When the news came that Cannabis was to be reclassified as a class B drug, I had expected there to be something of a reaction from the British Blogosphere, which has a healthy Libertarian bias. Back in the office after a week without proper internet, I found precious little online writing on the subject. I reasoned that this might have had something to do with the Lancet Report (and podcast) into the effects of cannabis use, and the associated risk of psychosis.
However, I had reckoned without Tim Worstal and his excellent statistics.
So, does 0.2% of users being harmed pass our test? 0.05%? 0.01%? Even at that higher number it’s still vastly lower as a percentage than the numbers harmed by either tobacco or alcohol: and yet they are both legal. I’d wager very long odds that it’s lower than the STD infection rate on one night stands: which are also legal. I’d even take an evens bet on whether it’s less dangerous than playing golf in a thunderstorm which while stupid is also legal.
Just another example of bansturbation I’m afraid, this time it’s the social authoritarians in the Tory Party getting their rocks off over the matter. Heaven forfend that the citizenry should actually be free to go to hell in their own preferred manner.
I think the comparison with alchohol is important here, because it highlights an essential contradiction at the heart of the debate. Both alcohol and smoking are legal, despite being harmful. Why not cannabis too?
Throughout, it has been noted that the skunk on the streets is far more powerful and harmful than the milder forms that our cabinet smoked as students. Aside from looking like a convenient get-out clause for those who have admitted to a toke or two twenty years ago, it also ignores the fact that there are many different types of cannabis in circulation.
In any case, is the undoubted potency of modern skunk an argument for legalisation and regulation, or further crimminalisation and marginalisation? The recent orthodoxy claims the latter, and says that because cannabis is so harmful, it should be banned. But that is analagous to saying that alcohol should be banned because Moonshine is so toxic! Just as there is a world of difference between the causual, weekend wine-drinker, and the serious alcoholic with his Vodka or (worse) bottle of Meths… so there is a difference between a weekend spliff in the garden, and a heavy skunk-user putting himself at risk of psychosis. It would be nice if someone stated that either drug, in moderation, does make the parties and the conversations a little more interesting (to the partakers, at least)… but that consumption to excess can lead to a lack of productivity, and then serious damage to one’s health. The absolutist, binary debate on this issue is unhelpful and unlikely to wash with the young people who need to be so well informed.
I think a more compelling argument against casual drug use, is that it provides financial support to gangsters. The usual mitigation for cannabis use is that it is a victimless crime. At present, however, there is no way of knowing if this is actually true. Illegal drugs do not come with a ‘Fair Trade’ certificate to reassure you that no human-traffickers, Russian Mafioso or Jamaican Yardies have profited (or indeed, been murdered) during its production and bagging. When politicians admit to trying cannabis at university, they are always asked whether they ‘inhaled’, but never if they knew where the drugs came from. This latter question would, I believe, be more pertinent. That few politicians would be able to answer it is probably the main reason why this particular argument is sidelined in the debate.
Surely a more sensible approach to the issue would be to legalise cannabis, and then regulate it and tax it in the same manner as alchohol and tobacco. This is the only sure way to reduce the potency of the drugs being consumed. Better information about the strength and origin of their cannabis will help people to make a more informed choice about how much to consume, and lead to a reduction in associated health problems.