And so as the winter nights drew in and we all got ready for the big chill, we had a heat wave, which made all the weeds grow in the part of the allotment I’d already cleared.
Back in mid September it had been a hectic time for CLEAR because of the launch of “A CLEAR Plan for the Regulation of Cannabis In Britain” (download here). As normal, these things are always held in London midweek, so I couldn’t go but the whole event had been videoed. Unfortunately various technical problems on the day meant it needed a lot of work to make it watchable, so in early October I spent several hours editing out various clicks and bangs from the soundtrack, fortunately I enjoy video editing
Back in July I had written to my MP to ask the Home Office if the government would support “Toke Pure”.Now it’s important to understand what I’d asked; it had nothing to do with cannabis law reform, simply that the government would incorporate some kind of safer use campaign into the “Talk to Frank” information, designed to stop cannabis users smoking tobacco filled joints. I had written
As you will see the cannabis law reform campaign “CLEAR” has adopted a campaign to separate the use of cannabis from tobacco , which would seem an obvious health education message for the government to be putting out to cannabis users. I would like to see this incorporated in the Frank campaign.
In Mid September I finally got the answer I was expecting – that cannabis is illegal, end of discussion. Only now it came from the Dept of Health – Anne Milton – rather than the Home Office. I replied that I wasn’t satisfied with that answer and gave some reasons, then sat down with bated breath to see what would happen.
At the start of October David Nutt – the ex head of the ACMD sacked by the last Labour Government for telling too much of the truth about cannabis published a really interesting paper called “Popular intoxicants: what lessons can be learned from the last 40 years of alcohol and cannabis regulation?” Sadly, as is so often the case the paper is hidden behind a pay wall and is not for general viewing as a result (it costs about £20 just to read it), but he concludes
The obvious conclusion is that the current legislation criminalising cannabis users is illogical as well as inhumane and may be causing much more harm than it does good.
Obviously, but why is it being kept such a secret? Why can’t we all read this?
Also early October a very interesting bit of news which the popular media ignored almost totally came in the form of another study by Stan Zammit and others at Bristol University. This provided proof – as ever there can be proof about such things – that the coveted “COMTP gene” theory wasn’t true. This is hugely big news because it demolishes one of the pillars of the reefer madness claims, specifically that 25% if the population were at a much higher risk of mental illness from cannabis because they had a faulty version of the COMPT gene. A hell of a lot has been made of this supposed increased risk in the tabloid press, especially the Daily Mail of course, but also just about every item every written or broadcast on the subject. The sensitivity of this finding was perhaps reflected in the very careful wording used to summarise the results
Cannabis increases risk of psychosis irrespective of underlying COMT genotypes. These findings argue against the widely held belief that the relative risk of developing psychosis following use of cannabis is dependent upon variation within COMT. The public health message about the potential increase in risk of psychotic disorders following cannabis use should not be tempered by reports that this harm is subgroup specific in the absence of robust evidence of replication.
They must have worked very hard to come up with that form of words. One of the big pillars of reefer madness V2 had just bitten the dust, and they knew it.
Mid October and the ACMD actually came close to recommending decriminalisation of drugs. The ACMD is the body that advises the government on drugs policy, so you can’t get much better than that:
The ACMD believe that there is an opportunity to be more creative in dealing with those who have committed an offence by possession of drugs. For people found to be in possession of drugs (any) for personal use (and involved in no other criminal offences), they should not be processed through the criminal justice system but instead be diverted into drug education/awareness courses (as can happen now with speeding motor car offenders) or possibly other, more creative civil punishments (e.g. loss of driving licence or passport).
The government was quick to respond (all together now):
We have no intention of liberalising our drugs laws. Drugs are illegal because they are harmful… blaa blaa
This prompted one comment to the effect that
The Government: a bunch of chickens. I want to make this absolutely explicit: this Government is chicken. Buk-buk-bukaaaw chicken; yellow-bellied, lily-livered, chicken. Scaredy-cats. But not just this Government; the last one too. Absolute cowards. Fraidy little weaklings.
This was in that left-wing anarcho rag, The Daily Telegraph.The only conclusion to come to given the government’s approach to drugs (not just this government, the ones before as well) is that they are either terrified of the tabloid media (especially the Daily Mail), or possibly – and in some ways much more likely – they are corrupt at a very senior level. The drugs policy owes nothing to science, to promoting social health or any of the normal goals of policy. Something is definitely “up”.
