The Guardian is usually one of the few newspapers that can be trusted to at least have a go at being objective in its news reports, normally it is a million miles away from the rabid drooling of the Daily Mail or the brain dead moronic ranting of the Sun. Ordinarily we would have expected either of these two “news”papers to print the claims of genetically engineered cannabis  being something totally unlike cannabis of old, it just isn’t the sort of thing the Guardian would ever do. Sadly a couple of days ago, the Guardian did its bit to spread the reefer madness prohibition lies.

The offending article was entitled “New improved cannabis, now with genetic modifications” (read it here) on 16th August 2011 and is actually a reprint of an article ran  in Le Monde (the original being in French). The story began with the tired old claim

Times change and cannabis is no exception, with the arrival of genetically modified grass.

Now this is something we’ve covered before on this blog, but just to be utterly clear: No cannabis is genetically modified. GM is the process of altering the genetic structure of a plant by artificial means such as the inclusion of genes from another species. This has never been done with cannabis at any time. What has been done is an age old agricultural process known as “selective breeding”, which means growing plants from crops selected for certain properties, in the case of so-called “skunk” cannabis this means the ability to grow fast under the specific conditions of indoor grow rooms and to produce a large, potent, product as a result.

Selective breeding is not genetic engineering, although it may be correct to call it genetic selection. The genes in so-called “skunk” are cannabis genes, the product it makes is pharmacologically identical to any other cannabis plant, because it is cannabis. Genetic selection through selective breeding is the method used to create all the farmed crops and animals we eat, it is a very old and well understood traditional agricultural process.

The paper goes on the claim

An all-natural product with a low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content is a thing of the past. “In just a few years we have moved from 3% or 4% THC contained in natural cannabis to concentrations closer to 10%, sometimes even 30%, with GM plants,” Thierry explains. These substances bear no relation to what people were smoking in the 1970s.

It may be true that intensively grown herbal cannabis has a higher potency (ie hight THC/CBD ratio) than the imported naturally grown hashish we used to get from North Africa, but it is not true to claim it bears “no relation” to cannabis of old. There has always been strong, high potency cannabis available and North African hash – nice as it was – is not typical of “traditional” cannabis.

This whole story was a reprint of a French police statement. It’s claims were reproduced with no checking and absolutely no critical examination. It was presented as a factual news report, not an opinion piece and as such falls well below the standard we should accept from even the gutter press, let alone the supposedly quality end of the media.

It is interesting however to see the recent developments in France, which has far worse draconian laws against cannabis than we do in the UK. France is seeing a strong growth in the cannabis law reform movement and as a result, the authorities and media are only now playing the reefer madness card, something of course that happened here almost 10 years ago. The fact that the Guardian reprinted this nasty example of Le Monde police propaganda as a news story without any critical analysis can only be seen as an attempt to undermine the growing law reform movement both here and in France.

The following complaint has been sent to the Press Complaints Commission:

______________________________________
I make this complaint on my own behalf and also as the editor of http://www.ukcia.org, a cannabis law reform website.

New improved cannabis, now with genetic modifications – The Guardian 16th August 2011-08-18

I wish to complain about this article which was reprinted from Le Monde without critical comment. This was a news item reported as fact and not a commentary or opinion piece which is misleading and factually incorrect.

The article concerns the “new” form of cannabis on sale in France; the paper claims

“Times change and cannabis is no exception, with the arrival of genetically modified grass”.

Cannabis is not “genetically modified”, it is a product of selective breeding, an entirely different process. GM is defined as (here)

An organism whose genetic characteristics have been altered by the insertion of a modified gene or a gene from another organism using the techniques of genetic engineering.

Selective breeding is an entirely different process which  is essentially entirely natural and does not involve the modification of genes or the insertion of genes from another organism. Selective breeding is the method used to produce everything we grow on farms and has been so for many centuries.

The report goes on to claim

An all-natural product with a low tetrahydrocannabinol  (THC) content is a thing of the past. “In just a few years we have moved from 3% or 4% THC contained in natural cannabis to concentrations closer to 10%, sometimes even 30%, with GM plants,” Thierry explains. These substances bear no relation to what people were smoking in the 1970s.

This is untrue and factually inaccurate:

1: Cannabis grown under modern intensive conditions is pharmacologically identical to “naturally” grown cannabis, the chemicals it contains are identical.

2: The only difference between the hashish traditionally imported from North Africa and so-called “skunk” cannabis is the ratio of the active chemicals, especially THC and CBD. But that is not a new thing, very strong cannabis high in THC and low in CBD has always existed. North African hashish is not representative of all “naturally grown” cannabis.

2: The statement that “These substances bear no relation to what people were smoking in the 1970s” is simply untrue.

The report states

“Things have changed so much the Dutch authorities are considering putting cannabis back on the list of hard drugs In the streets of Amsterdam, where punters can buy and consume cannabis in the renowned coffee shops, trade in locally produced substances outstrips imported goods”.

Again, this is not true. There have been calls for some of the higher potency “skunks” to be restricted from sale in the coffeeshops, but this is not intended to apply to all cannabis. Indeed, it is only because the Dutch have the coffeeshops that they can even consider regulating the strength of potency of the cannabis on sale.

This article was in fact no more than a reprint of French police mis-information and propaganda and no attempt was made to draw the reader’s attention to this fact. This information was not presented in the item, resulting in bias.

It is highly irresponsible for the Guardian to reprint such blatant misinformation about an issue as important as drugs and this item can only be seen as an attempt to undermine the growing law reform movement both here and in France. It is an example of what has become known as “reefer madness V2” scaremongering and as such breaches the Editors’ Code Of Practice clause 1.i) in that it publishes inaccurate, misleading and distorted information..

I demand a retraction of this item and a clarification of the issue of “GM” and selective breeding of cannabis from the Guardian.

Sincerely

Derek Williams