A nice curtain raiser for tommorow's ACMD cannabis reclassification evidence sessions from Duncan Campbell at the Guardian. See the article at the Guardian site along with an active debate here
The drug laws don't work
The real 'softies' are the politicians who refuse to engage in a sober debate on cannabis
Fifty years ago, Lenny Bruce, the American comedian who was pursued relentlessly by the police for his drug use, remarked that cannabis would be legal soon, "because the many law students who now smoke pot will some day become congressmen and legalise it in order to protect themselves". Since then we have had at least two
This time the hearings are pointless. Gordon Brown and the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, have already indicated that they are minded to reclassify the drug upwards, whatever the council has to say. Brown has said that "drugs are never going to be decriminalised". The received wisdom, inside the cabinet and among much of the media, is that it was an error on the part of the then home secretary, David Blunkett, to reclassify cannabis down from B to C in 2004, because it "sent the wrong message". And the increased strength of hydroponically grown skunk is cited as one reason for the change. The sunny climate in which Rosie Boycott launched a legalise cannabis campaign in the Independent on Sunday in 1997 has clouded over. The IoS itself has recanted and issued an apology.
There is no dispute that cannabis can cause significant harm. Teenagers, heavy users and those with a predisposition to mental health problems are at risk. No one denies that. Transform, one of the most rational of the organisations monitoring
Some senior former police officers, like
But it would take a brave politician to suggest a sober debate on cannabis, let alone the whole basis of the drug laws. The Lib Dems and the Green party still favour that debate. The former's policy is to seek "to put the supply of cannabis on a legal, regulated basis, subject to securing necessary renegotiation of the UN conventions". It opposes the government's decision to reclassify regardless of what the ACMD has to say.
But what of the two main parties? Shadow cabinet member Alan Duncan wrote in the book Saturn's Children that "logic suggests that the only completely effective way to ameliorate the problem, and especially the crime which results from it, is to bring the industry into the open by legalising the distribution and consumption of all dangerous drugs, or at the very least decriminalising their consumption". In 2002, the home affairs committee examining drugs policy recommended that "the government initiates a discussion within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways - including the possibility of legalisation and regulation - to tackle the global drugs dilemma". David Cameron was a member of that committee. But this is not Conservative policy now, nor will the party dare to offer it for debate for fear of being called soft on drugs. It now backs the government on reclassification.
It is time for politicians to take a deep breath and say in public what many say in private: that the drug laws are not working, that the illegal trade is responsible for much of our most corrosive crime, and that it is time to have a debate nationally and internationally about addressing the catastrophic effects of prohibition. Reclassifying cannabis upwards is a grandstand gesture with no relevance to those whose lives are damaged by drugs or by the drug laws that compound and exacerbate that damage. The country does face an urgent addiction problem. But the name of our addiction problem is alcohol. If the government wants to send messages, the first message should be in a bottle.
The real "softies" when it comes to drugs are the politicians who refuse to engage in debate for fear of being called soft on drugs. So now, instead of that debate, we appear to be heading towards Reefer Madness II.