18 July 2007

To "B" or not to "B"?

THAT is the question... that the government are considering: the reclassification of Cannabis from Class C controlled substance back to Class B again, thus making possession a more serious offence once more.
So is this a U-turn? Well I guess so, but opinion will still remain divided as to whether or not it was worth pursuing the down-grading in the first place. In our modern world pretty much everything that's ever tried has to work, whether it does or not. Every policy must be seen to have improved blahdeblah by suchandsuch a percentage (how they always like to quote percentages - it sounds more scientific and thus carries 'authority', however unscientific the actual measurements are!). It's spin, or the Emperor's New Clothes.
Given that so many people (an estimated 10%, if you believe percentages!), especially young people, try this drug it is important to consider the implications to society or strictly enforcing occasional, casual use: yes, it's wrong, as it's against the law, but strict enforcement would criminalise a sizeable proportion of society, and people who are either in or about to leave education. If a criminal record spoils their chances of getting a job, we all - as society - suffer, and end up paying for them.
The arguments for and against implications for future addiction are more complex: most people who smoke or have smoked cannabis do not end up with serious drug habits - in fact most grow out of it - and for most people it does not spell the first slide down the slippery slope to heroin and crack cocaine usage. Conversely, most hard drugs users do start on cannabis. If you like, it's necessary, but not sufficient for hard drugs addiction.
Another factor to consider is the difference in strains of cannabis now. Some decades ago people smoked and became mellow and it is often an argument advanced by such erstwhile practitioners that most fights start from alcohol, but none from cannabis. Sadly, that's old news: modern strains of cannabis do seem to alter behaviour and I have experienced the changes in bahaviour of young men I've known who have taken up a "skunk" habit - it really can be Jekyll and Hyde.
Again though, the alcohol analogy can be made with enforcement: being drunk in a public place is an offence, and 'public places' even include pubs. If we were to round up and prosecute every drunken person in a pub, we'd do nothing else. Clearly, discretion is a privilege we as police still need to have when dealing with either set of offences.
My main concerns are that the THC in cannabis is fat-soluble and thus stays in the system longer than most other drugs, probably still having a prolonged effect; that whilst driving whilst over the limit for alcohol requires only a chemical test, not evidence of impairment, drug-driving requires impairment - the very act of driving whilst in a fug of cannabis smoke should be enough to warrant a charge; that foolish, under-educated London children (and adults) still try to tell me that cannabis is not illegal these days; that all along the commercial chain of supply of this "harmless" drug, people are oppressed, beaten, murdered and that the supply chain is not, generally, run by little old ladies - it's hardened criminals, gangsters and terrorists; that, when speaking to psychiatric nurses and doctors about cannabis, they, with one voice, condemn it as a dangerous drug for the mental health of all and particularly young people.
So on balance, I am for the re-hardening of the drug classification, with residual concern for increasing criminal records and also I would see more formal mitigation considered for those who smoke or otherwise ingest for medical symptomatic relief, with more research into this area of medicine to be conducted urgently for people enduring chemotherapy, with Parkinson's disease, with MS etc.
However, hats off to whoever in government or our senior police commanders who will have the backbones to stand up and say, this was a social experiment, it was worth doing. We have waited to see the results and we are not sufficiently convinced that the advantages outweighed the disadvantages; therefore we are going back to the old classification.
And raspberries to the press and politicians who will no doubt sneer at this and shout, "Failure, failure!".
Not every new scheme or procedure has to work and not everything has to be danced around by officialdom, quoting spurious figures from daft data and saying, "Nice cloak, Your Majesty" to a fat, hairy, naked guy!

11 July 2007


So good-bye John "Gripper" Reid and hello Jacqui Somebodyorother.

John, two final thoughts: can you take that McNumpty with you when you go?

And don't let the door hit you on the arse on the way out.
My views are my own and would probably not endear me to my dear employers.