23 Oct What Peter Hitchens Missed

hitchens m5 Peter Hitchens

Yesterday evening, I was due to debate Peter Hitchens on cannabis for the third time. The motion was ‘This house believes cannabis should be legalised‘. The venue was Keele University in Staffordshire.

M5 Motorway M5 Motorway

Just after lunch, northbound on the M5, my power steering failed and my alternator warning light came on. I won’t bore you with the details but nine hours later, I eventually arrived home in a breakdown truck with my car on the back. I never made it to the debate but apparently I wasn’t needed, those members of the Keele University Debate and Discussion society who stood in at short notice defeated Hitchens and his ally, David Raynes, the ex-HM Customs officer who was speaking alongside him. Congratulations!

I have already made my profuse apologies directly to those concerned but I add them here in public. I am very sorry that I didn’t make it.

Not to let it go entirely to waste, here is the seven minute opening speech that I had prepared.

“I support the motion. Cannabis should be legalised under an appropriate scheme of regulation because:

– prohibition of cannabis causes far more harm to our society than it prevents,

– prohibition of cannabis costs us billions every year and ruins millions of lives,

– cannabis offers great benefit to our society both as medicine and as a safe, non-toxic recreational drug, a very much safer alternative to alcohol.

I am not going to give you a long list of evidence showing how harmless cannabis is.

Firstly because it isn’t. It’s a psychoactive substance so it must have the potential to cause harm.

Secondly because the argument has already been won. You’re intelligent people. You have access to the internet. You can discover the evidence for yourselves. No longer are we confined to the misinformation and propaganda published by newspapers.

So the evidence for the safety of cannabis is overwhelming. Compared to any other recreational drug, all prescription and over the counter medicines, the risks of using cannabis are tiny. Infinitesimal in fact.

More than that, scientists now understand that, in moderation, for adults, cannabis is actually very good for you. It acts as a supplement to the endocannabinoid system and helps to protect against autoimmune conditions such as diabetes and cancer. It is also neuroprotective and helpful in the treatment of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Keele University has played a very significant and honourable role in debunking the myths and propaganda about cannabis. In 2009, specifically in response to hysterical newspaper reporting about cannabis causing psychosis, the ACMD commissioned Dr Martin Frisher of the Keele school of pharmacy to assess the evidence. The resulting study looked at almost 600,000 patients aged 16 -44 and found that despite massively increased cannabis use from the 1970s onwards, there is no evidence of any increase in schizophrenia or psychosis.

So this knocks the nonsense that Mr Hitchens peddles on the head. So does real life experience all over the world. In California, where medical marijuana has been legal since 1989 and is now available in ever stronger strains, concentrates, tinctures and extracts, there has been no increase in mental illness.

Now that’s as far as I am going to go with the scientific evidence although I’ll happily go into a lot more detail when we get to questions. What I’d like to focus on is just one issue: morality.

You see, my friend Mr Hitchens will tell you that cannabis is very dangerous, that we’ve never really tried to clamp down on it hard enough and that if we legalise it, some big mega corporation, Dope Co. he like to call it, will pursue a wicked capitalist strategy to enslave us all in mass ‘stupefaction’.

All those arguments are hogwash. Absolute hogwash. Not fit for intelligent debate and suitable only for publication in the Daily Mail or similar disreputable organs of disinformation.

But Peter does have one credible argument. It’s the moral argument. I’ll let him explain it himself but in essence he will argue that it is morally wrong to alter your consciousness with a drug.

Now I can respect that point of view, even if I don’t agree with it. I think Peter can put forward an arguable case for that.

But the much bigger question of morality is the great immoral evil that is prohibition.

There is no other policy ever adopted by any government anywhere that is so clearly a failure, is counterproductive, causes more harm than it prevents and is deeply, deeply immoral.

Prohibition says that on a completely arbitrary basis, irrespective of any evidence, we will criminalise a section of society whose choices we disagree with. We will imprison them. We will demonise them. We will restrict their ability to work and to travel. We will take away their children. We will stop them adopting children. We’ll take away their driving licences. We’ll seize their assets on some trumped up charge that they’ve been engaged in some commercial activity. We’ll throw them out of their social housing onto the streets. We’ll use the police, who are supposed to protect the public, to enforce this vile prejudice and hatred. We will ruin these peoples’ lives!

That is what is immoral and I can give dozens of other examples of how this this disgusting, evil policy causes harm – and all in the name of what? To stop people growing and using a plant that grows like a weed in God’s earth under God’s sun? It’s madness!

When alcohol prohibition was ended in the US in 1933 it was achieved with a campaign that said “Save the children. End prohibition now”. In exactly the same way as we now have 12 year olds dealing cannabis on sink estates, so illicit alcohol dealers in the US were increasingly using child labour and selling to children. This is what prohibition does and we are so stupid that we have failed to learn the lessons of history.

Compared to the natural, inherent, human desire to alter one’s consciousness, even if you do think that is immoral, prohibition is a far greater breach of any moral code.

Now if we get onto the fact that over and above that, this prohibition denies access to cannabis for those who need it as medicine, despite the fact that we know people have used it safely and effectively for more than 5,000 years, well then, in my opinion, you go beyond immorality into the realms of obscenity and hate crime. For it is that with which I charge those who deny medicinal cannabis – a crime of the most vicious, cruel and unforgiveable nature.

Cannabis rescues people from pain, suffering and disability. The alternatives offered are opiates which turn them into zombies, highly toxic, liver destroying substances like Tramadol and Baclofen or SSRI anti depressants which we have no idea how they really work. Cannabis enables people to live full, productive lives. It enhances life, rather than diminishes it.

So there you have my argument.

Comparatively speaking cannabis is very, very safe. Ask me any questions you wish and I’ll point you to specific evidence.

Cannabis is immensely valuable as medicine and we see this being validated more and more every day by science. Again, ask me any questions you wish.

Finally and crucially, prohibition is a massive failure and a great immoral evil which actually creates and maximises harm.

So I say, save our children, protect our communities, turn the forces of law and order towards real crime. End the prohibition of cannabis now!”