Guardian joins in the GM reefer madness

The Guardian is usually one of the few newspapers that can be trusted to at least have a go at being objective in its news reports, normally it is a million miles away from the rabid drooling of the Daily Mail or the brain dead moronic ranting of the Sun. Ordinarily we would have expected either of these two “news”papers to print the claims of genetically engineered cannabis  being something totally unlike cannabis of old, it just isn’t the sort of thing the Guardian would ever do. Sadly a couple of days ago, the Guardian did its bit to spread the reefer madness prohibition lies.

The offending article was entitled “New improved cannabis, now with genetic modifications” (read it here) on 16th August 2011 and is actually a reprint of an article ran  in Le Monde (the original being in French). The story began with the tired old claim

Times change and cannabis is no exception, with the arrival of genetically modified grass.

Now this is something we’ve covered before on this blog, but just to be utterly clear: No cannabis is genetically modified. GM is the process of altering the genetic structure of a plant by artificial means such as the inclusion of genes from another species. This has never been done with cannabis at any time. What has been done is an age old agricultural process known as “selective breeding”, which means growing plants from crops selected for certain properties, in the case of so-called “skunk” cannabis this means the ability to grow fast under the specific conditions of indoor grow rooms and to produce a large, potent, product as a result.

Selective breeding is not genetic engineering, although it may be correct to call it genetic selection. The genes in so-called “skunk” are cannabis genes, the product it makes is pharmacologically identical to any other cannabis plant, because it is cannabis. Genetic selection through selective breeding is the method used to create all the farmed crops and animals we eat, it is a very old and well understood traditional agricultural process.

The paper goes on the claim

An all-natural product with a low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content is a thing of the past. “In just a few years we have moved from 3% or 4% THC contained in natural cannabis to concentrations closer to 10%, sometimes even 30%, with GM plants,” Thierry explains. These substances bear no relation to what people were smoking in the 1970s.

It may be true that intensively grown herbal cannabis has a higher potency (ie hight THC/CBD ratio) than the imported naturally grown hashish we used to get from North Africa, but it is not true to claim it bears “no relation” to cannabis of old. There has always been strong, high potency cannabis available and North African hash – nice as it was – is not typical of “traditional” cannabis.

This whole story was a reprint of a French police statement. It’s claims were reproduced with no checking and absolutely no critical examination. It was presented as a factual news report, not an opinion piece and as such falls well below the standard we should accept from even the gutter press, let alone the supposedly quality end of the media.

It is interesting however to see the recent developments in France, which has far worse draconian laws against cannabis than we do in the UK. France is seeing a strong growth in the cannabis law reform movement and as a result, the authorities and media are only now playing the reefer madness card, something of course that happened here almost 10 years ago. The fact that the Guardian reprinted this nasty example of Le Monde police propaganda as a news story without any critical analysis can only be seen as an attempt to undermine the growing law reform movement both here and in France.

The following complaint has been sent to the Press Complaints Commission:

I make this complaint on my own behalf and also as the editor of, a cannabis law reform website.

New improved cannabis, now with genetic modifications – The Guardian 16th August 2011-08-18

I wish to complain about this article which was reprinted from Le Monde without critical comment. This was a news item reported as fact and not a commentary or opinion piece which is misleading and factually incorrect.

The article concerns the “new” form of cannabis on sale in France; the paper claims

“Times change and cannabis is no exception, with the arrival of genetically modified grass”.

Cannabis is not “genetically modified”, it is a product of selective breeding, an entirely different process. GM is defined as (here)

An organism whose genetic characteristics have been altered by the insertion of a modified gene or a gene from another organism using the techniques of genetic engineering.

Selective breeding is an entirely different process which  is essentially entirely natural and does not involve the modification of genes or the insertion of genes from another organism. Selective breeding is the method used to produce everything we grow on farms and has been so for many centuries.

The report goes on to claim

An all-natural product with a low tetrahydrocannabinol  (THC) content is a thing of the past. “In just a few years we have moved from 3% or 4% THC contained in natural cannabis to concentrations closer to 10%, sometimes even 30%, with GM plants,” Thierry explains. These substances bear no relation to what people were smoking in the 1970s.

