resulting in bias.

It is highly irresponsible for the Guardian to reprint such blatant misinformation about an issue as important as drugs and this item can only be seen as an attempt to undermine the growing law reform movement both here and in France. It is an example of what has become known as “reefer madness V2” scaremongering and as such breaches the Editors’ Code Of Practice clause 1.i) in that it publishes inaccurate, misleading and distorted information..

I demand a retraction of this item and a clarification of the issue of “GM” and selective breeding of cannabis from the Guardian.


Derek Williams