04 Dec The cause of Reefer Madness V2? (and no, it’s not skunk)

A quick update on the previous blog “Complaint to the PCC re The Daily Mail October 30th – Update of sorts“: The Press Complaints Commission has now started investigating my complaint regarding the outrageous reporting of a study from Bristol university that the, paper claimed, proved cannabis caused psychosis. The study proved no such thing of course and didn’t even use cannabis, or people. So with luck the Daily Mail will soon be hauled over the coals. Well, we can hope.

Daily Mail logo

On CLEAR we have an impressive archive of PCC complaints is starting to build up and a quick glance at the growing list shows the Daily Mail is no stranger to misreporting the cannabis issue. Since the CLEAR PCC campaign began at the start of this year there have been a total of 40 complaints of which 19 – almost half – have been against the Daily Mail or the Mail on Sunday. Now this doesn’t represent some kind of vendetta on behalf of either myself or Peter Reynolds, simply the Daily Mail frequently breaches the PCC guidelines which stipulate the press should take care not to publish distorted or misleading information. Fact is, it’s not that the Daily Mail is sloppy and just fails to take due care an attention, it’s pretty clear that it fabricated a lot of its stories and deliberately prints distorted and misleading information.

Now the thing is given its reputation I don’t expect the claim that the Daily Mail deliberately publishes distorted and misleading information to come as a great surprise to that many people, it is not, shall we say, an earth-shaking revelation. However, the fact that politicians take the opinion of the Daily Mail seriously is not in doubt and that a publication which has so much influence uses this power to promote policies based on lies is deeply worrying.

So perhaps it’s time to recap a little and take a quick look at what the Daily Mail has been doing over the past few years. It is not much of an exaggeration to claim that the whole “reefer madness” hype – or at any rate a large part of it – can be placed at the door of the Daily Mail. Again, this isn’t exactly news, but the way it’s been done and indeed the extent it’s been done is a real eye opener.

Before we go any further though a couple of health warnings: First, the Daily Mail isn’t alone in spreading hype, far from it. Much of the gutter press has joined in to promote the great “skunk scare” and all the rest of the alarmist claims that support reefer madness V2. Indeed it’s not only been the tabloids with even the quality end of the market joining in lead, of course, by the Independent of Sunday. Secondly it is important to note that the Daily Mail has, on occasion, run factual and honest stories relating to cannabis and even to cannabis law reform. Perhaps most notably the paper failed to join in the hype created by Julie Myerson in early 2009 – this was one of those “skunk took my child away” claims from a self-publicist with good press connections which most of the tabloids swallowed hook line and sinker. The way the Mail reported this whole affair was a shining example of a jewel in the mud, but it was a rare example of such reporting.

So it was that I sat down on a quiet day last week and entered “cannabis” into the Daily Mail search and ploughed through the 3000 + results looking for reefer madness articles to salvage. Some hours later, foaming slightly at the mouth the job was done and the list can be seen here in The Daily Mail Reefer Madness Archive.

Several things become obvious from this list. The list starts at 2001, which is when the internet age arrived and these things all become searchable. Back then the cannabis issue was being reported in a reasonably factual – verging on supporting – sort of way. In the whole of 2001 only one vaguely reefer madness story was run: “Cannabis can cause insanity, scientists warn

Professor Heather Ashton, from the University of Newcastle, said cannabis contains between 450 and 500 different substances and the smoke from a cannabis cigarette is more likely to cause cancer than an ordinary tobacco cigarette.
‘Cannabis affects almost every body system,’ she said. ‘It combines many of the properties of alcohol, tranquillisers, opiates and hallucinogens.’

2002 saw a few more such claims – but still only 7, warning of a dark future caused by cannabis. How cannabis can cause Schizophrenia reported

Researchers have found the first evidence that marijuana can cause genetic abnormalities associated with the mental illness, which affects about one in every 100 people.

2003 through 2005 saw around 12 or so such stories. We were told Cannabis ‘kills 30,000 a year’, and, without doubt Cannabis causes mental illness.

and of course Melanie Phillips asked Why are we soft on this killer drug?

