Everybody Must Get Stoned (Cannabis series 1 of 5)

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by weedboss, May 7, 2003.

  1. The economic climate may be chilly, but the global cannabis industry is experiencing a spectacular, unprecedented boom. On the eve of the latest Million Marijuana March for legalisation, John Walsh introduces a special investigation into one of the burning issues of our time

    Anyone who thinks the British hedonist's relationship with cannabis and its brethren extends no further back than the Isle of Wight Festival or the Summer of Love in 1967 may be surprised to learn of a dope-fest that took place on the coast of Bengal in the 1670s. It was recorded by an English sailor called Thomas Bowrey, who'd been watching, with his friends, the elation and euphoria of the locals after drinking a concoction called bhang, made from crushed cannabis mixed with water. They decided to try it themselves, bought a pint of bhang each ( costing sixpence ), locked themselves in a house to keep safe from prying eyes, and signed up a local fakir to record what happened.

    "It Soon tooke its Operation Upon most of us, but merrily, Save upon two of our Number, who I suppose feared it might doe them harme not beinge accustomed thereto. One of them Sat himselfe downe Upon the floore, and wept bitterly all the Afternoone, the Other terrified with feare did runne his head into a great Mortavan Jarre, and continued in that posture 4 hours or more; 4 or 5 of the number lay upon the Carpets ( that were Spread in the roome ) highly Complimentinge each Other in high termes, each man fancyinge himself noe lesse than an Emperour. One was quarrelsome and fought with one of the wooden Pillars of the Porch, until he had left himselfe little Skin upon the knuckles of his fingers. My Selfe and one more Sat sweating for the Space of 3 hours in Exceeding Measure..."

    Sound familiar? As Richard Davenport-Hines points out in his magisterial history of narcotics, The Pursuit of Oblivion, this charming scene was the forerunner of many things: the trading in drugs as international commodities; the use of narcotics for recreational use, rather than the treatment of illness; the clandestine self-incarceration of the hedonists; and, of course, the classically idiotic behaviour patterns of those involved in getting off their faces.

    In my own druggy heyday as an Oxford student in the mid-1970s, we weren't conscious of breaking the law. Actually, we weren't very conscious at all on Friday evenings, or BFJ ( big fat joint ) nights as they were called, when my student housemates and I rolled up five-skin Camberwell Carrots, and lay around giggling uncontrollably, listening to Leonard Cohen's poetic dirges and Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells ( remembering to come in at the right second with Viv Stanshall, as his voice introduced the instruments at the end ), before setting out for the petrol station in the Iffley Road around midnight, in search of chocolate biscuits to stave off the dreaded "munchies".

    We knew there was nothing original about this behaviour, that it was being replicated in every student household and every other college room in Oxford. We rarely met the dealers. It was a tad intimidating to make the trip to Keble Road, where the spotty grass-and-hash lords reportedly lurked in squats and scabby hovels, measuring out flagrantly short-change ounces into impressive-looking but crooked brass weighing-scales. It was a bit too close to real life, the street world where the unimaginable sometimes happened ­ when one of the giggly student cabal would be arrested for possession of drugs, hauled before the beak, fined ?1,500 and warned that a second conviction would carry a prison sentence.

    It wasn't fair, we whined, when confronted by this cold douche of Home Office disapproval. We were only having fun. We weren't hurting anybody. And everyone knew that cannabis and marijuana aren't addictive anyway, and don't drive you into intravenous heroin use or brain-destroying LSD. Drugs, it seemed to us, were something outside the mainstream of social interaction. They were for us, but not for them. For the young, but not for anyone over 30. For the intelligent student, but not the townie pub clientele. For the appreciative few, not the slobbish many.

    That was 1973. Thirty years later, the landscape has changed. The mainstream has drowned the student fringe. If you believe the figures, the wicked cousins, Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica, are more popular globally than ever before, despite the hostility of governments, the Byzantine complexity of anti-narcotics legislation, and the mass imprisonment of stoners, groovers, growers and wholesalers everywhere.

    In Britain, consumption of the drug has gone through the roof. Estimates of the value of the current UK cannabis market range from ?1.6bn to ?5bn. A little more than a quarter of the 16- to 24-year-olds polled in the past two years claim to smoke marijuana regularly or to have tried it several times.

    Even the forty- and fiftysomethings are still spliffing away; only a week ago, I watched my friend Geoff, managing director of a media company, clamping a joint over the end of an empty cardboard tube and inhaling as if his life depended on it. Scrutinise the internet and you'll find a thriving new gardening empire of cannabis growers, cultivating thousands of plants at a time, using artificial light and hydroponics. Dozens of website organisations ( Legalise Cannabis Alliance, The Cannabis Community, Transform, Ganjaland, Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics, The Smokers' Guide, Dr Chronics Seeds Co, Spliff magazine, grasscity.com ) are campaigning vigorously for clarification of, and changes in, the drugs law.

