The cannabis cabinet, and yet another pointless law review

Well, the Poorhouse had hoped that Britain's new, if rather unelected, Prime Minister Gordon Brown would be a least a sizeable improvement over the previous one. It seems on matters of drug policy this isn't going to be true.

The Poorhouse almost couldn't be bothered to read about the latest shenanigans regarding cannabis classification but in the end capitulated to find that Brown is ordering a(nother) "consultation" as to whether cannabis should be reclassified from its current class C to the more punitive class B. How pointless.

To be honest, with all the behind-the-scenes messing about with what the consequences of each classification are that happened when it as originally put into class C 3 years ago, the practical differences may not be huge in some ways. Cannabis has remained entirely illegal, penalties for dealing class C were put up and jail time was still available for mere possession. The difference mainly was that imprisonment was limited to a "mere" 2 years as opposed to 5.

The Association of Police Officers also released guidelines encouraging its staff to not go the full hog of arrest and trial if someone was caught with a gram or two under the most benign of situations but rather just confiscate the cannabis and record the person's details (which sounds rather similar to a caution, but is in some way less bad). These guidelines were never enforceable though so it was left to the individual officer to decide, with the exception of many police forces who over-rode the guidelines with an "arrest every time" policy. Nonetheless, giving officers the flexibility to not "fully" arrest people for owning a speck of weed saved over £3.5 million of police (aka your) money and over 250,000 officer hours of time to go and concentrate on investigating something more fittingly described as a crime.

The usual suspects of "cannabis is 100000000 times stronger than it used to be" and "the merest whiff of cannabis sends you insane" are being rolled out to back this policy.

The first is generally untrue, at least according to a report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction which is admittedly a couple of years old, but the Poorhouse has seen nothing major produced since. Essentially there has always been different strains of cannabis with different potencies. The stronger sorts - measured by THC content - available today are for sure stronger than the weaker sorts of yesteryear, but any wizened old stoner will tell stories of the super-strength Thai sticks available 30 years ago that nothing today could compare to or similar. Perhaps more people are using the stronger sorts but again evidence seems light for this. If it is the case, then we need to factor in the idea of titration - if people smoke less of a stronger variant than a weaker variant then this is probably actually a good thing for reduced lung damage, and also examine why this change happened. Some, the Poorhouse included, would put at least partial blame on the whole concept of prohibition. If you're working in an entirely uncontrollable black market, then it makes entirely good sense for your own protection and profit to produce the most expensive, least volume-consuming product you can; c.f. alcohol prohibition, where "bathtub gin" was the norm, in comparison to some nice sensible 3% beer. Lack of regulation means you might as well also sell it to 10 year old children for good measure.

The mental health issue, well for all the reports of amazing new evidence coming out every 5 minutes, the Poorhouse hasn't seen any remarkable peer-reviewed developments publicised recently. That's not to say there isn't a link, the balance of evidence suggests that cannabis, or more accurately, THC usage can have a bad effect of the mental health of vulnerable populations, including perhaps those who are genetically predisposed, already have an illness such as schizophrenia and also likely children. To give context, the sort of figures being talked about are tiny, tiny percentages of any given population but mental health is such an important issue that it cannot be ignored.

However, usergroup education, investment in public health and research on the components of cannabis are a better (i.e. humane and rational) way of dealing with this issue than simply locking up already vulnerable populations in prison, the act of which itself seemingly has a high, high outcome of mental health problems. Plus a criminal record does no-one, especially those already in difficulty for whatever reason, any good in later life. In what other sector is ill-health dealt with as a criminal issue? One should take note that mental health charities such as Rethink are publicly against reclassification to class B.

Bear in mind, counter-intuitive that it may be, since the "downgrading" of cannabis to class C official figures show that usage amongst especially the vulnerable population of younger people has actually dropped. Does Gordon et al. really want to reverse the policy under which this happened without any legitimate reason? Wherefore art thou, evidence based policy making?

To be fair, it's kind of unlikely to happen unless the governmental experts, Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs can be bought off. Given for decades now they have been advocating a lower classification, which they maintained through the last "review", it is unlikely this would happen and hopefully even New Labour will find it politically hard to totally ignore their own advisors' public statements. Reliable enough rumour suggests that the ACMD bods are actually really rather annoyed at being undermined and having to redo the same pointless review exercise again and again for no obvious reason.

And it's nice to see Gordon's cabinet are so squeaky clean and united too. In an amazing and honourable display of honesty, a good eight of them have 'fessed up to dabbling in the wicked weed too. Of course none of them enjoyed it. Who would? If it was enjoyable then millions of people would do it all the time...ahem, oops. Moving swiftly on, in alphabetical order, the law-breakers include:

  • Hazel Blears - Communities Secretary
  • Andy Burnham - the Treasury chief secretary
  • Alistair Darling - Chancellor
  • John Denham - Skills Secretary
  • Harriet Harman - deputy Labour leader
  • John Hutton - Business and Enterprise Secretary
  • Ruth Kelly - Transport Secretary
  • Jacqui Smith - Home Secretary

A few others refused to comment when asked.

And for a nice bit of irony so has Vernon Coaker, the Home Office minister responsible for drugs, and signatory on many a generic letter back from the Government about how they will never consider legalisation.

Perhaps these rule-makers should have a taste of their own medicine. The Poorhouse calls on such every such power-house who votes for prohibition to experience the very rules they make. None of them, to the Poorhouse's knowledge, actually have got a criminal record for their lawbreaking, let alone served any real punishment. If they are going to vote to either change cannabis to class B (maximum possession punishment being 5 years imprisonment) or even let it remain at class C (2 years) then surely they should serve their time too. They are after all supposedly British citizens, subject to the same laws as those who put them in power. Like the rest of the population that chooses to dabble in arbitrarily banned substances, these people who actually have the power to use a touch of progressiveness in law-making, need to be sacked from their jobs and spend 2+ years in prison and come out saddled with a criminal record. Then, see if they think their "well-meaning" law has improved their lives of not. Anything less is very obviously hypocritical, and heaven forbid politics has a whiff of hypocrisy about it in this day and age.

Fear not, the rant is nearly over. But first, maths time. There are currently 22 cabinet ministers. Let's pretend we believe that those who have denied cannabis usage or say "no comment" are indeed all good clean non-druggies. This means that around 36% of the "senior Ministers who are responsible for making and controlling government policy" - i.e. control your lives - have broken the law. The latest published British Crime Survey suggests that "just" 29.8% of the population (well, 16-59 years old, which is a total of around 9,476,000 cannabis users in total) have tried cannabis. The Poorhouse reckons 36% is a rather larger number than 29.8%.

The link is therefore clear; being a cabinet minister increases your chance of being a cannabis user.

It seems therefore wise to make cabinet ministers illegal in an effort to deter any foolish youngsters from trying to follow their footsteps and becoming dropouts in such dead-end, tax-money-wasting jobs.


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