It was around 2004 the Tories elected Micheal Howard as leader and as the mail reported Tories would reverse cannabis decision. That story was actually about a leaflet the government was issuing to dispel the idea that cannabis was being legalised by the downgrading to C.

Around this time we had the arrival of so-called “skunk” (albeit about 10 years after the market shift from imported hash to UK grown herbal cannabis had actually happened), “Potent cannabis presents even greater dangers“, apparently quoting Dr Clare Gerada, head of the Royal College of General Practitioners’ Drugs Misuse unit claimed

Genetically modified forms of the drug are now the norm rather than the exception – in fact in many cases it is difficult for users to buy anything else.

2006 saw 20 articles and a ramping up of the scare stories; of course the gateway theory was highlighted with proof positive in Early cannabis abuse ‘leads to heroin addiction’

Taking cannabis as a teenager really does pave the way to heroin addiction in later life, say scientists.

Researchers have found that cannabis acts as a ‘gateway’ drug, because exposure during adolescence primes the system to crave the chemical stimulation of hard drugs.

but more than that, cannabis not only killed but it made the users kill: Soldier killed friend’s dad while having ‘cannabis-induced delusions’

Cannabis-induced delusions drove a soldier to hack his best friend’s father to death with a pair of garden shears, a court heard today.

and Cannabis downgrading blamed for psychotic killer gangs by vicar told us

Labour’s decision to downgrade cannabis has filled youths with a ‘lawless bravado’ which turns them into potential killers, a senior church figure and police advisor has warned

The reason for all this of course, was cannabis makes you mad according to the Daily Mail. The paper had this bit between its teeth now and wasn’t going to let go. 2007 saw 46 reefer madness stories, including Escaped prisoner killed man while high on ‘skunk’ cannabis and Teen who butchered two friends was addicted to skunk cannabis. We are told that Cannabis now ten times stronger than in the 1980s:

Cannabis smoked today is ten or even 20 times stronger than when David Cameron was a teenager in the 1980s – hugely increasing the danger it poses.

Life for cannabis addict who murdered two friends in frenzied knife attack and Boy on skunk cannabis butchered a grandmother were just two more stories, “something”, the politicians realised, clearly had to be done. So it was that in July of 2007 the Mail gleefully announced Brown ditches disastrous softly-softly policy on cannabis, reporting

Gordon Brown has called a halt to Labour’s disastrous ‘softly softly’ policy on cannabis.
In a surprise U-turn, the Prime Minister ordered an urgent review of the controversial decision taken three years ago to downgrade the drug from Class B to C.

Gordon Brown had just taken over from Toy Blair and had let it be known that cannabis was to be reclassified back to class B, even though he was obliged to ask the ACMD for its opinion first. Of course, what happened is a matter of record, the ACMD said “No, keep it at C”, so Brown overrode his expert advisers and placated the Daily Mail.

2008 saw another 45 reefer madness items, including Mother of goth student kicked to death by binge drinking teens attacks rise of ‘skunk’ cannabis which blamed skunk for the fact that binge drinking kids

The mother of a gap year student murdered by a gang of “feral” thugs for being a goth has claimed the rise of “skunk” is one of the biggest cause of problems among young people.

Sylvia Lancaster says more teenagers and young people than ever before are smoking the strong form of cannabis without realising the powerful effect it can have.

She spoke out after her daughter’s killers, two binge-drinking teenagers, were jailed for life for kicking and stamping her to death after she tried to stop them assaulting her boyfriend.

Brendan Harris, 15, and Ryan Herbert, 16, had drunk at least four pints of strong cider plus shots of schnapps before they attacked Sophie, 20. It is not known whether they had taken drugs.

2009 and the number of stories dropped to 20 and in 2010 to 19. So far this year we’ve seen 29.

In all this of course, two names stand out: Melanie Phillips and Peter Hitchins, two regular opinion writers from the hang them and flog them wing of the Tory party. The articles they write are, of course, opinion pieces and not factual news reports. However, they claim to present facts to support their argument and so some of their articles are included in the summary list.

So have a look through the whole list and perhaps spend an hour or so reading the stories that have framed the reefer madness hype over the past 10 years or so. Try not to let it make you psychotic…