An interesting narrative seems to be developing anew; drugs – and especially cannabis – are responsible for increasing levels of violence in society.

Last Monday (10th September) I attended the Home Affairs Select committee (HASC) Drugs inquiry meeting at Portcullis House in Westminster, London. The meeting was advertised as an “International Conference on Drug Policy” and, while it did feature some discussion on this aspect, it actually concentrated to a large extent on how domestic policy should develop and what to do about cannabis was a major issue, all very encouraging. This, however, is against the background of a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts.

The conference was opened by the chairman Keith Vaz MP who, in his welcoming speech made the claim in no uncertain terms that “drugs” were the cause of a great deal of social harm today. We were told that “drugs” are at the root of organised crime, increased levels of violence and are responsible for much unrest around the world, including the development of “Narco states” dominated by the trade.

First we did our best to listen to a presentation by a military man from Colombia – Director General of the Policía Nacional de Colombia Major General Leónwho – who spoke in Spanish through an interpreter who really didn’t do a very good job. The presentation outlined how the Narco trade is responsible for huge amounts of environmental destruction and social unrest, without once mentioning the role of prohibition in bringing this situation about.

After this presentation we had the first opportunity for the audience to make comments and it fell to me at to highlight the obvious point that all – and I do mean all – of the socially damaging effects attributed to drugs mentioned by Keith Vaz in his opening remarks are not in fact caused by the drugs, but by the regime of prohibition which has created the whole mess. It was a point that went down quite well in the room, but I’m not sure Mr Vaz understood it – or perhaps didn’t want to understand it. It was also blatantly obvious that the wars going on in Columbia, Mexico and other countries are also a direct result of the prohibition policy, but of course, that wasn’t acknowledged.

But this past week has seen an increase in the spreading of this essential lie about the cause of “drug crimes”, which in fact highlight the very serious mess we are in because of prohibition – and it’s all because of cannabis, honest.

The police – in the shape of Merseyside’s Assistant Chief Constable Andy Ward – have been putting out a story to a depressingly uncritical media  all week concerning gang crime on Merseyside and how it is all caused by cannabis. This story has been carried without critical examination by much of the press including the Guardian, The Independent and – or course – The Daily Mail. The Guardian did eventually allow comments about the article on its website (although on the day it was news none were allowed) and the vast majority were critical, The Daily Mail allowed some through and although they were heavily filtered even here many made the point that prohibition is the cause. The Independent to its shame has not allowed any feedback from its readers.

What has actually happened of course is the cannabis supply industry has been driven into the arms of organised crime, in no small part thanks to the police enforcement of prohibition. As the police seem to understand the trade is hugely profitable and very easy to run. As the Independent article claims

Police estimate that when harvested four times a year, 25 cannabis plants – enough to fit on an average-sized kitchen table – can generate an annual turnover of £40,000. The lure of easy money and the burgeoning demand for super-strong home-grown is fuelling a rise in serious crime.

Given the huge demand it’s not difficult to sell for around £10 a gram,  an easy mark-up producing the sort of cash flow the legal economy can’t hope to compete with – all because it is illegal.

I should add at this point that there does exist another type of cannabis grower – the “hobby grower” – who produces a crop for his or her own use and not for profit, there are also quite a few people who grow a crop for medical use either by themselves or others. There people are not involved in organised crime, but the suspicion is they are the sort of people the police target because they’re easy to take out and any grow-op raid ticks the “cannabis farm” box.

But lets take a step back and look at how we got to the situation we are in now, and to do that we can return to the HASC conference last week, in particular to the presentation by a representative from Morocco (who wasn’t listed in the programme they sent out) who explained how Morocco has been very successful at its programme of cannabis eradication as required by the international prohibition treaties – and there’s no doubt that it has been. What this has meant is that the cannabis supply in the UK which had traditionally come from that country, grown as a cash crop by traditional methods for centuries, changed in the mid-1990’s. This Moroccan hash of course was the “harmless, mild hippy cannabis” the prohibition lobby constantly explain is no longer available. It was high in CBD and, frankly, very nice indeed.

