A Taboo Goes Up in Smoke 

A Taboo Goes Up in Smoke 
Posted by FoM on April 01, 2000 at 15:09:34 PT
Drugs in Britain: Special Report
Source: News Unlimited
When even the Establishment starts calling for cannabis to be legalised, it's time to take notice, writes John Arlidge. The photographs that line the walls of Charles Moore's office on the 12th floor of London's Canary Wharf tower reveal what matters to the editor and readers of the Daily Telegraph. There is the Queen, leafing through her Telegraph. 
There is Margaret Thatcher and next to her the Pope. There is Boris Johnson's Conservative election poster and memorabilia from the Countryside March. Moore is a man who knows what unites the aristocracy, the huntsmen, the farmer, the churchgoer. His paper is the moral standard-bearer for the England of comfortable old certainties, of restraint, of glacial change. Little wonder, then, that the marmalade was toppling off the morning toast in Torquay when the colonelocracy picked up their papers on Thursday morning. Under the headline 'An Experiment with Cannabis', Moore did what no Telegraph editor has dared to do. He called for drugs to be legalised. 'People like substances that alter their mood, and only strict puritans believe that they should never use any of them. A cup of coffee, a glass of wine or beer, even the odd cigarette are among the legitimate pleasures of life. Are drugs fundamentally different?' The paper concluded: 'The Government should draw up plans to legalise cannabis - generally accepted as the least dangerous of the drugs that are widely used - both for its consumption and for its supply.' On its own, the Telegraph leader could have been dismissed as a jape to stir controversy and attract new - younger - readers. But it was not a lone Establishment voice. The Daily Mail, champion of the instinctively cautious Mondeo man and woman of Middle England, also performed an astonishing U-turn last week. In a front-page commentary the paper's patrician editor, Paul Dacre, wrote: 'Despite this paper's instinctive reservations over a more relaxed approach to drugs, we believe that the issue deserves mature and rational debate.' Mature and rational? The Daily Mail ? Wasn't this the paper which once said de-criminalising drugs would transform Britain's youth into a bunch of squiffy dopeheads queuing outside their local 7-11 Drugs-R-Us for ten-bob hits? It was the Mail which led the campaign against Ecstasy after the death of Leah Betts. But last week it declared: 'We believe that all the arguments on both sides merit hysteria-free and rational examination.' The right-wing media's uncharacteristic 'on the one hand, on the other hand' approach has delighted those who have campaigned for an open debate over drugs. Last week, they believe, was the week Britain grew up about drugs. Paul Flynn, the Labour MP who has campaigned for decriminalisation for more than 10 years and is introducing a Private Member's Bill in the House of Commons next month to change the law, describes the newspapers' shift as 'beyond my wildest dreams'. 'It's a first experience and one I never expected to be able to see in my lifetime. The country is ahead of government opinion and we hope it will have an effect on official irrational timidity on the subject.' Tom Whitwell, features editor of the clubbers' bible Mixmag, jokes: 'We're thinking we should push for stricter laws and harsher penalties, so we can put some space between us and the Daily Mail .' But what has changed? Why have the papers' long-held prejudices disappeared quicker than a puff of smoke? Last week a high-powered independent inquiry by the Police Foundation into the effectiveness of Britain's 30-year-old anti-drugs laws published an eagerly awaited report. It concluded that the penalties for the possession of illegal drugs should be reduced - and got newspaper editors thinking. Cannabis should be downgraded from a Class B to a Class C drug and possession should be punishable only by cautions or fixed fines, the report said. Ecstasy and LSD should be reclassified from A to B and penalties for possession cut from five years in jail to a maximum £1,000 fine. One member of the foundation's study group, who held staunchly traditional views about drugs, underwent an overnight conversion after a tour of Amsterdam's cannabis cafés. Fifty-six-year-old, John Hamilton, Chief Constable of Fife, discovered a 'relaxed and unthreatening atmosphere'. To add to the food for editorial thought, a MORI opinion poll claimed that Middle England was at odds with the Prime Minister's hardline stance on soft drugs. The Foundation's report is the