This is untrue and factually inaccurate:

1: Cannabis grown under modern intensive conditions is pharmacologically identical to “naturally” grown cannabis, the chemicals it contains are identical.

2: The only difference between the hashish traditionally imported from North Africa and so-called “skunk” cannabis is the ratio of the active chemicals, especially THC and CBD. But that is not a new thing, very strong cannabis high in THC and low in CBD has always existed. North African hashish is not representative of all “naturally grown” cannabis.

2: The statement that “These substances bear no relation to what people were smoking in the 1970s” is simply untrue.

The report states

“Things have changed so much the Dutch authorities are considering putting cannabis back on the list of hard drugs In the streets of Amsterdam, where punters can buy and consume cannabis in the renowned coffee shops, trade in locally produced substances outstrips imported goods”.

Again, this is not true. There have been calls for some of the higher potency “skunks” to be restricted from sale in the coffeeshops, but this is not intended to apply to all cannabis. Indeed, it is only because the Dutch have the coffeeshops that they can even consider regulating the strength of potency of the cannabis on sale.

This article was in fact no more than a reprint of French police mis-information and propaganda and no attempt was made to draw the reader’s attention to this fact. This information was not presented in the item, resulting in bias.

It is highly irresponsible for the Guardian to reprint such blatant misinformation about an issue as important as drugs and this item can only be seen as an attempt to undermine the growing law reform movement both here and in France. It is an example of what has become known as “reefer madness V2” scaremongering and as such breaches the Editors’ Code Of Practice clause 1.i) in that it publishes inaccurate, misleading and distorted information..

I demand a retraction of this item and a clarification of the issue of “GM” and selective breeding of cannabis from the Guardian.


Derek Williams

12 thoughts on “Guardian joins in the GM reefer madness

  1. Hi, good read as always and lets hope you get a response!

    “It may be true that intensively grown herbal cannabis has a higher potency (ie hight THC/CBD ratio)”

    In my experience the intensive growing techniques are use solely to produce greater yields of a crop and at speed, like other agricultural produce. The potency is determined by the strain that is produced through selective breeding, not the farming/growing technique. It doesnt matter how you grow a low potency plant, it will always be low potency – thats why selective breeding occurs otherwise there would be no point. thought that was worth mentioning 🙂

  2. Just to clarify why this artical is utter rubbish, 100% THC has been produced since the times of Jesus. It’s called hash. 40% THC plants don’t matter because we can make 100% THC easily, this is just a scare story. And its not geneticly modified, its just selective breeding, same as how a farmer breeds carrots.
    Cannabis was upgraded from a Class C to a Class B because cannabis plants were producing more THC however THC IS NON TOXIC AND DOESN’T CAUSE CANCER. It is safe. Look it up.

  3. Flake – I did say it *may be true* that the potency of intensively grown weed is higher than the hash from North Africa, agreed it isn’t necessarily the case. Thing is though, if anything good old “Rocky” was an especially low potency, being pretty close to a 1:1 THC/CBD ratio. Of course, as we all know, strength has little to do with potency, it’s a very different concept.

    Jebus, hash isn’t 100% THC. It’ll be the same potency as the resin on the herbal cannabis it’s made from – because that’s what it is. In practice I believe around 40% THC is about as high as it can get naturally without chemical extraction.

  4. Keep those press complaints rolling Derek, good work!

    Flake – i have to disagree about genetics vs. environment. Genetics are very important and determine the potential of a plant, but what it grows into is determined almost entirely by its growing conditions: light, air, nutrients, water, pests.

    If you mated 2 super-athletes and nurtured the offspring with chips, cream cakes and TV they will still grow up to be poor examples of humanity.


  5. @Real frank – You athlete analogy isn’t a good one I’m afraid and Falke is right.

    The genetics determine what the plant will produce, the way it’s grown will determine how much of its potential is produced.

    So a Ruderalis will never produce a high THC yield, no matter how it’s grown. A high potency THC sativa will produce a poor yield of high potency Sativa if it’s grown badly.

    What the plant grows into is determined entirely by genetics, how well it does so by the way it’s grown.

    It’s worth remembering that the plants grown by GW Pharms for their SATIVEX product are all grown the same way by hydroponics under lights, yet one of the strains produces almost no THC, because that’s the sort of strain it is.

