Upgrading falls flat, more reefer madness and a posh lady snorts.

As the media has been distracted for yet another week with the problems of the stock market it’ s been business as normal on the cannabis front. The week started with the government trying to look tough and failing badly, the Daily Mail had another go at a reefer madness story and the Times came close to discrediting the Beckley foundation report, yet somehow didn’t.

First, of course, was the announcement on Monday from Jaquie Smith of just how meaningless the reclassification of cannabis to class B is. This was actually the subject of the last newsblog entry which perhaps didn’t quite highlight how meaningless the “tough new approach” is turning out to be.

It was down to the Times to point out the problem with it’s item headed “Three strikes and out’ penalty for cannabis users falls apart“:

The approach was undermined immediately, however, when the Home Office said that warnings for a first offence would not be placed on the police national computer. This would make it difficult for police to check whether someone found with the drug was a first or second-time offender, particularly if the cannabis user was caught in a different police force area from where he or she lived.

Indeed, a warning isn’t like a caution and isn’t recorded in the same way.

But of course the people who are likely to be subjected to the later penalties are those who don’t travel around much, in other words poorer people and probably younger people.  So this new version of the law will act in a disproportionate way against young people and the less socially mobile, meaning they will more likely get the next sanction – a fine. Yeah, right.

It’s pretty easy to see the way this is going with the police being seen as judge and jury and the law being perceived as applied in an uneven and socially biased way. The potential for social unrest as a result of this is very real and if used against an identifiable minority – a minority already feeling the pressure of stop and search – we really shouldn’t be surprised if it all kicks off.

So what of the Tabloid press this PR stunt is aimed at? Following the announcement of the new beefed up enforcement regime the Daily Mail waded in with a story headed “Going soft on cannabis is the worst thing I’ve seen in 28 years’ policing, says stab horror officer“. This was a story relating to a paranoid schizophrenic who committed a murder, a sad story indeed.The Mail described in some detail how the person concerned had been using cannabis for around 10 years and how it was clearly responsible for the murder, but just mentions almost in passing

Police and paramedics reported the pungent smell of cannabis in the room and empty beer cans. (our bold)

So alcohol was involved as well, just to set the record straight because it wasn’t mentioned anywhere else in the Mail’s report.

The item makes great play of the claim that the lowering of the cannabis classification had somehow made this more likely.

Mr West was backed by Middlebrook’s father Colin Gigner, an engineer, who said: ‘Government policy should be tougher on drugs. That would have changed things. This wouldn’t have happened.’

Of course they didn’t point out that  the person concerned started his cannabis use some six years before it was moved to C – when it was a class B drug and subject the strong regime they claim would have prevented him. The policeman, Supt Andy West states:

I believe legislators need to take a look at the evidence that is starting to emerge regarding the use of cannabis, particularly as the substance has been in circulation now for some two or three generations.

During which time of course it’s been illegal, totally uncontrolled and sold by an unregulated market. Of course, we could look to countries where cannabis has been used for thousands of years before prohibition where it caused little or no problems, but such considerations don’t fit the Mail’s or Supt Andy West’s agenda.

Rather surprisingly the Mail printed an interesting comment from  Walter Mcgill in Glasgow

Munroe was a paranoid schizophrenic, that is the relevant issue here. Supt Andy Wilson is I’m sure an excellent policeman, but is certainly not an expert on mental health.

Indeed, apart from getting his name wrong that is a very valid point. The idea that a paranoid schizophrenic is going to be deterred by laws is laughable. Supt Andy West is hardly qualified to comment on such things, much less an expert.

So you would think the Mail would be cockahoop about the move back to B, well not really, the same article says about the upgrade

Critics claim it is a toothless crackdown however as this week she introduced a ‘three strikes’ policy under which only third time offenders caught with cannabis would be arrested.

Meanwhile back to the quality end of the newspaper market, Sunday 19th October, the Sunday Times comes close to having a go at discrediting the Beckley foundation report which calls for a total overhaul of the cannabis laws as we reported a couple of weeks ago in an interview with Amanda – Lady – Neidpath entitled The lady of the manor is out to bend the nation’s mind. It is, perhaps, an object lesson in how not to give interviews to the press.

For this morning we are talking about her fondness for illegal drugs. In the world of psychoactive substances, she is an acknowledged expert: her charitable trust and think tank, the Beckley Foundation, is devoted to the investigation of consciousness and the aim of reforming drug policy. Which all makes perfect sense when I discover she has spent a lifetime dabbling in mind-altering substances. As she tells me enthusiastically: “I have always considered myself my own best laboratory.”

and, talking about cannabis:

Unlike some campaigners, she doesn’t think it’s harmless – but she does think it’s a lot less bad for us than tobacco or alcohol. She snorts.

“She snorts” – think horse – the four legged type – not white powder

“She snorts. It’s a fallacy to think that after a few puffs of cannabis your child will be lost in a psychotic quagmire.” However, Neidpath points out, much of today’s cannabis has been genetically modified to be up to three times as strong as it should be. “Which needn’t be damaging, if people know how to use it,” she says.

Oh dear, once again for the record : Cannabis has not been not genetically modified, not even the killer skunk that pushers sell to children in school playgrounds. Also it’s not “three times as strong as it should be”, it might be three times stronger (in terms of THC content) than oldskool hash was, but there has always been strong cannabis. There’s no “should be” about this.

Somehow this is the sort of interview only a member of the upper crust could have got away with, it is to be hoped it doesn’t get used to undermine the excellent Beckely foundation report. Someone should give Lady Neidpath a quiet word in her shell-like about the importance of not becoming the story.

Briefly back to the big announcement from Jaquie Smith, where does all this leave the cannabis policy? Frankly as clear as mud with no-one really happy is the answer, but the government will still be spending a shed load of money to publicise the move, this at a time when budgets for all aspects of social policy will be tight and no doubt cuts will be made. Still, it’ll keep the advertising executives who run the Frank campaign happy.

What is clear is that the move to B is no more than a PR stunt, cannabis is not going to be returned to the regime it was in before the move to class C because it isn’t going to be treated in the same way as other class B drugs. The Mail isn’t going to be happy and non of us should be really.


UKCIA is a cannabis law reform site dedicated to ending the prohibition of cannabis. As an illegal drug, cannabis is not a controlled substance - it varies greatly in strength and purity, it's sold by unaccountable people from unknown venues with no over sight by the authorities. There is no recourse to the law for users and the most vulnerable are therefore placed at the greatest risk. There can be no measures such as age limits on sales and no way to properly monitor or study the trade, let alone introduce proper regulation. Cannabis must be legalised, as an illegal substance it is very dangerous to the users and society at large.

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