first major police study to recommend liberalisation of the law after almost a century of growing restrictions on drug use. In the 19th century, you could walk into a pharmacist and buy opium as easily as aspirin today. Almost any drug could be freely bought until early in the last century. But by 1908 curbs had been introduced on sales of cocaine and new Acts followed to cover heroin, LSD, cannabis and amphetamines. Today the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 remains the legal template for defining the social disapproval and addictive nature of drugs. It introduced the A, B, C classes of controlled drugs, with penalties for possession and trafficking linked to their classification. The Police Foundation's calls for reclassification may have persuaded newspaper editors to think the unthinkable, but after a century of prohibition are we heading for a new liberal era? Despite its brave editorial, the Daily Mail is reluctant to discuss the matter beyond its own columns and Rosie Boycott, editor of the Express, refuses to claim the credit because her famous press campaign for the decriminalisation of cannabis ran in the pages of another newspaper - the Independent on Sunday. But Moore is happy to talk. 'There is a shift. Until now those who have argued for change have been people like dopeheads who think drugs are great. That's not our position. We don't think drugs are a good thing. We are not blasé. But we want a debate,' he says. But why now? What's changed? Two factors, Moore argues, have coincided to force the debate out into the open. 'First, by making drug- taking illegal a lot of people have come to realise that we are making criminals of hundreds of thousands of people even though they are not particularly wicked. They know drugs can cause harm, but they don't want to think that they or their children could have a criminal record because they got caught once smoking a joint. 'Second, people are becoming more and more aware that, if you ban something you don't like, it does not necessarily go away. Be it with fox-hunting or tobacco smuggling, there is a prejudice now against having too many laws and a prejudice in favour or letting people do what they want to do. These two things make it easy for Conservatives to make the libertarian argument.' From the other side of the political divide, Mike Linnell, of the addicts' support group Manchester Lifeline, agrees. 'People's and the Government's attitude have changed because of experience. There aren't many people who haven't been affected by drugs in some way. Even Cabinet Ministers have admitted trying drugs in their youth. Everyone, it seems, does it.' Mixmag's Whitwell adds: 'Papers are taking on board what the majority of young people think about drugs. It's force of numbers. There are hundreds of thousands of people who go clubbing every weekend and, though they are not all taking drugs, they are in an atmosphere where it is normal. People are beginning to realise that drug use is a lifestyle choice rather than a health problem. Conservative newspapers are realising that theirs is not the majority view.' But not all Conservatives want to run with public opinion. Janet Betts and her husband Paul have devoted themselves to helping families concerned over drug problems since their daughter, Leah, collapsed and died after taking Ecstasy during her 18th birthday party five years ago. 'The first thing to say is that we have already decriminalised drugs,' Mrs Betts protests. 'If a person found with drugs can convince a police officer they are for their own use, they get nothing more than an instant caution. 'If cannabis is decriminalised, what is next? Ecstasy? If that is declassified, then the dealers, who never carry more than a small number of tablets, would be let off. An important legal sanction against a dangerous drug would be lost. Downgrading any drug and taking the penalties out of its use is sending kids the wrong signal. It tells them they don't have to worry about drugs, they are not harmful enough to be worth police action. The classification of a drug is based on its potential to do harm and all drugs can do harm.' Keith Hellawell, the drugs 'tsar', agrees. Decriminalisation, he says, will make it more difficult to prevent abuse. The same goes for Tony Blair and Jack Straw, who have spent the past few years introducing increasingly tough penalties for drug offences. As the debate rages, two facts remain undisputed. Britain has the toughest drug laws of any major Western country, yet it has the highest consumption of drugs and the worst addiction rate. In the 30 years since the Misuse of Drugs Act was passed, the number of known drug addicts has risen from 3,000 to 43,000. Unofficial estimates put the latter figure at nearer 200,000, mostly youngsters. Some 2,000 people will die of drug abuse this year. For newspapers that support the rule of law, that is an appalling record. It is a problem for politicians, too, and although they show few signs of heeding the Police Foundation's advice, a growing body of opinion formers think it is only a matter of time. 