BRITAIN - I well remember the day in 1997 that Rosie Boycott, my then boss, announced that the Independent on Sunday was going to campaign for the decriminalisation of cannabis. There was a collective gulp; then, the more we thought about it, the more appealing it became. It was daring — some would say reckless — but the medical argument against cannabis was weak, while there was plenty of evidence that users who bought it illegally were encouraged by dealers to try more harmful drugs.
Despite attracting criticism — notably from Alastair Campbell, then the Prime Minister’s press secretary, who labelled us “a bunch of old hippies” — the campaign took off. We received praise from those who were in the front line in the war on drugs, from police officers, prison warders and counsellors. Sales of the paper rose to a record high (no pun intended).
We fought a good battle, including a heavily attended rally in central London. Then Rosie changed jobs and the struggle petered out. In time, though, the law did soften, so that possession for personal use was scaled down.
I admit now that I’m no longer in favour of decriminalisation. I know I will be accused of hypocrisy. But I’m not on some journey from wishy-washy liberal to arch-reactionary.
Is it hypocritical to base my change on what I’ve learned since? In 1997 we were talking about pot, the sweet-smelling marijuana people of my youth associated with chilling.
There was a furtive aspect to their activities but that could be put down to the fact that what they were doing was criminal. Remove that hindrance and they would be carefree and relaxed — far more so than anyone lagered up or off their head on coke.
That was always the plank in our case: that dope was nowhere near as harmful as alcohol, cigarettes or even caffeine, and the only consistent negative, health-wise, was that the most popular way of consuming it was to mix it with tobacco and smoke it.
But then I’d not encountered skunk. I became aware of it when my older children, now in their twenties, were in their teens. Now and again we’d meet one of their acquaintances, wasted and stinking of pungent smoke.
When parents got together the chat would turn to the difficulties with a child they’d heard of — usually a boy because they were drawn to smoking more than girls — who was not going to school, who had become withdrawn and uncommunicative. Inevitably, “skunk” was mentioned.
Three to four times more potent than the hash I thought we were campaigning for, it was developed in the US by crossing two cannabis plants, before heading for Europe. It’s easily grown at home. Indeed, suppliers of seeds revel in its power, giving varieties names such as AK47 and Bomb.
Along too has now come Professor Wayne Hall, an adviser to the World Health Organisation, with the most in-depth report ever conducted into the subject, showing that cannabis is far from safe. His research leaves no doubt: the drug can cause heart problems; can provoke mental health conditions such as schizophrenia; and it’s as addictive as heroin.
When we made our calls to “legalise it," skunk was not in our heads. Neither was Hall’s study. If they had been, our attitude might have been very different.
By Chris Blackhurst - The Evening Standard/Oct. 9, 2014
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Ex-Independent Editor Chris Blackhurst Shares His Views: Cannabis is Far From Safe