Continuing the review of 2011. Once the germinating season when we need rain was over, the drought ended, but it was too late for my beans. June saw a couple of real howlers, the first from MP Nadine Dorries – quite how this person managed to get elected is beyond comprehension. She said on Any questions
It seemed like every day the prohibition argument was being advanced by ever more stupid claims. This time, hoever, Peter Reynolds managed to get a word in edgeways on Any Answers
Hot on the heels of Nadine Dorries came another Tory MP, Charles Walker, who used an adjornment debate in Westminster to claim
Up and down the country, too many families are suffering the torture of watching their children squander their futures—bright children who have so much to live for ending up with so little. All too often, that is brought about by an addiction to skunk cannabis—a drug that is ruining young lives.
whereas Nadine Dorries had based her claims on information provided by the National Drug Prevention Alliance, Charles Walker quoted Mary Brett.
And John Rentoul, the author of the infamous “Cannabis Apology” in the Independent On Sunday a few years ago tried to justify his position by writing
It is a bad thing that the drugs business is in the hands of criminals. My view is that it would be a worse thing if it were legalised, and regulated or administered by the government.
UKCIA submitted comments to the Sentencing Council proposals for drug offences guidelines and, together with CLEAR, we encouraged others to send in comments as well.
Are you on Drugs? is a nasty little booklet put out by some tin-pot outfit called Data Northern Ltd . One of these booklets turned up on a drug information table run by a college Wellbeing section, although they had no idea how it got there. “Are you on drugs” is not just badly written, it contains misleading and, well, simply wrong claims. Northern Data never answered my comments sent by e-mail.
As a footnote we passed the 40th anniversary of the war on drugs, launched by “The Mad Bomber” President Richard Millhouse Nixon in 1971.
Around the time of the Summer Solstice, BBC Radio Brighton broadcast a shock horror investigation of the dope scene in Brighton. Apparently there are people selling cannabis there, and worse, people buy it. The programme trotted out the usual Reefer Madness” line and even featured Marjory Wallace, a regular favourite here. A complaint was made to the BBC, but I heard nothing.
At the end of June it began to look as if the Dutch Coffee Shops – where you can buy cannabis openly – might survive the onslaught. It’s not looking good now, but a rearguard fight is still being fought.
By the time July came around I had got involved in some of the campaigns run by CLEAR, not least of all by making complaints to the Press Complaints Commission. It was becoming obvious however there wasn’t much point. Peter Reynolds wrote
I don’t think I’m being a sore loser here but it seems to me that the PCC’s objective, actually, is to find an excuse for publishers to say whatever they want. It is absurd that not one complaint has been upheld amidst an avalanche of deceptions and inaccuracies about cannabis. I think the PCC would have been wiser to concede on even a few. As it is, their true intention is revealed.
This, of course, was to become public knowledge with the phone hacking saga and the launching of an enquiry into the PCC. Like Peter, I wasn’t having much luck either. I had complained about the article in the Scottish Sun back in May when “Professor” Neil McKeganey and Tory MP John Lamont had made comments to diss the leaflet from the Scottish NHS about cannabis and tobacco. The PCC ruled
The complainant was concerned that the opinions of the two individuals quoted in the article had been presented as fact. The Commission noted that the comments made by Professor Neil McKeganey and John Lamont were clearly presented as direct quotes and, as such, the Commission was satisfied that readers would be aware that the comments reflected their views rather than necessarily amounting to statements of fact. As such, the Commission was satisfied that comment had been clearly distinguished from fact and, as such, there was no breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code.
The two quotes had, of course, been attributed to experts in the field and as such were rather more than simple opinions.
David Raynes (he of the National Drug Prevention Alliance) wrote an article in the magazine “Addiction today” which was billed in the headline as “David Raynes Tells the Truth”
The important thing to notice about this article is that it contains no references at all to back up his argument about the dangers of cannabis or the failure or otherwise (and it does seem to be otherwise) of Portugal’s decriminalised regime. The whole article is purely and simply David Rayne’s personal unsupported views, it would have been bad if it had been carried by the Daily Mail, but to be in a supposedly respected and authoritative publication is inexcusable. If Addiction Today really does have this good reputation it clearly doesn’t deserve it.
