31 Jul The Cannabis Law Reform Debate – What Goes Around Comes Around.

The truly amazing thing about the cannabis law reform debate is that it has rarely been out of the news for the past 20 or more years. Day in, day out the same tired old arguments are put forward by the prohibition lobby, dressed up as ‘strong’ laws that ‘protect’ people. Law reform arguments are dismissed as “going soft on drugs”, “liberalisation” or worse. There’s very little attempt to debate the real issues that are so important, even terms like decriminalisation and legalisation are bandied about as if they are the same thing.

The Drug War in Action The Image Of Tough Policing

But something of a dam seems to have burst in the past few weeks with several Police and Crime Commissioners announcing they can no longer afford to deploy scarce resources to policing low level cannabis use or cultivation, a policy swiftly confirmed by Sara Thornton, who leads the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the body that used to be called ACPO. This probably explains the runaway success of a petition on the government’s petitions website calling for cannabis to be legalised. Please do sign it if you haven’t already.

The one thing prohibitionists must dread has happened, the hard light of reality has stabbed them in their fogged, pickled onion eyes and the country can officially no longer afford the full-on hard line prohibition they crave and the public seems to realise it. They are, of course, not happy about this sudden if predictable turn of events and so it is that the prohibition supporting rags of what used to be called “Fleet Street” have swung into overdrive. Now of course by “prohibition supporting rag” we would normally be referring to the Daily Mail, but while it has been doing its stuff in the traditional way others have been joining in; Melanie Phillips in The Times is the subject of yet another CLEAR complaint and the Daily Telegraph seems to be trying to outdo them all.

In Friday’s Daily Telegraph (31st July 2015) there is a spectacularly badly written article by an anonymous writer who tells the story of “How my middle-class son became a skunk addict at 13“. The account is full of holes big enough to drive a London bus through but actually does quite a good job of illustrating the stupidity of the prohibition argument now being put forward. Actually, although this article is anonymous, it does ring a Bell for those of us who have been following this debate over the years.

Where to start a critique? There is so much to choose from!

The writer starts by correctly assessing the events of the past week and makes this comparison:

All the indications are that, sooner or later, smoking a joint will be seen as no worse than downing a glass of Pinot Grigio at the end of the day.

Cannabis user

The image of cannabis users prohibitionists hate

For those who don’t know (and yes I had to look it up) Pinot Grigio is a grape wine with a higher than usual ABV strength of 13.9% according to Wikipedia. Most plonk you buy from Tesco is around the 12% and this compares to 15% for Buckfast, the ‘tonic wine’ so popular in some areas of Scotland.

The choice of a strong wine to compare to smoking a spliff (hopefully without tobacco) is telling – but then of course cannabis is a drug, wine isn’t to these people. Drinking a “fine wine” at the end of a day isn’t going to cause any medical problems is it? Sorry for the sarcasm.

I’d make an educated guess and say that many pushing for a debate on decriminalisation know very little about the drug itself, and are certainly not the parents of children who suffer from an addiction to it. Otherwise they would see this hopelessly naive step for what it is: a harmful experiment that will play with the lives of an entire generation.

Note the word “decriminalsation”. Right from the start the debate is presented in this misleading way. Let’s make the distinction clear. “Decriminalisation” simply means removing criminal penalties for some or all aspects of cannabis use. Welcome as that would be it provides no opportunity for proper control or regulation of the trade, which would remain under the control of the same people who control it now. Proper controls can only be done by bringing the trade under the rule of law, that is what is meant by legalisation.

The assumption about law reformers not being informed about the nature of cannabis is simply untrue.

She then comes out with this statement:

Legalise cannabis and you remove one of the few tools left in the armoury of helpless parents, struggling to extricate their child from its addictive clutch – that the law is on their side.

Which is then followed by an account of how her 13 year old son came to be a cannabis user which includes this gem of information:

I do caution you oh-so-liberal parents: if you think that your kids will be safe from the lures of drugs and other temptations if you avoid the state education system, think again – my son scored his first cannabis from the captain of the rugby A team in his posh private school.

Dealer The sort of dealer you don’t get in elite schools

So here we have a prohibition campaigner warning of the dangers of law reform after seeing her own kid get caught up in the black market trade created by the prohibition regime she supports so strongly.

As she points out in a rather objectionable way, avoiding the normal school system that the vast majority of us have to go through isn’t going to protect your kid from the illegal trade, it exists even in the ivory towers of the elite school system. In this, she provides a critical argument against prohibition in that it fails everywhere.

So, having demonstrated the utter failure of the prohibition regime, she argues it is the only thing working to protect children. Logic is not her strong point.

Then we have the skunk scare and again the failings of prohibition are used to justify its continuation

Skunk is not the same stuff people smoked 20 years ago. The chemical components that produce the ‘high’, the THCs, can be up to 30 times stronger.

Let’s not get caught up in the “30 times stronger” claim – save to say that if the hash of old was only 5% THC then 30 times stronger “skunk” would be 150% THC, clearly she isn’t very good at maths either.

The main point here is she is claiming that cannabis has changed from something mild and safe into something strong and dangerous under the regime of prohibition. There are 5,000 or so years of recorded history of mankind’s use of cannabis and in all that time apparently it remained this mild relaxing drug, then in the past 20 years it mutated into this monster which drives young people mad. She seems utterly unable to put two and two together to make four. Why has this change happened in the past 20 years when it didn’t happen in all the time before? What else has changed apart from the introduction of prohibition? The answer of course is nothing else changed, prohibition is entirely responsible for the market shift we saw in the late 1990’s.

If – and this isn’t to accept or deny the changes she claims have happened – cannabis has changed it has done so because of the perverted economics of the illegal trade. Prohibition provides no protection for consumers in this regard, when you go to your local dealer to buy your weed, you have no idea of its strength or THC/CBD ratio. At the same time of course your dealer never asks for proof of age, as long as you have your £20 note, you get your weed.

In short, prohibition is many things, but the one thing it isn’t is “drug control”.

13 year old kids should not be sold cannabis, but under prohibition there is nothing that can be done to prevent it, not even by sending your kids to expensive fee paying elite schools, just ask David Cameron.

Supporters of decriminalisation believe that if you remove drug-dealing gangs from the equation, cannabis will become like fine wine – something to be enjoyed in civilised surroundings; affordable and available from a high street retailer.

Again, “decriminalisation” is used instead of legalisation. Of course she mocks this concept but when prohibition does end cannabis will indeed become something very different to the illegal drug it is now, just as moonshine and bathtub gin became the fine wines she holds in such high regard.

Cannabis is so much more than “green” or “solid”. Different strains have very different effects due to the differences in the ratios of psychoactive ingredients in different strains. So yes, it would become something much more like fine wines if you could be certain of what you were buying.

The changes might go very deep, cannabis may even become something that isn’t smoked or vaped, we’re seeing interesting signs of this already in Colorado with the growth in popularity of edibles. Come the end of prohibition the nature of cannabis would change beyond recognition.

Whether this diatribe will gain traction remains to be seen but it is down to campaigns like CLEAR and the other cannabis law reform organisations to be aware of the arguments and to focus on defeating them. It isn’t really very difficult when the claims are as stupid as those made in this article, but we do need to remember that the fear these people play on are perceived as real by many. Cannabis is a very safe substance, but nothing on earth is totally safe.

We had better get used to the idea that the whole debate is going to get very noisy and emotive.

Derek Williams