Believe it or not it’s 10 years ago since the start of the reefer madness V2.0 scare and it’s still being hyped by the same people. Last week saw a flood or identikit re-printing of the same press release, such as this one in the ever dependable Daily Mail

Mental health toll of skunk cannabis: Number of users admitted to hospital after smoking drug soars 50%

Now there isn’t much point in going through the argument as to why this story is a serious misrepresentation of the truth, it is but as it’s already the subject of a PCC complaint the issues have been well covered.

Let us, for a moment, take this report at face value and assume it is totally 100% accurate. Just for the sake of argument.

The claim is explained by The Mail which reported:

A 2008 Home Office survey found average concentrations of THC – the active ingredient in cannabis – of 16 per cent. But in some samples the level was much higher – up to 45 per cent.

Skunk also contains less of an anti-psychotic ingredient which moderates the harmful effects of THC. Repeated studies have shown the harmful impact on mental health of cannabis use among young people.

Now, if this is true – and it might be – it does raise an awkward question the Mail doesn’t address which is why the market for skunk came into being. One of the claims that paper is often making is that “skunk” is so much more powerful than the cannabis of old, the mild cannabis  the hippies of the 1970′s enjoyed with so little harm.

Cannabis, it is claimed, has changed in recent years and mutated into this new, dangerously damaging product. This has especially happened in the past 10 – 20 years  which is odd, because it didn’t happen at any time in the previous several thousand of years of humans using and growing cannabis.  If The Mail is right then it must mean that something has happened recently to change the economics of production and supply. What has happened to cannabis since the 1970′s that could possibly have done that?

Now we don’t have to look far for an answer to what could have changed the market for cannabis, the answer is of course the global war on drugs. The nice, safe, low potency high CBD cannabis we all enjoyed in the 1970′s (according to The Mail) was gown outdoors in large fields, such as high up in the Rift mountains of North Africa, a naturally grown crop tended by people with a tradition of cannabis growing. It was then imported to this country in ever increasing amounts up to the late 1980′s/ early 90′s when the prohibition effort which had started in the early 70′s really began to bite. Crop eradication in the producer countries, stronger customs enforcement and all the rest saw a huge drop off of in the quality of imported hash. In the early 90′s the dreadful “soap bar” contamination became a serious problem. A huge demand for a better quality product was created by the enforcement efforts and that market was satisfied by herbal cannabis grown in this country – the so called “skunk”. The fact that the British government was unaware of this market shift for about 10 years – until 2008 – should be a cause of concern, but doesn’t seem to be. So much for cannabis being a “controlled drug”!

So yes, there was a market shift from imported cannabis to home produced varieties and it was caused absolutely and without doubt by the prohibition policy, what they laughingly call an “unintended consequence”. So if what The Daily Mail says is true and cannabis has become more dangerous than it used to be, it was people like the editor of that paper – who support prohibition – who caused the very problem they now warn us of.

But that’s not all, if what The Daily Mail is warning us about is true, it blows a hole in the most basic of all claims made by prohibition supporters – that reducing the use of a drug lowers the harms caused by that use. As the government is so keen to trumpet, their policy is “working” and cannabis use is falling quite steeply. Now again, let’s not argue with that claim, it may or may not be true. But if we assume it is true than what we have now according to the government and prohibition supporters is falling use couple with increased harm. This frankly holes the prohibition policy below the watermark; falling use coupled with increased harm is the one thing that shouldn’t happen. Now of course we can point out that this lesson should have been learned with the alcohol prohibition of 1920′s America, but again, it doesn’t seem to have been.

The really pathetic thing is these people don’t realise the argument they are making against the cause they support. We as law reform campaigners need to exploit this opportunity for all its worth: Prohibition is harm maximisation.