Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The dreaded weed

On a day when it was revealed that two-and-a-half bottles of wine a week (note: - not a night) could "save your life" comes important news about cannabis. The Times had a front page lead story today suggesting that the Government is going to press ahead and re-classify cannabis as a Class B drug, despite pressure from its own advisory group that would like the drug to be decriminalised.

I have to say that I'm old-fashioned on the subject of cannabis, taking the view that by eventually reducing the legal status of cannabis to that of tobacco, say, we would have to become accustomed to children getting stoned much in the way that some 10 - 12 year olds routinely try out tobacco now. I've always thought that that prospect would be unacceptable to the vast majority of people in this country.

My social work practice over the last 16 years has reinforced my opposition - I've worked with teenagers and young adults who've had their mental health shattered by exposure to cannabis. Depression, bipolar syndrome and schizophrenia can result. Medical research backs this up.

So for me, a reclassification can't come soon enough. What do you think?


Jonny Wright said...

Three quick points:

1. Since declassification to Class C, cannabis use has decreased significantly amongst young people. Don't you think the Blunkett policy is actually working? If you want to see fewer people using cannabis, why not stick with it? Unless you think you can make a good case for cannabis use decreasing even further after reclassifying to Class B, then this is just gesture politics, and counterproductive gesture politics at that.

2. What's the point of the Government wasting everyone's time and money with the Advisory Council, if they've already decided what they're going to do? It's pointless having a review if the idea is to overrule it anyway if it comes up with the "wrong" answer.

3. Cannabis may well be linked to mental health problems. But there's a crystal clear link between smoking tobacco and dying of lung cancer. Despite that, we trust adults to decide for themselves if the enjoyment they get from smoking is worth the risk or not. It must be desperately sad, as a social worker, seeing people whose lives have been wrecked, and I sympathise - but it just isn't the job of the state to protect people from themselves.

Whilst we're on the subject of people's lives being wrecked, think of the number of young people who have been expelled from school, dragged through the courts and given a criminal record for committing a victimless crime like having a quiet spliff behind the bike sheds. Don't they deserve a bit of sympathy as well? With Class C, they get their weed taken off them and told to move on. With Class B, they face prison. Are you sure that's a positive change in the law?

Anonymous said...

Prohibition simply does not work.
So what are the alternatives?
De-criminalisation would free a staggering amount police resources to deal with other issues.

While there is a profit to be made, drugs will be bought and sold illegally.

Darlington Councillor said...

Thanks both of you for your comments.

I'd reply as follows;

(1)I understand that cannabis use amongst young people has declined. I'm not sure that any studies have demonstrated that this is because of decriminalisation. Isn't more likely that the message about the health dangers of cannabis are filtering through? If there has been a decline, then conversely this might be a good time to re-criminalise - seat belt law here is a pointer, and the way in which it was introduced.

(2) Just because there is an Advisory Council, doesn't mean that its advice has to be followed. It's for elected representatives to weigh up all the evidence, and then act. After all, it's the politicians and not the experts who are publicly accountable at the ballot box.

(3) You're right, tobacco and alchol wreck lives and certainly affect people's health. They are however legal drugs and have been so since they were introduced. Whilst a ban might be very desireable on public grounds, it would of course be completely impractical. Cannabis, however, like the other Class B and Class C drugs does not enjoy such status. Simply because there are some "legal" drugs out there is not a reason for creating a free-for-all as far as the likes of cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin are concerned.

I think you're on stronger ground with your worries about the impact of criminalising young people as a result of using cannabis. Of course, calling it a "quiet spliff" makes it sound very humdrum - as we now know, cannabis can be addictive, and a typical user may use cannabis regularly, suffering from its effects. Where to draw the line, however? - for sure I would hope that the Police concentrate on the dealers who prey on children and vulnerable adults. But if society is sending a clear message that cannabis is harmful and its use unacceptable, then it has to be outlawed. One of the problems of the current position is that the law is confusing, and people often do not know where they stand as far as cannabis is concerned - that's why I welcome a change which clarifies things, whilst also tightening the law up.