And so another year bites the dust. although it ended with some really good news on a personal level the year has been dominated by something really nasty.
The year started with an exchange of e-mails between myself and the government, via my MP LibDem Simon Wright. The idea was to get the government to support Toke Pure, the long running UKCIA campaign to advise cannabis users not to smoke with tobacco. The argument is really very simple and easy to understand: smoking cannabis mixed with tobacco increases the risks associated with using cannabis many times. This is not claiming that using cannabis is safe, only that using it mixed with tobacco is more dangerous.
In January an exchange I had with Anne Milton in the department of Health was a real eye opener as to how stupid politicians can be
If, as Mr Williams suggests, we were to advocate that people smoke cannabis without tobacco, we would be … putting people at risk of harm.
She explained the government’s thinking
We do not agree with Mr Williams’ view that people will not stop smoking cannabis and we are taking steps, outlined in the drug strategy, “reducing demand, restricting supply, building recovery Supporting people to live a drug free life” to ensure people are better informed about the harms of using cannabis and can make the choice to not to start or to stop using cannabis.
So there you have it; our government really does believe – unlike just about everyone else – that cannabis use can and will be eradicated by the present policy. As for the LibDems and their supposedly enlightened views towards drugs, now they were in a position of influence they weren’t interested in helping me take this forward.
The previous year had seen the emergence of CLEAR cannabis law reform and by years end it was well on the way to becoming a major force in the law reform campaign. However by February it had become obvious that some people were intent on stopping this happening. A truly vile hate campaign had begun, targeting the leader of CLEAR. This became apparent over the previous Christmas break and was to escalate into something the likes of which I have never seen before, and frankly have no wish ever to see again. The beginnings of all this are explained in the linked blogand although it’s not a subject I have returned to much in this blog, it has continued to simmer, reaching a climax in the spring with the resignation of several members of the CLEAR committee, an attempt to steal the website, a series of highly personal public attacks on the leader and more besides. A “hate” website exists (no, I won’t link to it) which makes accusations of everything from racism to child abuse.
Although this doesn’t really involve UKCIA it does involve me as CLEAR website editor. Because of my position I’ve had a “privileged” (if that’s the right word) view of what’s been happening.From my perspective I am just amazed at the amount of time and effort certain people (yes, I do know who they are) have put into this disruption campaign. Several of the key players have been around the cannabis law reform effort for years and have spent much of that time in disruptive arguments amongst themselves. But the level of obsession demonstrated by these people is hard to understand and I am worried that a connection exists between the level of obsession these people demonstrate and their heavy cannabis use.
I withdrew from CLEAR for a time. Shortly afterwards things turned really nasty and CLEAR came close to being destroyed. That it survived was entirely down to Peter Reynolds, with more than a little help from a friendly IT techy and a core of supporters who stood by the campaign. I re-joined a few months later.
The real irony in all this is that over the past year CLEAR and in particular Peter Reynolds have worked tirelessly for cannabis law reform. The people leading the attack have for the most part spent far more time and effort trying to damage this campaign than they have fighting the prohibitionists, indeed they have even been undermining public campaigning by CLEAR, actually trying to wreck efforts to get the law reform message out there. It’s for that reason I doubt their motives.
CLEAR carries on however and no doubt this sore will continue to run into next year but I guess that’s just life, there’s no point in dwelling on it so we’ll move on.
While all this was going on, the wheels of government were turning with the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) looking into the effectiveness of the current drugs policy. Now some of us didn’t expect much from this, chaired as it was by Keith Vaz MP – not one of Parliaments radical free thinking boat rockers.
In April I made a submission to the HASC, more from a sense of duty than expectation. The thrust of the comments can be summed up by my first paragraph
1.1 Cannabis is classed as a “controlled substance” and prohibition as “drug control”, this is essentially a deception; the aim of prohibition is not to control drugs, but to control people. The law sets out to restrict what people are allowed to do with certain substances, even in the privacy of their own homes, it does not attempt to control drugs.
Also in April I returned to a complaint made to the Press Complaints Commission about an article in the Daily Mail in the previous October. It had taken that long to persuade the PCC to even look at the complaint. The article had claimed a study had demonstrated that one joint of cannabis could cause serious mental illness. The study showed no such thing, indeed didn’t even try to establish any such thing and didn’t even use cannabis or any compound found in cannabis. Eventually the PCC did “investigate” and ordered the Mail to make some small changes to the old article – months after publication and in such a way as to have no impact of course.
In May, the Police in the form of ACPO published a document called “The national problem profile (of the) commercial cultivation of Cannabis 2012″. As always, this was reported uncritically by the media – including the BBC.
The problem of course is the police are trying to fight the motor of capitalism, the laws of supply and demand. That is the first indication that perhaps they are just a little on the thick side if they think that all the repression in the world could hope to defeat this primal motivational force. There is money to be made, this means there will always be people willing to have a go at making that money and so there will always be cannabis cultivation.