  6. When will the Propaganda end? ,serioul. One step forward two steps back?. Look lets not get our knickers in a knot here, with ourselves. These lies that modern Cannabis is stronger now than than it was is just another smoke screen. Pardon the pun. A plant with low thc wont produce anymore t.h.c by using different nuits or bulbs or whatever. selective breeding is called farming!, the bumb, blind, ignorants. Leave the Cannabis Culture alone and go bully someone else. keep up the good fight Derek. A personal thank you from me. Keep up the good work.

  7. A major ingredient in the motivations behind this “skunk scare” based on belief that the cannabis is “too strong” is surely to promote the practice, very profitable to $igarette companies, of rolling cannabis in a joint with $igarette tobacco. (The companies make money selling the tobacco; they also through subsidiaries make most of the money selling the rolling papers.)

    While in the past rolling with tobacco was a way of getting hashish to “burn better” (you’re better off not burning at all, read up on vapourisers), today some children may be falling for the line that a supposedly neutral or milder mixing substance like $igarette tobacco can “cut” the cannabis making it somehow less dangerous. Children don’t know the tobacco companies add a menagerie of unlisted drugs to reduce the cough reflex, reduce sensitivity and create the illusion of greater mildness, which is why cannabis may indeed seem “milder” when mixed with tobacco. Once another youngster gets hooked on nicotine, official authorative voices are heard blaming subsequent health and character damage on the cannabis of course.

    Any politician that parrots the “cannabis getting too strong” line should be challenged on this issue of actually promoting addiction to the mild killer. It is fair game to bring up possible ways he/she is benefited by $igarette tax support for government programs he/she promoted– let alone by campaign contributions. Example: once US House Speaker Boehner had accepted $340,000 from $igarette companies it was admissable for them to spend probably millions by now on salaries of lawbuyists such as Bruce Gates, from Philip Morris, and John H. Fish, Vice President for Legislative Affairs at R. J. Reynolds who reportedly both sit on Boehner’s advisory council. What legislation do you think they write for Johnny concerning cannabis legalisation?

  8. Nail one the Head. It’s really that simple. It just suit’s so many dam Greedy little war mongers that;ll they keep this game going until we take them too account not the Cannabis users off thw world but decent people have to stand up and say enough with the rubbish already, We knew the truth 30 years ago they were lieing and promoting lies on the issiue. Now we have reefer madness 2011, we had it last year as well. Same back in the ninties when C4 did Potday right after what happened the same media outlets condemed them that was over a decade ago now?. We seem to be stuck in a bubble in human history. The madmen are in control off the mad house.I am sure tobbacco billionaries hate herb with a passion just not controlable enough too easy to grow by anyone. im sure they hate it. The argument that they would’nt mind is a mite. Cannabis isnt addictive like tobacco is. Toke pure is a ideal situation but only in a regulated world. Young kids dont toke pure lets be honest they think we were muppets. tenner a gram i dint think they can afford such a diet. Weve been lied too for so long now its painful. Regulate and save lives and stop lieing. Fight the good Fight .

  9. One further point. Cannabis users on the hole like myself. Are not angry enough for my liking. I include myself in this. Derek Again Thanks for the site the platform and the complaints.
    We are a minority and as such they will treat us like this for as long as we aloow them Too.

  10. What I find odd is the idea that “skunk” is dangerous becuase it’s SO strong. What bollocks, you can’t get high in the UK on the rubbish that’s grown, OR imported even if you wanted to. Several years ago a bag was imported from Nigeria that was 100% natural, as in, it was pulled out the ground from an area not famous for growing. It was the strongest weed I and everyone who tried it, had EVER had the pleasure of knowing! More of the same please. Using words like Daily Mail, Sun and Guardian with the term JOURNALISM, should be stopped!

  11. High potency product is desirable because, for a given high, less problematic chemicals and tar is ingested. simple logic.

  12. It’s good to see this retraction; I am currently awaiting an appointment with the BBC trustee’s over a similar claim made in the program ‘How drugs work – cannabis’; having jumped through the three round of hoops that is the BBC complaints process.
    I am hoping to force then to put a retraction on the end of all future showings and an announcement/ apology to be broadcast. They met back in September and I was supposed to be contacted shortly after, I guess I should chase it up!

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