In Mid July CLEAR adopted Toke Pure – the safer use campaign aimed at encouraging cannabis users to stop using tobacco which has been at the heart of UKCIA for the past 10 years or more. It is now a major campaign for CLEAR. It was about now I was invited to take over the running of the CLEAR website, which I agreed to think about.
Late July and the liverpool Echo ran a three part series looking at the cannabis trade. The first two installments were examples of typical tabloid reporting, where they allowed the police to claim that cannabis was a dangerous drug because of the crime associated with the trade, totally forgetting of course that this violence is caused by the regime the police are imposing on behalf of the politicians.
As one top officer has told us: “This is not harmless, it is not ‘just a bit of cannabis’, it is organised crime and it is bringing firearms onto our streets.” We should be under no illusion – cannabis is a harmful drug, in more ways than one. This is why the police need help from the public – because keeping cannabis off our streets will also help keep guns off our streets.
Several of us complained in no uncertain terms and the third installment features Peter Reymolds as a result. Although still not ideal reporting, it did report:
Author Peter Reynolds, leader of Clear, says ending the prohibition completely and bringing in a fully taxed and regulated system for the sale of cannabis would put a stop to many of the problems the police and society are facing. Mr Reynolds said: “The prohibition of cannabis, one of the least toxic therapeutically active substances known to man, leads to crime.
We really were starting to get the law reform case heard.
Around this time Amy Winehouse died and the press were ready to do another drugs shock horror series of reporting. In the event – and after along delay it was revealed Amy died because of Alcohol. At the end of July The Daily Mail ran a story which tried to claim Amy’s death, although caused by alcohol, was the result of her cannabis use
But, of course, it is not just drink. Amy was proud of the fact she started smoking cannabis at the age of 13. A year later, she started writing songs, and cannabis was part of the creative process — and part of being a modern, uninhibited woman.
Tragically, any number of her fans agreed. Even though countless scientific papers have shown cannabis can lead to schizophrenia. Even though research in the online scientific journal Neuro- psychopharmacy shows conclusively that cannabis is a gateway drug to heroin, cocaine and crack — all of which Amy Winehouse became addicted to.
Ten years after she had her first joint, and within three weeks of her marriage, Amy had a near-fatal heroin overdose.
“Neuro- psychopharmacy” doesn’t exist and no research shows cannabis to be a gateway drug to cocaine. Some studies on rats indicate a possible causal role for heroin addiction, but others do not and there are no human studies, yet the Mail allowed Amanda Patel to write this rubbish and the PCC refused to support a complaint about it.
Then in early August London and other UK cities erupted in violent riots, how much of this was caused by he hopelessness of inner city life? Of unemployment and the chance of easy money through drug dealing? The LibDems proposed a new drug strategy based on the Portugal regime
The Government to immediately establish an independent panel tasked with carrying out an Impact Assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, to properly evaluate, economically and scientifically, the present legal framework for dealing with drugs in the United Kingdom.
The other parties, of course, rushed to distance themselves from any chance of drug law reform. If things carry on as they are now though, the LibDems will be toast at the next election so don’t get hopes up too high.
Mid August and the Guardian joined in the Reefer Madness hype, claiming the old chestnut that cannabis is “genetically modified”. This time a complaint to the PCC was upheld and the paper backed down and made it clear that selective breeding is not genetic modification. I took over the CLEAR website as editor.
Towards the end of August the NHS came out with a document called A “summary of the health harms of drugs”. The cannabis section was interesting partly because it consisted in large part of a list of things cannabis doesn’t do, but also because it provided us with a quote to support the claim that cannabis has never killed anyone
••no cases of fatal overdose have been reported ••no confirmed cases of human deaths
They could have phrased it in a more honest way, but after several thousand years “no recorded cases of human death is pretty close to accepting “no deaths”. They also accpted that there is
••no conclusive evidence that cannabis causes cancer
They must have tried very hard to find a form of words that gave a different impression. Somewhere along the line responsiblity for cannabis information had moved from the Home Office to the Department of Health, that could yet be a significant move, although the NHS has a dubious website giving somewhat different information.
Mid September and CLEAR launches its proposal for a regulated and taxed regime for cannabis in Parliament, underpinned by a study from the Independent Drugs Monitoring Unit into how much tax revenue a legalise regime might be expected to produce. A high-profile event it got, of course, no press coverage whatsoever. But this is what I wanted to see a Cannabis law reform outfit doing
And so we begin the slow slide into winter