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Wednesday, May 07, 2008 

You better hope you don't smoke the reefer.

It's incredibly hard to articulate in words just how mindbogglingly stupid the government's decision to reclassify cannabis as a "Class B" drug is. Let's put it this way - if you repeatedly dropped a baby on its head from a height which didn't crack its skull open but did understandably adversely affect its intelligence, then supplied that child throughout its lifetime with only Ayn Rand books, the Daily Mail, and GMTV for intellectual stimulation, then through your connections sent him to work at Goldman Sachs before he progressed to becoming prime minister through freak luck, not even he, so mentally stunted that he couldn't even tie his shoelaces without needing the help of a civil servant, would not think that making cannabis a Class B drug again would be a good idea.

That's the kind of level of abject intellectual poverty we're dealing with here. There's Gordon Brown, the acclaimed brainbox behind Britain's prospering economy, so intelligent that he went to university at sixteen, and he comes out with such insultingly idiotic statements regarding the "lethal quality" of cannabis that it almost makes you wonder if this isn't just him openly prostituting himself to Paul Dacre as bending over and opening himself up so that the entire Mail team can have a go. We have "Wacky" Jacqui Smith, an Oxford graduate, who has herself admitted to use of cannabis back in her care-free youth before she realised that the drug is in fact incredibly dangerous and that one puff can kill you stone-dead, having the audacity to stand up in front of parliament and announce that she's accepting every recommendation of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs' report - except the one which says the drug should remain at Class C, because "[she] must err on the side of caution and protect the public."

The sort of doublethink this requires would have utterly delighted Orwell. Here's a drug where the links between mental illness are in the words of ACMD "weak but probable", and so it needs to not just be illegal, as it was under Class C, but to be in Class B, where simple possession of the tiniest amount could potentially lead to your imprisonment for five years. The chances of that happening are minuscule, but then we need to err on the side of caution and warn the public, don't we? The ACMD says that cannabis is a "significant public health issue" which is true; but then so is the use of tobacco and alcohol. The links between tobacco and numerous types of cancer are not just weak but probable but firmly established. Likewise, the link between alcohol and liver cirrhosis and other illnesses are not just weak but probable but firmly established, not to mention the link between alcohol and public disorder across towns and cities across the country every weekend. The Lancet's own attempt at drawing up a rational scale to assess the harm caused by drugs found that both alcohol and tobacco should be ranked higher than cannabis. By the same yardstick being used to measure the harm of cannabis, alcohol and tobacco should both be either Class B or even Class A controlled substances, but neither cause is likely to be taken up by the Daily Mail.

Quite how this issue has been resurrected and reanimated time and time again since David Blunkett took the ACMD's advice back in 2004 and downgraded cannabis is in itself bewildering but instructive. Nothing whatsoever has been learned or discovered in the last 4 years that ought to change the status quo - instead, what has occurred has been a hysterical, unbelievably misleading media campaign, led not just by the Daily Mail, but also by those who really ought to know better on the Independent on Sunday. We've been told that the cannabis on the streets today is not the average two and a half times stronger than the traditional "soapbar" Moroccan resin which up until very recently made up the vast majority of the market, but instead 25 times or even 30 times stronger. We've been told that smoking just one cannabis joint increases the risk of developing schizophrenia by 41%, when the actual study in fact found that an "average user" of cannabis faced an increased risk of developing a "psychotic outcome" by 0.4%. We've been told that despite all the evidence to the contrary, that cannabis can be directly linked to the deaths of at least 3 people, ignoring all the side issues and other factors entirely.

Perhaps the most shocking fact about this most egregious of u-turns is that by any standard, the downgrading of cannabis to Class C has worked as it was intended to. The police themselves supported the original decision, having become fed up to the back teeth with having to deal with individuals with tiny amounts of the drug on them when it was a complete waste of time; as a result of their confiscate and warn policy instituted after the downgrading, countless hours have been freed up to go after real criminals. The numbers of those taking the drug over the last few years have dropped according to the British Crime Survey, from 28.2% of 16-24-year-olds who admitted to cannabis use in 1998-9, to 21.4% in 2005-6. The police's new concern, that organised crime is moving in to cannabis production, with Vietnamese gangs being the ones fingered is almost certainly nothing to do with the downgrading but with the economic realities on the ground. It's no longer worth the hassle to import the old resin or different varieties when it can be so easily grown in converted houses, often with the electricity for the hydroponic systems being stolen as well. They can also earn more for the stronger varieties, which is why they are being increasingly grown, although there are also indications that various (incredibly dangerous) ploys are being employed to make it look as if the buds have a higher THC content than they actually do, as it takes longer to grow the plants to their full strength.

