Thursday, July 19, 2007

Media obsess over cannabis reclassification. Again

So the cannabis classification review has made a big splash in the media, fuelled now by the rather dull news that the new home secretary has admitted using cannabis when she was a student, although with the predictable caveat that "I did break the law…I was wrong…drugs are wrong."

Jaqui Smith in her c-rayzee student days

Its all a terribly tedious rehashing of the last time the reclassification debate hogged the news, and the last time a politician admitted a student indiscretion (and the public revealed themselves again to be remarkably unbothered by the revelations). But still, here we are again.

The ACMD will again review the evidence and no doubt say exactly the same as the have been saying for years (in fact decades) that cannabis has serious risks for a subset of vulnerable users, but for the majority of occasional moderate users the risks are relatively low, before re-affirming there view that C is the appropriate classification. Two ACMD members I have spoken too are very annoyed that they are going to have to go over this issue for the third time in 5 years. Seriously, there are far more important issues for them to be directing their limited resources at.

The 'public consultation' on classification (which would have been part of next weeks consultation on the drug strategy anyway - so really is non-news) will provoke a spectrum of predictable views ranging from the ferocious anti-cannabis extremists who think pot turns you into an crazed axe-wielding lizard and should be class A, through to the equally blinkered cannabis evangelists who think its completely safe and use should be not only legal, but mandatory.

Most people take a more pragmatic view that consenting adult use should not be a criminal offence, that the market should be appropriately regulated and taxed by the state, and that resources should be put into education, prevention and treatment, rather than a demonstrably failed punitive approach involving mass criminalisation.

I do find it especially strange that those who like to tell heart-rending stories about tragic wasted teenage lives destroyed by mental illness, then see criminalisation of these vulnerable and damaged youths as the front line solution.

It's an emotional knee-jerk response to a problem that is not based on any evidence that such an approach will effectively reduce harms. Indeed, we have over 30 years of experience showing it is actively counterproductive. The debate over whether cannabis should it be one alphabetic increment this way or that is of course a massive distraction form the fact that the classification system and its hierarchy of criminal penalties simply does not work and is demonstrably both unjust and ineffective.

Brown, I suspect, knows full well that the ACMD will not call for a move back to B, and it is highly unlikely that the Government would over rule them. On the face of it, it appears to be a political decision primarily to remove the sting from the Tories accusations that the Government is 'sending out the wrong message', 'soft on drugs' and so on. Exactly the same thing happened in the run up to the last election when the Tories were similarly going on about a move to class B and the then home secretary announced yet another review. I had hoped Brown would draw a line under past failing by doing something a bit more sensible on drug policy. Oh well.

Anyway. Transform put out a press release yesterday, which was quite widely picked up including:

The Telegraph

Jacqui Smith admits to smoking cannabis

Supporters of a more liberal regime accused Mr Brown of political posturing. A spokesman for the Transform pressure group said: "The potency issue and the mental health issues associated with cannabis are well understood and have not changed significantly since they were last reviewed in 2005."
The Independent

Brown plans to abandon softer laws on cannabis

But Martin Barnes, the chief executive of DrugScope, said the "fairly hysterical coverage in some sections of the media" was a factor in yesterday's announcement. He said: "Repeated movements on classification will only serve to further confuse young people, and increase the political point-scoring, at a time when cannabis use is falling among young people and adults alike." A spokesman for Transform Drug Policy Foundation said: "This announcement is all about political posturing and has nothing to do with science.

"It follows in the wake of a series of all-too-familiar cannabis health panics, which have been hyped up by certain newspapers, and more recently by the Tory party."

The Express


Spokesman [Rethink] Paul Corry said: "Although there has been renewed interest in yet again reclassifying cannabis, the experiences of our members tell us that re-introducing tougher criminal penalties for possession and use would do nothing to reduce use."

Former home secretary Charles Clarke commissioned the ACMD's first review of the evidence on cannabis, but in January 2005 announced that it would remain class C.

Mr Hellawell, who resigned over the re-classification of cannabis, told BBC Radio 4's The World At One: "There was never any justification for re-classifying it in the first place. It was at the whim of David Blunkett. It was against the will and wishes of the Cabinet at that time. I don't know how he got it through. It was a perverse decision then. It was a decision which, in my view, put back drugs policy in this country more than a decade and something clearly the Government are embarrassed by and are trying to resolve."

A spokesman for Transform Drug Policy Foundation claimed Mr Brown's announcement was "all about political posturing and nothing to do with science"

The Daily Mail

PM reviews cannabis reclassification

Same quote as the express, above - i assume this one was from an agency because the same quote is used all over the place.

The Scotsman

Brown announces review of cannabis classification

The Transform Drug Policy Foundation said Mr Brown's announcement was "political posturing and nothing to do with science".

The same quote also appeared in various other places and news sites including The Belfast Telegraph.

I also appeared on BBC news 24 last night and did an interview today with a broadsheet based in Montreal Canada, and Danny had a quote in the guardian online coverage. So some pleasing media exposure in some ways, just a shame it had to be around such a boring and ultimately pointless story.

Still, at least we dont have things as bad as they do in States:


Anonymous said...

How come all these politicians are jumping out and saying they've tried it now? Are they trying to win the green vote? I'm confused. Will they get criminal records?

Steve Rolles said...

I had wondered about that. Is there a statute of limitations or could someone make a complaint and expect a police investigation?

Anonymous said...

Isn't it better to admit to it than to be "exposed" by some morally bankrupt, alcohol and tobacco drenched journalist?
And doesn't it put them in a much better position to point out the hypocrisy and query the judgement of some of these unelected/self-elected, addled brained, guardians of the nation's morals? After all, they have a past to be dredged up too, don't they?

Anonymous said...

It's all faintly ridiculous isn't it? Politicians trying to get down with the kids. I see this as a total non-story, though evidently the Metro doesn't judging from their front page splash.

Anonymous said...

I assume someone had dirt on Jackie and said make an announcement or we will. Once she'd said it then others followed because they couldnt all get sacked.