Gordon Brown, the prime minister, is showing himself to be a walking disaster area with a whole series of what can only be described as “cock-ups” of late. Well, here’s another one: Cannabis Reclassification.
This blog has already mentioned the upcoming review of the classification of cannabis under the Misuse of Drugs Act (To B or not to B), but what few if any realised was the exquisite timing of it all. In what must count as one of the most inept examples of political timing in history the ACMD is due to report tomorrow, April 28th. Why is this inept? Because it’s just four days before the local elections due on Thursday.
It was widely assumed that Brown had referred the classification issue back to the ACMD – the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs – in an effort to defuse the issue over the period of the planned general election campaign – the one we didn’t have late last year that is. The Tories were threatening to make an issue of it and Brown repeated the trick last played only a couple of years before by Charles Clarke when he was Home Secretary, he kicked it into the long grass by referring it to the ACMD.
What he clearly didn’t foresee was that the ACMD would report just before the local elections, although quite why he didn’t realise this is anyone’s guess. Perhaps he thought the issue was clear cut and the ACMD would simply agree with the reports in the rabid tabloid press and recommend class B again. Indeed, the government even tried to load the issue this time by instructing the ACMD to take public opinion into account – opinion based, as they put it, on “reports”.
The ACMD report has already been leaked of course, and the leak is no surprise to any of us drug law reform nerds. The ACMD has already looked at this issue twice, it was hardly likely to dredge up some new facts to make it change its mind. These guys are after all highly respected scientists, not tabloid newspaper editors.
The prohibition lobby is coming out in force in the run-up to the reports publication, with the prohibition crazy Daily Mail running a scare story headed “Mental illnesses goes up after cannabis downgrade“. An interesting story this, apparently providing stats which show a huge increase in mental illness since cannabis was made class C. All the paper had to say about the source of the statistics were that:
The figures were made available for MPs in advance of the publication next week of a Government advisers’ report on whether cannabis should be upgraded again, so that those caught with the drug are at greater risk of arrest and punishment.
No source for the figures was given, just that they were made available. The Mail goes on to admit that
The decision is understood to have been made on the basis of research by one of the Council’s own members which says there have been significant recent reductions in the prevalence of schizophrenia and psychosis.
But then adds:
But the new figures suggest otherwise and indicate a powerful link between the reduction in the criminal seriousness of cannabis and the spread of mental illness.
Of course they do nothing of the sort, and actually they’re not even new. These claims were first made in the Daily Telegraph back in January this year (Abuse of cannabis puts 500 a week in hospital) and which was soundly trashed by Drugscope shortly after.
So what made the Mail run this work of fiction? Of course, they were given the story by a lobby group. There now exists a group operating within Parliament with the emotive title of the “All Party Parliamentary Group on Cannabis and Children” which next meets tomorrow, Monday 28th April. This group is the creation of one Debra Bell. Debra Bell has been running a fact-free website for some time called “Talking about cannabis”, claiming to be the mother of a kid driven off the rails by his cannabis use. Do a google for “Talking About Cannabis” and you will find this grubby little site for yourself.
But Debra Bell is well connected and has influential friends which is why she has been able to have such influence on MP’s and the media.
Not everyone is happy about this situation however. Helen Sello who runs the cannabis-hm blog has written
I have emailed 4 times asking if I can come to this meeting . Emails to Debra Bell of Talking about Cannabis, Graham Brady and to the contact email on Debra Bells site (which bounced)
I was ignored; no one even had the decency to tell me to bugger off The only answer I got was from Graham Brady’s secretary who said she had passed my email to Debra Bell who is doing the administration for the group.
So there we have it, a powerful lobby group of prohibitionists all goading Gordon to do what he said he wants to do – as Debra Bell herself so aptly put it in the Daily Telegraph – “Ignore the experts and reclassify cannabis”.
If he does, Gordon Brown will have trashed any remaining claim the government may have that its drug policy is in any way evidence based. It will be shown quite nicely in fact that prohibition isn’t based on sound science or demonstrable logic, but on prejudice and the demands of the tabloid press.
So he won’t say anything and the report won’t be made public until after the elections in an effort to keep it off the headlines till the votes are cast. You can bet the meeting of “All Party Parliamentary Group on Cannabis and Children” will be reported however.
The real irony of all this is the one group of people this is all supposed to be about – cannabis users – couldn’t care less what class it’s in.