That last statistic shows exactly how many young people this change in the law will further criminalise and put in danger of having their lives potentially ruined purely because of their choice to consume a substance which affects absolutely no one other than themselves. 1 in 5 use it; if they don't, then they will certainly know a friend or acquittance who does. The change in the law and the spurious sending of messages will do nothing whatsoever to stop them using it, but what it will do is further disenfranchise them and put them further at risk of having the weight of the law fall on them for no greater purpose except to please Paul Dacre. The hope was that even if the change in classification went ahead that the police themselves would continue with their current policy, something that everyone at the ACMD meeting supported even if they wanted the classification changed. None of them wanted more young people to be criminalised, yet that is exactly what the government is proposing with its system of "escalating penalties" with first-time offenders also increasingly likely to be arrested under Labour's plans.

Let's not pretend however that if even the government had taken the ACMD's advice that it would have been a happy outcome. The entire classification system is a joke, based on nothing more than prejudice and political short-termism rather than actual evidence. How on earth can a system which has MDMA, LSD and magic mushrooms in the same category as street heroin and crack cocaine be taken seriously? The only solution to the entire drugs problem which underpins the vast majority of crime is to abandon the lunacy of prohibition and come to a position where addicts are either treated or provided with the drug by the state in lieu of weaning them off it. Cannabis, and the aforementioned other drugs in Class A should be regulated, age-restricted and taxed, with full education on the dangers of them provided in schools. It's time to take the entire market out of the hands of criminals, end the absurd, doomed to failure drugs "war" and be both reasonable and sensible about our dependency on all chemical highs. The taboos and myths all have to be tackled.

The former is of course a fantasy which couldn't possibly seem further away, and one which we cannot possibly know would work, mainly because we haven't been allowed to try it. The one abiding message about today's reclassification, apart from how it proves that when Gordon said he would listen, he meant he would continue to listen to the tabloids, at least when he wants to hear them, is that it shows just how much both politicians and Labour continue to hate the young. It's to be expected from the Daily Mail, which yearns for the 1950s to return, but this is a government increasingly made up of those who are only just approaching middle age. They surely remember their more hell-raising days, when they binge-drinked, smoked pot and even probably broke the law in more serious ways, yet they only listen to those who seem to have an ever increasing loathing for them. According to UNICEF we're the worst western country for children to grow up in, and it's not because of our addictions to self-fulfilment, but because the young are increasingly regarded as either annoyances, or at the most extreme end of the scale, yobs ready to kick the older generation to death. Is it any wonder when their lives are increasingly miserable for various reasons that they do turn to both alcohol and drugs? Until Labour gets to grips with why we are an unhappy society, and increasing crackdowns on crime and the young for so much as daring to gather on street corners are eschewed in favour of ending the casual criminalisation of an entire generation, then the problems that go hand in hand with them will continue to be false issues flashed up which demand pointless messages to be sent.

Related posts from the ever excellent Transform blog:
Millions quit cannabis following reclassification
Miserable re-classification saga enters its final furlong

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You may be interested in this article about the UK government's change in policy toward cannabis.


You may be interested in this article about the UK government's change in policy toward cannabis.



I would love a front room like that, I'm quite fond of plants. I don't suppose the police would approve.

Have you ever read Nick Davie's footnote about the "Drug War" on the Flat Earth News website? Okay, so it's about heroin, not cannabis, but he makes some interesting points.

What's wrong with the war against drugs

RE: Labour hating the young. It seems today that they're intending to give the police powers to harass offenders, including following them and constantly checking up on them. There's another organisation that does this - they are now the subject of international protests.

And for the record, I don't smoke the reefer, but I don't fear it either. :p

It was at one point suggested by the BMA that the output of the Afghanistan poppy farmers be bought up for processing into diamorphine; it would have given the farmers a regular income and also have solved the still ongoing shortage of an irreplaceable painkiller. Needless to say, the idea was shot down in flames.

See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6287975.stm

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