Are the police really so thick that they honestly don’t understand this? It’s hard to believe frankly
What makes the police appear really, totally and utterly brain-dead stupid is because, apparently, they don’t seem to understand that the reason the trade is gifted to organised crime in this way is because of the regime they are bringing about. It is because the police would take out anyone who is willing to be responsible and accountable for producing cannabis that the whole trade is gifted to criminals.
Of course the police aren’t stupid, they just lie in support of the regime they have been ordered to support. The sad thing for a country that likes to believe it is run by democracy is that the media – including the trusted BBC – see their role as being the same and they also spread these lies, rather than daring to expose any of the claims to rigorous examination. If they were to do their job of course, prohibition would collapse overnight. This bias was demonstrated again a couple of weeks later
In all of this the BBC shines like a jewel in the mud; its news service and public information content are rightly regarded as the best in the world. When it comes to discussing cannabis though, all that seems to go out of the window and “aunty” becomes a weapon in the government’s arsenal of misinformation.
Two things had happened; The first was aproposal from Release that cannabis should be decrimmed – not legalised, just a tame suggestion that users shouldn’t be dragged through the legal system. The BBC reported this but added as a part of the story
Medical experts say it can cause psychological problems and smoking it can lead to diseases like lung cancer
The assumption being I suppose that prohibition in some way reduces the risk, even if the claims are true which is at least debatable?
This was followed by the BBC3 programme “free speech”,
This is democracy in action, BBC 3 style. Be very afraid.
Although the studio audience was generally supportive of law reform the usual cannabis victims were wheeled out, the level of debate was depressingly shallow and the viewer feedback we were promised was very restricted. BBC 3 is a depressingly awful TV station, a blatant vehicle for influencing the opinions of the unthinking masses. To be sure I hate BBC 3 with a passion.
In June we had the latest outrage from the British Lung Foundation – “The Impact of Cannabis on Your Lungs”. Again the BBC leaped into action
Health risks of cannabis ‘underestimated’, experts warn
But it wasn’t just the BBC, the Independent – a paper that promotes itself as a quality newspaper
Cannabis smoking poses a 20-times greater risk of lung cancer per cigarette than tobacco smoking.
This BLF report, along with the previous report 10 years previously (A smoking gun” was hardly a balance review of the evidence, yet again, the media in the UK lapped it up uncritically. The truth, of course, is somewhat different:
So we have a substance that seems to have caused no deaths and with no hard evidence of being carcinogenic according to the NHS which the British Lung Foundation claim is 20 times more dangerous than tobacco. Something is not right here and the reason seems to be that the BLF is perhaps being fundamentally dishonest about another rather important issue.
And what could that reason be?
It seems that what the Independent described as “cannabis smoking” and the BBC described as “cannabis cigarettes” is actually describing tobacco filled joints, which is still the normal way cannabis is used in the UK.
An issue the government refuses to highlight. Something stinks here, and it’s not cheese.
Also in June we saw the launch of NORML UK (NUK) NUK was formed by ex-members of CLEAR – the people who had either walked or been expelled from CLEAR. NUK still exists and is promising some big events in the new year, if or when these events happen UKCIA will be glad to promote them. Despite the bad feeling from several members of NUK over the past year, UKCIA has a link to the site on it’s activism page and it is to be hoped they grow into an effective campaign, time will tell.
One of the bombshells of the year came in July when international drug dealer and drug addict (the then) Justice Secretary Ken Clarke gave evidence to the HASC:
For the first time ever a serving senior politician has admitted the policy of the past 40 or so years has failed, which really just highlights an interesting aspect of the drug war; no serving politician before Mr Clarke has ever dared to step out of line like this, despite knowing full well what the truth is.
However, Ken didn’t think the law should change, even though he accepted it didn’t work and repeated the mantra
The Government has no intention whatever of changing the criminal law on drugs.
Ken, of course used work for BAT – British Imperial Tobacco – and is a life-long tobacco addict and apologist for that dangerously addictive carcinogenic drug and the industry it supports.
August and a new issue was added to CLEAR and UKCIA – EX-SCRA is an awareness initiative about the new development of “Legal Highs” – totally artificial chemicals that mimic the actions of the recreational drugs. Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists are chemicals that work on the same area of the brain as THC and are often sold as legal alternatives to cannabis, the chemicals often sprayed onto inert herbs to look natural. They are not THC and may well (probably do) have dangerous effects not seen with cannabis. That these substances have come about is entirely due to prohibition, another of those “unforeseen consequences” only a brain dead policy like prohibition can throw up.
