Thursday 8 May 2008

High time for decriminalisation

Having lost so miserably in the recent elections, I hoped this New Labour government may have learned some lessons. Sadly, they've learned the wrong lessons, and now think their main chance of recovery is to be more like the Tories. (Indeed, in some cases, to be more Tory than the Tories). Such is the case with law and order.

So it is perhaps not surprising that cannabis has now been uprated to a class B drug, from class C, carrying tougher penalties for sale and possession (BBC News: Cannabis laws to be strengthened). This is despite the fact that cannabis is not addictive (unlike tobacco and even alcohol), has very few proven harmful effects (the alleged link between schizophrenia and cannabis use is far from definite),and deaths from cannabis use are few and far between. Last but not least, the government has even ignored an Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs review, which recommended cannabis stay class C - despite the fact that the report was itself commissioned by the government! Ah well, typical I guess of the arrogance of this government, always thinks it knows best and won't listen to reason :-(

Don't get me wrong, I'm quite aware that not all cannabis use is in any way progressive; nowadays a cannabis user is just as likely to be a brainwashed lumpenproletarian with right-wing oppressive ideas, as he/she is to be a progressive peace-loving hippy. But, just because cannabis use has spread beyond the hippy movement, doesn't make it, in and of itself, any more harmful.

What will make it more harmful is increased prohibition, driving it further underground and its suppliers further into the criminal underworld. The more illegal a product is, the greater are the profits to be made by those prepared to break the law by selling it - and these profits are often made by underhand means such as mixing the drug with similar looking but potentially harmful products, as is often done with class A drugs such as heroin.

It's not just recreational users who will suffer, either. Cannabis has numerous medicinal uses, including as treatments for multiple sclerosis, arthritis, etc. Yet this government, and the previous Tory government, have persistently refused to consider making cannabis available on prescription or even licence it for medicinal use - which is why we are still seeing people arrested, even jailed, for using or supplying cannabis for medicinal use. This problem can only be made worse by the government's decision to increase the penalties for its use.

The drugs moral panic, which will be fed by the decision to reclassify cannabis, also has wider implications. In many areas it takes on a racist edge, as black people are more likely to be arrested, searched, and prosecuted for drug use than white people. (This was also the case in 1990's America, where the 'war on drugs' was often nicknamed the 'war on blacks').

Personally, I think cannabis should be legalised and regulated. It is one of the less dangerous drugs - responsible for far fewer deaths than tobacco and alcohol, which are both legal.

I also think hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine should be decriminalised, as this would allow addicts to be able to get help without fear of arrest and prosecution. I would supply 'safe' (or as safe as possible!) uncut heroin, cocaine etc on prescription - removing much theft-related crime, by addicts who steal to fund their habit, not to mention removing a source of income from gangsters.

In fact, I think Jacqui Smith, Gordon Brown etc should all be prescribed a nice big spliff. It might make them lighten up and mellow out, and expand their narrow minds, for a change!

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