Banning Cannabis is Impossible So Control It

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Jul 17, 2001.

  1. By Andreas Whittam Smith
    Source: Independent

    In the cannabis debate, two principles are at war with each other: pragmatism versus paternalism. The idea that the best policy is what works confronts the notion that if something is bad for you, then you shouldn't be allowed to do it.
    Until now paternalism has dominated policy towards soft drugs. And perhaps it would have gone on doing so were it not for a senior police officer in London, Commander Paddick. He read a study that showed that it costs about £10,000 to bring a suspect to court.

    Because of the bureaucratic procedures involved, each case takes two police officers off the streets for as long as five hours.

    To this can be added the costs of the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts. And for what? A fifth of those charged were given conditional discharges, and fines averaging £45 were imposed on the rest.

    The report concluded: "Arresting individuals... solely for possession of small quantities of cannabis is an ineffective use of police resources and does not enjoy community support." As a result, Commander Paddick decreed that, in Brixton at least, there would be no prosecutions for possession of small amounts of the drug. Instead offenders would receive a warning and the drugs would be confiscated. Pure pragmatism. The Home Secretary stated that he was "interested in the experiment".

    The experiment is decriminalisation. The names of those been warned will be kept on file locally, but the record cannot be cited in any future court proceedings. It is not legalisation, which would mean that possession and use of cannabis would no longer be an offence at all. Decriminalisation retains the principle but renders it ineffective. It is an unsatisfactory compromise.

    For on the streets of Brixton nothing much changes. The same criminals control the sale of cannabis. Users run the same risks of purchasing bad-quality or tainted material. Young kids as well as adults can continue to make purchases. There is the same pressure from dealers for their customers to graduate to hard drugs. The illegal supply chain operates as before. From the country of origin to the point of sale, the same brutal methods of business are employed. There is no diminution in crime, just a reduction in arrests of more or less innocent, harmless end users.

    From a pragmatic point of view, decriminalisation doesn't work well enough. The merits of the proposals made recently by two former ministers, Mo Mowlam (Labour) and Peter Lilley (Conservative), are that they would make a difference to the dynamics of the trade. Sellers of cannabis would be licensed – by magistrates, says Mr Lilley. This would take the business away from criminals. The cannabis products on sale would have been tested and they would carry a health warning. This reduces the risks for users. Sales to people under 18 would be illegal, as would smoking in public places. The trade would be taxed. And as these arrangements are similar to those for alcohol and tobacco products, we can assume that they would work well enough.

    This is the full extent of the pragmatists' case; what do the paternalists say in reply? They naturally emphasise the harm to users. Unfortunately scientific opinion is divided. Susan Greenfield, the highly respected professor who has studied the brain for 30 years, says that concentrations of tar, carbon monoxide and cancer agents are at least double those in cigarette smoke.

    As for the comparison with drink, she asserts that about 7,000 milligrams of alcohol are needed to achieve the mind-altering effect of relaxation, whereas for cannabis the figure is just 0.3 milligrams. If you have one or two joints, the skills you need for driving are impaired for a full 24 hours.

    Yet the equally well respected medical journal, The Lancet, comments that "moderate indulgence in cannabis has little ill-effect on health, and decisions to ban or legalise cannabis should be based on other considerations". Indeed we don't hear much about health problems that are unambiguously caused by moderate use. Of course there are heavy users, as there are heavy drinkers. These people do harm themselves and may harm others, and all the more so if they already have a tendency to engage in antisocial behaviour. But a lot of drug misuse is related to social deprivation. Poverty drives addiction as much as the nature of the substance itself.

    As to whether cannabis is a gateway to hard drugs, the Lancet study states that there is no way in which cannabis chemically predisposes users to move on to them. The gateway is provided by criminal dealers rather than by the substance itself.

    I hope I have been fair to the paternalist arguments. For as compared with the pragmatists' plans for dealing with the problem, I find them unconvincing. They do not point to massive, ever prevalent harm to users themselves and to others. In any case. we already live in a society where cannabis is widely used. The pragmatists say don't ban it, control it. I agree.

    Note: 'The gateway to hard drugs is provided by criminal dealers rather than the substance itself'.

    Complete Title: Banning Cannabis is Impossible So Why Not Control It?


    Source: Independent (UK)
    Author: Andreas Whittam Smith
    Published: July 15, 2001
    Copyright: 2001 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.

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