Talking about Cannabis is a website campaign run by one Debra Bell from South London. The stated aims of the organisation are set out on the website:
to provide, and stimulate debate on, cannabis prevention education and treatment, using sound scientific and medical evidence, with special emphasis on ‘skunk’ cannabis in relation to children and teenagers
The grammar is a bit strange which is odd seeing as Ms Bell claims to be a writer, but it’s clear enough in its claims. However, the true aim of TAC is quite simple; it’s a prohibition campaign. Whilst it promises to stimulate the debate on “Prevention” (prohibition) and all the rest by drawing on “sound scientific and medical evidence”, that’s something it in fact fails to do quite spectacularly.
The “Cannabis and Drug Education Advisor” is one Mary Brett. Ms Brett is well known amongst people interested in drug law reform as one of the core members of “Europe Against Drugs” (EURAD), long term campaigners for prohibition and against law reform. Mary Brett wrote in 2001
1.1 As a biology teacher and head of health education of 27 years in a large State Grammar School for Boys, I have watched with mounting alarm the growing clamour for the decriminalisation of cannabis. My main concern is how cannabis affects the brain, particularly the processes of learning and memory and the personality of the user. I have witnessed these detrimental effects in some of my pupils.
1.2 Decriminalisation would inevitably increase use—it always does! Even if use were restricted to the over 18s, (cannabis like alcohol is an intoxicant), school children would still be targeted, and access would be made easier for them through older siblings. Surely under-age drinking has taught us something!
There can be no doubt that Mary Brett has an agenda, that of opposing drug law reform. Her certainty that decriminalisation would “inevitably increase use” is, of course, not born out by any proper scientific study or actual experience of the real world. It also ignores the issues concerning the harm maximisation effects of prohibition (contamination, lack of regulation of the trade and the operation of the illegal trade). We present this one small example as an illustration of Ms Bretts approach to science and leave it at that for now, feel free to read her “Facts” about cannabis as provided on the TAC website.
Ms Brett may have been a good teacher, but she is not a “scientific expert”. As TAC bases its “information” campaign around her writings it’s claims to be facutally based is laughable.
Incidentally a quick search for Mary Brett throws up a blog which has quite a lot to say about her fitness for this position of scientific adviser and her approach to science generally. It would be interesting to see a proper review of the Talking About Cannabis website information by, perhaps, Release or Lifeline. Indeed, this is overdue and should have happened by now.
Debra Bell first came to prominence some time ago in of all places, the Guardian, who serialised her “Cannabis Diaries“, in which she described the breakdown of her relationship with her son which she ascribed to his cannabis use. The diaries are all online on the TAC website, suffice it to say they are written from Ms Bells perspective and do a pretty good job of demonising her son (who she names and fully identifies throughout) and exposing the inner failings of her family. There isn’t really much to say about The Cannabis Diaries other than one comment: They are a good example of how not to deal with a young person with a potential drug problem, they show no consideration to his dignity or his right to privacy.
It is, therefore, somewhat disturbing to hear that Talking About Cannabis is to launch a “Helpline” service. As it announces on it’s website
24/7 Family Support Line begins Monday 12 January 2009
The number: 0844 335 1506
Staffed by fully-trained volunteers this is a free, confidential, round-the-clock service for anyone whose lives have been affected by cannabis. You don’t have to struggle on alone, call us now to share your concerns and receive support. We look forward to hearing from you.
Now this raises a whole series of issues and questions. We are, after all, potentially looking at people with serious issues in desperate need of sound advice here. They will be given “expert information” compiled by Mary Brett, no doubt along with the prohibition message Talking About Cannabis promotes. The potential harm this could cause is clear.
Is this something the drugs advice industry should tolerate? Organisations like Lifeline, HIT and Release have spent years learning how to deal with difficult issues, is Talking About Cannabis really a fit and proper outfit to be giving such advice?
UKCIA would like to ask people to phone into the TAC helpline and ask for information concerning cannabis, such as how to deal with young people who are using, how to give advice to them, what exactly is the relationship between cannabis and mental illness and so on. Ask these questions in a polite way, make a note of the answers you’re given and tell us what they are.
Please don’t phone the number to spam it, or to argue with the people working it, that would be pointless and probably counterproductive.
We need to gather information about this outfit and if it is giving dangerous or inappropriate advice as we suspect it will, it will need to be exposed. Of course, if it turns out to give sound advice UKCIA would be delighted to help pubicise it, pigs may become aerodynamic, you never know.