Also in August drug users were represented at the HASC by Russell Brand. No, that isn’t quite what happened but it’s not far from the truth. The HASC conspicuously avoided taking any evidence from any non-problematic drug users – who are after all the vast majority of users – but did allow Russell Brand, as a n ex addict, to give his views. Keith Vaz, the chairman, certainly seemed to regard his experience as somehow typical of all drug users. Russell Brand is a high profile “celeb” figure with an (in my humble opinion) a detestable sense of humour. His contribution was possibly valid and useful, but not representative of drug users.
Late August saw an item on NUK about cannabis being a cure for cancer. Written by Jeff Ditchfield – a name known to many in the cannabis law reform movement – regarding the use of cannabis oil to cure cancer. It took the claims of Rick Simpson of Pheonix Tears and promoted oil as a sure-fire cure for cancer. Sadly, the way the forum on NUK is run meant that any criticism of the claims made was shouted down and no proper debate about the claims was possible there. But there did seem to be an obvious problem with the way the cannabis was administered – swallowed as a small blob. What transpired (eventually) following the doubts I tried to raise on the NUK forum is that cannabis oil swallowed as advised will be broken down by the digestive system if it’s not absorbed directly into the blood. Now to be effective it has to be absorbed, if it’s broken into its metabolites it is no longer an effective medicine. However oil is not water soluble and so absorption is unreliable. Because of this there is an easy to criticise problem with the claims made by NUK big enough to drive a horse and cart through. Now this does not mean that cannabis oil isn’t a cure for cancer, but it does mean that the claim of a specific dose and much of the rest of the claims made in that post are at best unreliable.
Any claim made in support of cannabis as a medicine must be able to withstand critical examination. Perhaps there is a rational argument to support the claims made on NUK, but they didn’t make them. Instead criticism is regarded as an attack on a trusted campaigner.
It was interesting to note that shortly after this Jeff Ditchfield’s name was quietly removed from the list of “Honorary members” of NUK.
In September all of us who had made written submissions were invited to a session of the HASC in London. The event started with a welcome speech from Keith Vaz who explained how drugs cause crime, wars and all the bad effects we see connected with the illegal trade around the world.
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.
Another example of the media’s agenda concerning cannabis was shown by the way a police report about the crime linked to the illegal supply of cannabis was reported
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.
Once again I made the conclusion that is hard to avoid about the police
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.
Given the way we now know the police lied over the Hillsborough tragedy and it seem the events at Orgreave during the 1984 miners strike it would seem to be par for the course. In both of those examples of course, the press promoted the police view, just as they are now doing with cannabis issues.
In October, the media made much of the 2011/12 Crime Survey for England and Wales (2nd Edition) which showed a continuing decline on the number of cannabis users in the UK. This is a a trend which has been happening for some years now, with use dropping from the high point in the early 21st century, a trend which has carried on regardless of the legal status of cannabis and probably has more to do with the falling out of favour of tobacco smoking than anything else. The move to the use of cannabis without tobacco is happening and with it people who really smoked to satisfy a tobacco craving are vanishing. The cannabis using culture is changing.
Not really a UKCIA event, but worth amention in passing November saw CLEAR’s first outing into the political field when Peter Reynolds stood in the Corby By election. In truth not a spectacular success. We expected to be ignored by the local media (and we were) but it was quite an eye-opener to discover that canvassing was next to impossible because the whole of Corby Town centre is privately owned. What contact we did manage to have with the Corby public was positive and we did make a good leaflet, but the main show in town was the battle for the seat between Labour and the Tories – Labour won and the LibDems lost their deposit. I have to say I don’t really see the point of standing in elections as a single issue candidate like this, but that’s a debate we have still to have.
November of course saw the very real bombshell of the votes in Colorado and Washington State in the US to legalise cannabis – not just for medical use but for enjoyment. Amazingly there has still been no definitive response from the White House – federal law still prohibits cannabis – and the UN drug control agency is livid. But it does look like the first big crack in the prohibition dam has happened, and in the home of prohibition, the USA as the result of a democratic vote. Truly wonderful news.
By the time the HASC reported the world seemed to have changed and their recommendation that there should be a Royal Commission into drugs policy was tame but non the less welcome.It was, of course, far too much for our government to even consider and David Cameron – who had only 10 years ago stated he wanted to see real change – dismissed the HASC advice without even reading it. A minor earth tremor happened a few days later when the deputy PM Nick Clegg became the first ever serving minister to accept the need for change, but unless something unexpected and big happens between now and the next election it would seem he and his party are history. Labour got away with saying nothing on the subject.
Lastly of course there was Breaking the Taboo, the launch of a new campaign headed by influential people to expose the futility of the drugs war. If you’ve not seen the film yet and don’t know about Breaking the Taboo, take a look here.
A final thought to perhaps give a sense of proportion: A final image taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft as it prepares to leave the solar system. Carl Sagens “Pale blue dot“, this is the Earth and everything on it, just 1 pixel big, visible through the lens flare caused by the distant sun.
Happy new year.