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20/07/2007 00:00:00

UK: Cannabis: the big lie

Skunk may be strong, but it's no stronger than the high-quality hashish
that has been smoked in Britain since time immemorial.

Virtually half the Brown cabinet have now declared that they once smoked
dope but didn't like it. What on earth is wrong with these people?
Normal folk use drugs and enjoy them.

All this talk of re-criminalising millions of cannabis users is
predicated on untruth. That is, politicians and medical professionals
are peddling dodgy data which purport to show that currently available
strains of so-called "skunk weed" are 10 or more times stronger than
anything the new home secretary may have toked while she was at Oxford
in the early 1980s.

It's simply untrue, and repeating a lie ad nauseam does not make it
true. Let me say that again: repeating a lie often enough does not make
it true.

"Skunk" is a generic name for fast-growing cannabis hybrids cultivated
indoors under artificial lights using hydroponics technology.
Technically, skunk is a crossbreed of Cannabis sativa and the shorter,
bushier Cannabis indica indigenous to Afghanistan.

Some of these newer strains are particularly well-suited to rapid, high
density growth in confined conditions, and the result is that several
crops can be grown every year. The supply chain is a lot shorter than
for imported cannabis, and profit margins for the grower/wholesalers can
be quite high.

The THC content of skunk can be significantly higher than your average
imported grass, but it compares with the levels found in the
high-quality hashish that has been smoked in these islands since time

Personally, I cannot stand skunk, and the difficulty these days in
obtaining decent hash is the main reason I no longer smoke. Skunk is
like poor-quality young wine; it may have a high percentage of the
active ingredient, but it tastes foul and gives you a bad head. Like
cheap booze, the current prevalence of skunk is symptomatic of our
impatient and undiscerning age.

I look back with fondness to the 1970s and 1980s when good quality hash
was easy to come by. The downside was that some of my money probably
found its way into the coffers of IRA and Loyalist quartermasters, and
other equally delightful characters. Not all hash smugglers were as nice
as Howard Marks.

I will not advocate the use of cannabis or any other drug (even coffee),
but I would rather that all drugs be legally available, at prices
dictated largely by the market. Let the government take its cut, within

What worries me more than the widespread and sometimes inappropriate use
of cannabis is young people drinking till they drop, and ruining their
livers before they have fully stopped growing. If binge drinking doesn't
kill the young outright, they will be condemned to lives of constant
ill-health arising from irreparable internal organ damage.

But only fools and medical professionals think that the solution there
is to raise alcohol prices to Swedish levels, and further restrict the
availability of booze. Criminalising cannabis users will likewise not
make for a healthier society.

Prohibition laws make sense only where they can be effectively enforced
and have the desired effect. This clearly does not apply to drug use,
and we should have learned this lesson a long time ago.

And then there's the hypocrisy of it all. A significant chunk of
government tax revenue comes from alcohol sales. Taking alcohol duty
together with the excise on that other killer drug tobacco, and ignoring
VAT on coffee and tea, the government's income from drug sales amounts
to some £15bn a year. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Cannabis is not a harmless drug, but the odd panic attack due to over-
consumption of strong weed is nothing when compared with the damage that
excessive drinking and other poor lifestyle choices do to the human system.

Drug control has failed, and it's high time we changed track. Let's now
try switching the propaganda focus from illness prevention to positive
health promotion, and see what effect that has.

Author: the Guardian Comment via UKCIA

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