It was around 1994 or so hash gained a bad reputation for contamination;”Soap bar” became a by-word for stuff to avoid. It was into this vacuum that the new home growing industry stepped and it really shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to anyone who understands the laws of supply and demand that it happened. By the end of the 1990’s herbal cannabis was everywhere, it was a far higher quality product than the old Soap bar and the market shift was pretty well universal. The fact that it wasn’t until nearly 10 years later that the Home Office Cannabis Potency Study officially acknowledged the change illustrates the total lack of control over the cannabis trade only too well.

The point to emphasise is that the prohibition campaign to eradicate cannabis in Morocco sowed the seeds for the UK cannabis growing industry. This is what prohibition supporters – and with a straight face – call an “unintended consequence”; it’s at the root of the “skunk scare”, where prohibition supporters warn of the “changed nature” of cannabis since the days of the  “harmless, mild hippy cannabis”. The prohibition lobby may have a point that home produced cannabis is lower in CBD than tradition hash from Morocco, but they are strangely reluctant to admit that they caused the market shift .

So it came to be that the cannabis growing industry became established. At first it really was an easy way to make money and a lot of people did. For a while the cannabis growing industry was something fairly open if still underground. It was fairly easy to rent out a warehouse or a barn somewhere, kit it out and watch the money role in. Of course two things happened fairly quickly; organised criminals got in on the action and the police closed down the “low hanging fruit” of easy to find grow ops. As the police raids intensified, the trade was forced ever more into the hands of those willing to invest in “protection” while at the same time profits were increased due to higher street prices.This perfect storm has lead to the turf wars and gun battles Merseyside’s Assistant Chief Constable Andy Ward is facing, an own goal of tragic proportions which have created a situation more than a little reminiscent of the days of Al Capone. The Guardian reported:

Residents in Norris Green, Liverpool, have first-hand experience of the devastating consequences of gun crime. In the early hours of 13 June, Joseph Thompson, 32, was shot and killed opposite Scargreen sports ground.

It should be mentioned of course that unlike Capone’s 1920’s America, no-one is dying in gun battles over the Liverpool off licence trade. The reason for that is simple: Alcohol is a legally traded, controlled drug and cannabis isn’t.

Perhaps it’s because he is a policeman but the only way forward Andy Ward can see is to dig his way out of a hole with ever more repressive laws and that is what he is calling for, despite the obvious cause of all the problems he’s dealing with being the prohibition regime he is trying to uphold. The Daily Mail reported

Shootings were increasingly linked to cannabis deals, he added, as he appealed for courts to hand out tougher punishments.

Judging from Andy Ward’s understanding of things it does seem the police are really stupid, but obviously they’re not – you don’t get into a job like that if you’re really thick, you get there by toeing the line and that is what he is doing. Because of that the police are a part of a conspiracy to mislead, to give a knowingly false explanation of the problem in an attempt to conceal the situation they and their political masters  have caused. It’s has to be either incredible stupidity or deliberate deception, and these people are not stupid.

All this is made much worse by a press which seems content to reprint police press releases as gospel truth, with no critical examination whatsoever, just as they did in the Hillsborough tragedy we’ve heard so much about this week which has now been shown to have been a huge police cover-up. The fact that the HASC which has been investigating the whole sorry mess for the best part of a year is also willing to misrepresent the situation so willfully is deeply worrying and perhaps indicates the true source of this deception; central government.

The prohibition lobby is pushing hard against the growing demands for law reform and it seems they have powerful friends in high places.There’s no doubt the stakes are high and getting higher, a climb-down from the mantra of prohibition – even just for cannabis – now would take a lot with it and a lot of powerful people would suddenly lose their power base.

The chances of having a drugs policy based on real evidence and an honest presentation of the facts is depressingly small. Reality, however, can be a stubborn opponent.