Also about this time the Frank anti drugs advertising campaign is given a facelift which includes a game called “spliff pinball”. The idea is to play a game of pinball without hitting a large brain… Now when it was launched it simply didn’t work but it has since been mended and now you can actually hit the ball with the flippers. Of course, if you hit the brain you damage it and it tells you that “you have damaged your brain” at the end of the game. Of course, the problem is cannabis does not cause brain damage. I did complain, but got no response. It’s interesting to see that Frank is now warning of a lot more drugs than he used to, a sure sign of a growing problem
Toward the end of October ex President Vicente Fox addressed the CATO Institute and added his voice to the ever-growing chorus of voices calling for an end to the war on drugs
And about then I heard from the PCC that they had upheld my complaint against the Guardian for their use of their term “Genetic modification” earlier in the year.
The biggest argument against allowing press freedom is the Daily Mail. This year has shown just how much this nasty little gutter rag (I’m being polite) has misrepresented and distorted the cannabis issue. At the end of October the paper excelled itself with a piece of reporting so far removed from reality as to be truly jaw dropping. It didn’t just get some facts wrong, it made almost everything up.
The story in question was published on 26th October, headlined “Just ONE cannabis joint ‘can bring on schizophrenia’ as well as damaging memory” – (read it here). The report concerned a study by Matt Jones and others at Bristol University entitled “Dysfunctional Prefrontal Cortical Network Activity and Interactions following Cannabinoid Receptor Activation” and can be seen in full here.
The study didn’t prove anything about cannabis and mental illness, it didn’t even use cannabis – or people. Of course, I made a complaint to the PCC…
Mid November and the return of Reefer Madness. RETHINK – the mental health charity – had another go its somewhat disastrous cannabis and mental health campaign. It was that campaign back in 2004 that the prohibition lobby hijacked and used to great effect. In the end RETHINK got nothing from it and it resulted in cannabis being degraded back to class B, something they had said they didn’t want to see happen. One of the prime movers of the original campaign was Terry Hammond, the father of a young man with psychosis. Terry was given free reign of Radio 5 live and came out with an outlandish statement
Skip through to 3 mins. Terry Hammond claims cannabis gives you brain damage that will last for the rest of your life. It doesn’t, but he wasn’t moderated by the presenter.
Also mid November I get another reply from Anne Milton regarding my request that the government runs a “Toke Pure” type campaign. In short it said “No” again, but also included the quote of the year
If … we were to advocate that people smoke cannabis without tobacco, we would be …. putting people at risk of harm
Utter, utter stupidity, but yes, she really did write that.
Never mind the fact that the government is hell-bent on prohibition, this has nothing to do with law reform, advising cannabis users to avoid tobacco is good advice for a great many reasons. If you doubt it, check out tokepure – now also on CLEAR!
I’ve requested a meeting with the minister, we’ll see if anything happens.
As November passed I had been exchanging e-mails with the PCC regarding my complaint against the Daily Mail for their fictional report about the Bristol research. Now let’s be honest, sometimes it can be considered a matter of judgement as to whether a story has been accurately reported, but on this occasion it is clear-cut. We have the research paper, it is not in doubt that the Daily Mail falsified the story, it really is clear-cut.
Well, it’s not really an update as such because nothing has happened yet. By “nothing has happened”, I mean the PCC hasn’t done anything yet, and it’s written to me to tell me it hasn’t done anything yet, and indeed may not do anything, or to be precise it claims it can’t do anything.
It claimed that as I wasn’t directly involved I had no right to complain. It was clear, basically, they didn’t want to take this one on for some reason. They held out for some time, and so did I. Eventually they agreed to look into it. I’m still waiting.
So into December and getting near the time for reflection. So much so that, as I had to take a day off work because of a strike, I settle down for a pleasant rummage through the Daily Mail’s online archive for Reefer Madness Stories Some hours later, foaming slightly at the mouth and feeling more than a little psychotic I had produced a list of some of the porky-pie stories run by the Mail over the past 10 years or so, it makes for an interesting read: The Daily Mail Reefer Madness Archive. This would be funny if not so serious; make no mistake this gutter rag is very influential and the criminal law we have today is very much the result of these stories.
And there you have it; 2011 was a very interesting year indeed. The whole issue of the war on drugs is certainly mainstream now like never before, far from going away as some may have hoped it keeps coming back, supported by ever more knowledgeable people and undeniable facts. As always though it’s met not by reasoned debate, or informed comment, but by a stonewall attitude of denial from government who seem almost alone in this firm belief in prohibition. It really is now only politicians, supported by an ever decreasing band of messianic prohibition campaigners who are keeping this deadly farce afloat.
So for 2012 we carry on. With luck CLEAR can continue its meteoric rise to become a truly influential campaign and one day, sooner or later, politicians will be forced, kicking and screaming no doubt, to realise their stupid game is up.
Happy Christmas, a peaceful new year and stand firm in the downturn.