'People only whisper it now, but the next Parliament could see the first genuine reform of the drugs law,' one senior Labour MP predicts. Don't all rush for the Rizlas at once, but when Sir Richard Branson opens Britain's first cannabis Internet café 10 years from now, skin up and spare a puff for the good folk of the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. Nuff respect to the 'erb warrior Charles Moore. • Additional research by Rosalind Ryan and Ellen Bennett Key Moments in a History of Getting High: Drugs in Britain: Special Report Sunday April 2, 2000 1890: Queen Victoria is prescribed cannabis for period pains. Her personal doctor claims: 'It is one of the most valuable medicines we possess.' 1901: Royal Commission concludes that cannabis is relatively harmless and not worth prohibiting. 1901: Royal Commission concludes that cannabis is relatively harmless and not worth prohibiting. 1928: The Dangerous Drugs Act makes cannabis illegal in Britain. 1967: An advertisement in the Times , paid for by Paul McCartney, states: 'The law against marijuana is immoral in principle and unworkable in practice.' Signatories include the Beatles, R.D. Laing and Graham Greene. 1967: Rolling Stones Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are sentenced to prison for smoking cannabis. Their convictions are later quashed on appeal. 1968: The Wooton committee concludes that 'the long-term consumption of cannabis in moderation has no harmful effects'. 1969: An organisation called the Bong Bong Parade makes a stand at a free Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park, attempting to pass a foot-long joint around the crowd. 1971: Section 7 of the Misuse of Drugs Act tightens the rules on certain drugs. By the early Eighties, most consultant psychiatrists have stopped prescribing injectable drugs such as heroin, cocaine and amphetamines. 1980: Paul McCartney spends 10 days in a Japanese jail for possession of cannabis. 1981: Smokey Bear direct action group sends cannabis plants to 60 MPs. 1992: President Clinton admits to having smoked cannabis in his youth - but claims that he never inhaled. 1995: Leah Betts dies at her eighteenth birthday party after taking an Ecstasy tablet. It was believed to be the first time she had taken the drug. 1996: Transform, the campaign to liberalise drug policy and legislation, launches. 1997: Smokey Bear stages a 'smoke-out' in Portsmouth. The Independent on Sunday launches a campaign for the decriminalisation of cannabis. 1997: Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics (ACT) launches a major advertising campaign in the national press for the legalisation of marijuana for medical use.1997: William Strawson of Home Secretary Jack Straw, is arrested for dealing cannabis after being set up by a Daily Mirror journalist. He was cautioned by police. 1998: The Independent on Sunday's campaign for the decriminalisation of cannabis culminates in a march on Trafalgar Square attracting thousands of supporters. 2000: Tony Blair agrees that cannabis should be legalised for medical purposes. 2000: Police Foundation Report suggests that certain drugs be reclassified and penalties reduced. The Government rejects the recommendations. 28 March 2000: The Daily Mail calls for a 'mature and rational' debate on the drugs issue. 29 March 2000: Daily Telegraph leading article suggests an 'experiment with legalisation'.Note: Check the link below for frequently updated articles in the series.Drugs in Britain: Special Report: Sunday April 2, 2000 Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000Related Articles:Press Ahead on Drugs Reform To Decriminalise Cannabis Goes To Parliament of Struggle Fails To Curb Drugs
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Comment #4 posted by MMMM on April 02, 2000 at 00:12:01 PT
And similar things...
Decades ago, when jazz came onto the music scene, many people that this decadent music would cause the decline of values and would create havoc among teenagers. Well, it didn't.It appears elders get scared too easily as do those who know nothing except propaganda spoon fed to them in the media. Mind control, anyone?
