By Chris Bovey
This week a major independent study called for the decriminalisation of cannabis. The publication of a six-year-study from the UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC) likened cannabis use to “moderately risky” gambling or junk food.
The report prompted the BBC’s Sunday Morning Live Show, a weekly topical political news show aired at 10am every Sunday morning, to hold a debate on cannabis. The piece started with a short balanced report looking at the issues surrounding cannabis and the commission’s calls for the liberalisation of cannabis laws. The BBC pointed out how some regular users include people with long term illnesses, such as M.S., who take cannabis for pain relief and are unhappy the current law forces them to seek out drug dealers to buy what they regard as essential medication. The BBC asked is it ludicrous we continue to arrest individuals, convict and sometimes jail them over private recreational choices or would de-criminalisation send out a message that cannabis is safe.
The debate started with long-term advocate of cannabis prohibition, Mail on Sunday journalist, Peter Hitchens, who regularly writes about how much he hates cannabis. He was asked if he supported the de-criminalisation of cannabis, which of course he does not, disagreeing with this weeks report by respected experts, senior police officers and scientists. Laughably Hitchens started off by falsely stating cannabis had already been de-criminalised and should be re-criminalised – try saying that to the 42,000 people arrested last year who were sentenced for possession of cannabis. He further lied that cannabis is dangerous and causes mental illness, even though this is against scientific consensus.
Hitchens spouted his usual prohibitionist rubbish, however, fortunately there were two other well-informed guests in the studio in the form of respected Australian journalist and broadcaster Germaine Greer and LBC Radio show host and former showbiz editor for the Daily Express, James O’brien. They were well equipped to counteract Peter Hitchens’ blatant lies and propaganda
James O’brien spoke of his own experiences when he was caught with cannabis twenty years ago while he was at school. He talked about the need for evidence and to follow scientific consensus, rather than lone maverick scientists and scaremongering journalists. On the panel too was experienced broadcaster Germain Greer who said her position was drearily consistant and she seldom changes her mind about anything, including her views on cannabis.
Prof. David Nutt, the former drugs advisor fot the last Labour government, who was sacked for telling the truth about drugs, then was invited to join the debate via Skype. Prof Nutt argued alcohol was far more dangerous than cannabis and pointed to evidence from the USA, where increasing availability of medicinal cannabis has led to a reduction of alcohol intake and road traffic deaths from alcohol. Prof. Nutt vehemently denied Hitchens’ allegation he made on the show that he was biassed.
A drug rehab worker from Liverpool later joined in via Skype, he too like Hitchens was opposed to decriminalisation. The problem with asking the views of such people is although they are well meaning, the very nature of their job means they will come into the very small percentage of people who have problematic drug use, not the vast majority of people who use cannabis causing no problem to themselves or society whatsoever. The fact he encounters such people anyway, even under our current drug laws, seemed to have escaped him.
Last not but least, the final guest to join the debate was NORML UK’s very own Clark French, who uses cannabis medicinally to treat his condition Multiple Sclerosis. Looking very smart, Clark spoke how cannabis treats his symptoms to give him a much better quality of life. With nodding approval from James O’brien and Germain Greer, Clark talked about how cannabis has been part of our culture for thousands of years, while a po-faced Peter Hitchens sat frowning. He told viewers how he is forced to deal with criminal gangs who don’t grow good medicine and grow cannabis just for profit. Hitchens then came back with some nonsense comparing cannabis with Thalidomide.
Clark French said: “I was incredibly pleased and excited to be invited on BBC1 this morning for a live debate, I had so much to say and so little time to say it, but I am pleased with the points I managed to convey. I hope to build on the current momentum and reach out to more television shows to share my story and campaign for our right to use cannabis as a safer form of medicine and recreation”
NORML UK congratulates the BBC for airing such a balanced debate and for putting up such knowledgable guests against Peter Hitchens that had the necessary skills and experience on this specific issue. The BBC viewers agreed too, with 69% voting in their poll cannabis should be decriminalised, against only 31% who agreed with Peter Hitchens. Well done Clark, James, Prof. Nutt and Germain, you are great ambassadors for the cause!