    The British hold the record for the highest rate of marijuana use among young people in Europe. We're more likely to smoke it than even the liberated Dutch, who pioneered the concept of the legalised spliff cafe among the canals. After the Ecstasy boom in the Eighties died down, Britons went back on the grass and the hash with renewed vigour, despite the fact that the number of arrests for marijuana possession or use nearly quadrupled in the last 15 years. According to Home Office figures, between 1996 and 2000, arrests for the possession of cannabis rose from 14,857 to 22,303 a year, while 5,600 felons a year wound up in prison.

    While these draconian measures were going on, wiser counsels simply wondered what all the fuss was about. For marijuana has been regularly investigated by non-spliff-taking bodies, and found to be about as dangerous as sarsaparilla. The Victorian Indian Hemp Commission checked it out for two years and concluded, in 1894, that "moderate use practically produces no ill effects" and that cannabis posed no risk to society. It was, indeed, on their recommendation that India decriminalised the possession of the drug. Back in Britain, in 1968, Lord Wooton's parliamentary committee concluded its deliberations by saying "the long-term consumption of cannabis has no harmful effects" ­ and, furthermore, that it was a lot less dangerous than alcohol, opiates, barbiturates and amphetamines. Only five years ago, in 1998, The Lancet magisterially pronounced that "moderate indulgence has little ill-effect on health".

    So why are the indulgers still being sent to jail in such numbers? Because successive British prime ministers have taken their cue from the United States, where, as the controversial US writer Eric Schlosser points out, drugs legislation makes no sense at all.

    In his last book, Fast Food Nation, Schlosser investigated what goes into the burgers and chicken nuggets, the buns and fries and shakes of popular American cuisine; it made compulsive, if emetic, reading. Now he's turned his attention to the drugs trade and its many anomalies. His figures are astonishing. Some estimates put the value of Americans' annual marijuana crop at $25bn ­ $6bn more than the value of the nation's leading ( legal ) cash crop, namely corn. It's a little shocking to discover that there are more people in prison now for violation of marijuana laws than ever in US history ­ 20,000 in federal prisons, a further 30,000 in state or local prisons ­ and that an alarming number are in for life sentences, after being convicted for growing, selling, possessing or even buying the drug, rather than for dealing.

    Schlosser's main thrust is the incoherence of a system that can punish a man more for the private possession of a cannabis stem than for murdering his wife. He points out that, while cannabis is classified in the US as a Schedule One controlled drug ( right up there with heroin, LSD and peyote ) and possession of it anywhere in the United States is illegal under federal law, the actual penalties for possession vary wildly from state to state. In some states, mere suspicion that your lifestyle is funded by cannabis trafficking can mean your house, car, yacht, cash, securities and bling-bling jewellery can be seized and forfeited. In some states, they can take your house from you if a single marijuana plant is found growing in the basement; ditto your yacht if a single joint is found stubbed out in an ashtray.

    Depending on where you are, a first offence can get you a clip round the ear and a few weeks' probation, or it can get you the death penalty. In New York state, possessing less than an ounce of marijuana will get you a $100 fine; in Louisiana, it'll incur a 20-year jail sentence. In his travels, Schlosser found a state line that divided Union City, Ohio from Union City, Indiana. In the former, you'll be fined $100 for carrying three ounces of dope. In the latter, you'll face up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine, and forfeit your driver's licence and your car. The two towns are separated by a single road.

    He also visited one of the victims of American drugs policy ­ Mark Young, a 36-year-old biker who acted briefly, semi-innocently, as the middleman in a $1m marijuana deal and wound up with a life sentence in Leavenworth, Kansas, a maximum-security prison, where he lives surrounded by murderers, rapists, armed robbers and international terrorists.

    It's against this atmosphere of vindictive and vengeful hysteria that British policy on cannabis has been forged in the past two decades. Mrs Thatcher in the Seventies and early Eighties took her cue from the "War on Drugs" initiated by Ronald Reagan and his "Just Say No" wife, Nancy. John Major saw no considerable reason to change things. Tony Blair's government took over power when the new wave of marijuana fans was growing to vast proportions and, influenced by the anti-drug, non-inhaling Bill Clinton, called the drugs trade ( lumping cannabis in with heroin, cocaine, LSD and the rest ) "the most chilling, evil industry our modern world has to confront". This despite a chorus of libertarian sentiments from all points of the political spectrum who since 1997 have demanded the decriminalisation or "depenalisation" of cannabis without delay ( they include Charles Moore, editor of The Daily Telegraph; Rosie Boycott, former editor of The Independent on Sunday; and the Police Foundation ). Blair decided to act on the latter's recommendation that the penalties for marijuana crimes be lowered, with "possession" continuing to be a crime.

