A free press?

Perhaps the best indicator of a truly free press is investigative reporting that questions official statements and looks beyond the symptoms to the root causes of problems. Sadly, that isn’t something we have in abundance in the UK where our many papers are in fact almost all owned by a handful of companies and seem content to simply print the official line without criticism, much less anything coming close to analytical journalism.

Take, for example, this “news” report from IC Wales: April 13th 2008.

IC Wales logo

Exposed: The dens of drugs in your streets

A shock horror exposure of “drug dens” in your street – what they actually mean of course is cannabis “grow ops”, whole houses taken over to grow cannabis.

This story is actually about the effects of prohibition creating an underground economy, prohibition of course is a government policy, not a natural state of things. In fact it’s a story about one aspect of a whole raft of issues, all of which are not only caused by the same policy but could only exist under such a policy. What we have here is a symptom of prohibition, but the article never once mentions the fact.

Back in 1920’s America they prohibited alcohol which created “the mob” – Al Capone and so on – who made “bath tub gin” and “moonshine” in illegal stills, often operating in residential areas. The reason this happened of course was because there was a demand for alcohol and no legal supply was allowed, exactly the situation we now have with cannabis in the UK.

Rather than looking at the cause of this situation or the clear lesson from history, the report carries the police line throughout, quoting the police and suitably outraged neighbours.

OK, it’s true that these large scale “factories” – “plantations” is a better description given they grow plants rather than making things – are undesirable to put it mildly. That is especially true if they jump the meter and create a fire risk. Al Capone’s illegal stills also created fire risks incidentally, health and safety rules don’t cover illegal operations . The same goes for employment rights, quality control and one or two other things.

Fact is what we have here is the operation of the laws of supply and demand distorted by prohibition. There are millions of cannabis users – adults – who were denied a supply because imports from Morocco were stopped, there was therefore a demand which wasn’t being supplied. Lets be honest there is a huge amount of money to be made. Prohibition tries to restrict the supply, reducing the supply puts the street price up which in turn increases the profits to be made. Criticism in the media, you might think of such a brain dead policy would be well deserved.

The image everyone has of American prohibition days is the gangster with a machine gun. Perhaps the real question the newspaper should be asking is how close are we to seeing these cannabis plantations arranging serious protection? It is, of course, only a matter of money and the “right” people getting involved. Yes, that is a scary thought but it’s where the war on drugs has so often lead in the past.

Of course, non of this need or should be happening. Cannabis could be a cash crop, grown by farmers paying taxes – and if it were it would be properly regulated in terms of strength and composition (THC / CBD balance), in fact a real, genuine, controlled drug.

But this doesn’t get reported. Of course it doesn’t, it would be against government policy.