Now Drugs Are an Election Issue

Now Drugs Are an Election Issue
Posted by CN Staff on March 22, 2005 at 20:47:38 PT
Postscript by Simon Jenkins
Source: Times Online UK
United Kingdom -- Pre-election nerves are getting out of hand. Consider the weekend madness from the Home Office on drugs. The new Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, once confessed to The Times that he was eager not to appear a liberal. He has duly ordered a review of the classification of cannabis on the Government's list of banned drugs.
This follows "news" that marijuana, particularly the strong strain of mostly home-grown skunk, might be more harmful than previously thought. The drug was reduced from class B to class C by Mr Clarke's predecessor, David Blunkett, just a year ago. The effect was ostensibly to save police time because possession of class C drugs was not an arrestable offence. However, Mr Blunkett immediately negated the impact of the change by making class C possession arrestable. The change was almost entirely cosmetic, but had the effect of making the drug seem more safe - or seem so to those who had never tried it and might take any notice of Home Office classifications.The 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act has long been the most harmful, counterproductive and politically mesmeric law on the British statute book. It has long borne no relation to reality. There is hardly a young person in the land who has not tried cannabis and some four million people use it regularly, undeterred by the most draconian drug laws in Europe. These laws have left drug distribution in the hands of criminals and made British cities, small towns, even rural villages the most drug-ridden in the Western world.The cramming of jails with users and dealers has had no deterrent effect. Indeed the Home Office's tolerance of drug abuse in its own institutions has them prime centres of hard drug addiction. Drug illegality has corrupted the police, plagued schools private and public and become the single biggest cause of industrial-scale crime. Yet successive governments have refused to reform the 1971 Act. Even the right-wing press is now in favour of reform, as are numerous opinion polls.Two years ago, under pressure from reformers, Mr Blunkett decided to risk a modicum of liberal praise by reclassifying cannabis. It would in future be treated as less harmful than cocaine, Ecstasy and various chemical substances. Mr Blunkett was moved by the fact that the widespread use of the drug and expert opinion that it was less harmful to health than, for instance, legal alcohol and nicotine. There was already evidence that the police were going easy on those caught with the drug. "Uncoupling" cannabis from harder drugs made sense, even if the reform was almost pointlessly modest. But the Government did not have the courage to licence cannabis for medical purposes, despite copious evidence of courts simply refusing to convict patients using the drug in that way.There is no shortage of studies over the past decade showing that intensive cannabis use - at whatever strength - can induce serious hangovers and memory loss. For those inclined to depression or other forms of psychosis, including panic attacks, the effect can be severe. This is not new, any more than skunk is new. Excessive use of alcohol, amphetamines and barbiturates can also be harmful to some people. Cannabis has always been toxic, in the sense that body finds it hard to rid itself of traces for weeks after use. Skunk is clearly more so, though not dangerously addictive or physically debilitating like certain "hard" drugs. Like all mind-altering substances it is best avoided by those whose minds are likely to be vulnerable to alteration.I served for over a year on a publicly-funded research committee on the future of the 1971 Act. It left me with a number of emphatic conclusions. One was that all drugs alter minds, which is why (mostly) weak people take them. For some they are beneficial. For many they are harmless. For a few they can be dangerous. I would strongly discourage young people from touching drugs, as I would discourage them from many ill-advised activities. I would certainly like public policy to limit their prevalence.The 1971 Act does the opposite. It makes drugs cheap, plentiful and easy to sell to young people. It is not an act but a social crime. Making drug use illegal, and thus plunging young people into a world of high-pressure criminal salesmanship, is madness. The 1971 Act is lethal and should be abolished. Cannabis should go where nicotine, alcohol, retail drugs, off-course betting, gambling and prostitution have gone before, into the realm of regulation and control.If criminalisation could rid society of this evil, it would have done so long ago. Clearly the reverse has happened. The criminalisation of drugs has been the biggest social catastrophe of the past quarter century, wrecking tens of thousands of lives, families, communities and businesses. A new framework of control, taxation and licensed distribution must be established. Mr Clarke has no intention of doing this. He has an election on his hands. So he suddenly discovers skunk, suddenly reads medical literature, suddenly forgets he was in the Government which reclassified cannabis a year ago and suddenly orders his Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to "review" its classification. Election time is here again.* Cannabis use may well have increased over the years, but what has also become more obvious is the link between cannabis use and mental health problems. Many of the patients I see in my clinic (neuropsychology within a mental health service) begin taking cannabis before developing a psychotic illness, eg, schizophrenia. Whether or not Simon Jenkins's solutions are acceptable, we need better protocols of treatment between the mental health services and the drug and alcohol services. There is no proper monitoring of drug abuse in those with mental health problems in the trust where I work. I believe the use of cannabis is likely to exacerbate the cognitive problems associated with serious and enduring mental illness. We must have improved treatment practices and better monitoring. Ian Burgess, BristolJenkins is precisely right. Anybody who still believes that prohibition is a sensible policy has not fully grasped the disastrous scale of costs that it bears, in lives destroyed, money and time wasted, resources and recruits diverted to criminals and criminality, law and order corrupted. This is not a party political issue. As usual on most issues of real importance, the main political parties are equally wrong. Mark Cousins, SheffieldIt comes as no surprise that the Great Liberal should wish to decriminalise the use of drugs because treating such use as a criminal offence has not curtailed its use. On that reasoning we should abolish other felonies as crimes because they are still being committed. Let's do away with the offence of theft for starters. Robert Wilson, Rainham, EssexYou argue that, in the case of cannabis, repression hasn't worked and so regulated legalisation should be substituted. Yet in previous articles you've shown exactly the opposite attitude towards gun ownership. Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but it is an essential component of reason. Alex Swanson, Milton KeynesWhat is more harmful; my son trying cannabis as a teenager or the lifelong handicap of a criminal record when he was caught with it? Ian Hunter, SwanseaI have smoked cannabis in moderation for 35 years. I have a tolerably well-paid professional job and also run a (legal) part-time business. I have never encountered anyone who has been harmed by cannabis, and the only times when I have been offered other "harder" drugs has been when buying cannabis from criminal dealers. These days, I grow my own for personal use, thus depriving organised crime of some of their profits and ensuring that what I smoke is good quality and unadulterated. I know several other people who do likewise. I think it would be sensible to permit this type of home growing, much as home brewing of beer is permitted. The present situation is as dangerous and stupid as the Volstead, or National Prohibition Act, in pre-war US. Name and address withheld The big lie that needs to be exposed is that cannabis is not a "controlled drug", despite the 1971 act defining it as such. Since it is illegal, there are no controls whatsoever over any aspect of the cannabis trade. If cannabis is dangerous, then it needs to be properly controlled. Simon Jenkins is totally right. The 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act should be scrapped entirely. Name and address withheldSend your comments on this article using the form below, and they will be considered for publication. It may be necessary to edit your contribution. Wherever possible we would like you to include your name and town of residence. Priority will be given to e-mails providing these details. --,,6-1535273_2,00.html Source: Times Online (UK)Author: Simon JenkinsPublished: March 21, 2005 Copyright: 2005 Times Newspapers Ltd.Contact: debate Website: Articles & Web Site:Chronic Cannabis Use in PDF Format The Questions That Remain Unanswered Condemns UK Cannabis Laws Arrests Fall By a Third
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