    To coincide with the passing of the Criminal Justice Bill this autumn, cannabis will be reclassified: it will cease to be a Class B drug and become a more benign Class C in the same league as anabolic streoids and benzodiazepines. In the US, drug offenders will go on being treated worse than child-molesters and professional hitmen. In the UK, we aren't quite as bad, but we are less enlightened about cannabis than Portugal, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands ( where "pharmaceutical-quality" hash is distributed on the NHS ) and Switzerland ( where its commercial production will soon be government-regulated ).

    Have we learnt nothing at all since the Indian Hemp Commission concluded in 1894 that moderate use of the stuff produced "no ill-effects"? Is it not obvious to the most blinkered intelligence that the opposition of successive governments to the legalisation of cannabis has nothing to do with toxins and addiction levels, and everything to do with the lifestyle of hedonistic excess that, especially since the Sixties, narcosis traditionally encourages? Blair is a child of the Sixties, a student and rock singer in the Seventies who ­ though he denies ever trying drugs at all ­ undoubtedly lay around in precisely the same student rooms in Oxford as I did, listening to the same records in the same sweet, lazy-making, opium-den fug. Can he really believe he can hold out much longer against making legal what has always been ( medically speaking ) innocent? In his heart, does he not sometimes wonder why he bothers with reclassifying cannabis, while its continual criminalisation leads to the kind of moral outrages in the US so harrowingly charted by Schlosser?

    It's partly in reponse to this worldwide disparity and confusion, and partly out of sheer translatlantic exasperation that, on 3 May, an army of cannabis fans in 200 cities worldwide, from Vancouver to Vienna, will embark on the Million Marijuana March, "to celebrate a plant and demand freedom". After thousands of years of shame and obloquy, scores of centuries of being criminalised, socially derided and blamed for all the ills of modern society, can it be that Cannabis sativa, the bastard child of hemp and human ingenuity, is about to become legitimate at last?

    The Government View: a New Strategy, but No Let-Up in Effective Policing of Drug Abuse

    The Government is determined to tackle the problem of drug abuse with a resolute and realistic approach. Later this year, cannabis will be reclassified from a Class B to a Class C drug, but it will not be legalised or decriminalised. Our decision to reclassify followed the advice of the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs, a body of scientific and medical experts which advised that cannabis is harmful, but less harmful than other Class B drugs, such as amphetamines.

    The change will enable us to focus more effectively on Class A drugs ­ drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine which cause the most harm to drug users, their families and communities ­ and on getting people into treatment. It will also put out a more effective message to young people about the harm caused by different drugs. But let me be clear; cannabis is harmful and will remain illegal and we have no intention of either decriminalising or legalising it.

    After reclassification, most offences of cannabis possession by adults will result in a police warning and confiscation of the drug. There will be a presumption against arrest, except where public order is at risk or where children are vulnerable. The police will also ensure that those who repeatedly flout the law are arrested and dealt with. Young people who are found in possession of cannabis will receive a formal warning at a police station. The Association of Chief Police Officers is currently finalising guidance for officers on policing cannabis possession and this will be in place before reclassification.

    This change is just one part of our updated strategy, in which we are increasing our investment by ?500m over the next three years, increasing treatment places, providing effective education and support for young people and targeting action on the most dangerous problematic drug users.


    Key Facts and Figures

    An estimated 147 million people worldwide regularly use drugs derived from the cannabis plant ( principally marijuana - the leaves - and hashish - the resin ).

    One British adult in 10 has used the drug in the past year. Among 16- to-24-year-olds, the figure is one in four.

    According to the Home Office, the value of the British cannabis market is almost UKP1.6bn; other estimates - for example, by the Independent Drugs Monitoring Unit - put the figure as high as UKP5bn.

    Worldwide, some 30,000 tonnes of cannabis are produced each year, in 120 countries, of which the UN has identified 67 as "source countries" ( ie exporters ).

    Up to half of the cannabis consumed in the UK is home-grown. The rest is imported: most marijuana comes from Jamaica; hashish comes mainly from Morocco ( 80 per cent ) and South-east Asia.

    In the US, production of cannabis now exceeds the production of corn in value - by a margin of $6bn.

    In the US, 50,000 people are in jail for cannabis-related offences. In the UK, 1,300 people were serving jail sentences in 2000 for offences directly relating to cannabis.

    Since the first Dangerous Drugs Act of 1945, there have been more than one million convictions in the UK for cannabis-related offences.
  2. #12 & #35 all day :)

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