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Comment #3 posted by cerebus on April 01, 2000 at 21:24:17 PT
bottom line
bottom line is TRUTH one one hand and regulation on the other. truth of the effects of drugs and not demonizing relatively harmless cannabis in the name of the drug war. cocain, heroine and other drugs while i believe arent necessarilly as dangerous as prescription drugs i belive demonizing or twisting the truth about drugs in any way pro or con os more harmful and destructive than drugs themselves. regulation in quality control would guarantee those that choose to take drugs would know what there getting and end many of the deaths associated with drug od. also decrimilization opens up a free debate and dialog between parents and children hopefully. now children if there going to choose to take a drug if crimilized how likely are they to have a discussion with their parents? how can parents in an atmosphere where the federal government would have u believe that cannabis is akin to pure evil leadin to the road to hell tell there children they used? eupahmisims of experimitation with drugs and not inhaling is ok for us but not for anyone else. no wonder children dont listen and dont believe what there told there are so many lies out there that andy rational person would believe what the government dishes out. on another note id be fascinated to see how the us government would react if one of it closest allies turns its back on on their holy crusade. i hope the brits have enuf backbone and conviction to have a real and open debate and withstand the pressure that will have to come from our government. and hopefully maybe theyll tell our old war clingers on where to go barry maccaferey and all. 
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Comment #2 posted by kaptinemo on April 01, 2000 at 17:38:47 PT:
The Ripple Effect
Everyone knows that when you throw a rock into a pond, concentric waves flow outwards from the point of impact. But people keep forgetting that when the waves have touched shore, they start to flow back to the center. Sometimes in very different forms from the first waves, but they are still the same energy.The US spawned DrugWar was one such rock in the water. The ripples it has caused have led to innocent lives taken by government agents, families ripped apart, rights being diminshed, millions jailed, Billions of dollars wasted, Hundreds of millions in property stolen and sold for a pittance... need I say more? But sadly, the average cop is concerned about one thing above all, and that is SURVIVAL, so such matters of rights are of little concern to them.No, it has to hit a lot closer to home for them to act. And it looks like it has.Because now, some of those who are in the trenches on the antis side of this idiotic war are getting sick of it. They are fed up with all the rah-rah chearleading being done from the offices of political appointees whose greatest occupational hazard is the occasional (and well deserved) pie-in-the-face for stupidity. They are deeply angry at having their own lives continually threatened in a jihad with no end. They know all too well that the mathematics that worked for the French Maquis in World War Two works just as well for the dope dealer; take out one, and five take his place. And they are throwing some rocks of their own. They know it's pointless. And by doing so, they are starting to negate those earlier waves that have caused so much damage. all we have to do is hang in there; several smaller police groups in this country have already made tentaive statements to the effect that the Drugwar is too costly a mistake to let continue. Soon, the rank and file of the FOP and other organizations will be making similar statements. The leadership of those organizations will quickly realize the danger of going against the grain, and a large part of the game will be over. Because when the DrugWar troops mutiny in the trenches, who will replace them? Paper-pushers?
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Comment #1 posted by Dave in Florida on April 01, 2000 at 16:51:52 PT
Some Still Don't Get It
>If cannabis is decriminalised, what is next? Ecstasy? If that is declassified, then the dealers, who never carry more than a small number of tablets, would be let off. An important legal sanction against a dangerous drug would be lost. It would be better if it were legalized as well. Then the kids could buy E at the rave from an authorized dealer that would make sure it is a proper dosage, not adultrated, and the staff would know who is taking the drug.>Downgrading any drug and taking the penalties out of its use is sending kids the wrong signal. It tells them they don't have to worry about drugs, they are not harmful enough to be worth police action. No, it tells kids that some drugs are more harmful than others, smoking a joint is not the same at injecting heroin.>The classification of a drug is based on its potential to do harm and all drugs can do harm.'Then I guess we take all drugs out of the hospitals too then! More people are killed with legal prescription drugs in the hospital than killed by illegal drugs. By far. 
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