By Deej Sullivan
The Daily Mail has officially reached a new low. On Sunday the 12th of May, 2013, they deigned to publish an article on their website so utterly devoid of fact, logic and sense that I’m almost embarrassed to be responding to it.
The article in question was written by one Wensley Clarkson and entitled ‘Britain’s marijuana mafia: Two million users, £6bn worth of trade and 30,000 deaths. A leading author meets the men (and women) feeding the UK’s terrifying addiction.’
The misinformation in this headline alone would be enough to get any educated cannabis smoker riled; and I would have thought that any human being with an iota of sense would be capable of seeing through the propaganda displayed in the article itself. However, having read through some of the comments online, it is apparent that there are still some people out there (although thankfully few in number) who still believe the Reefer Madness-esque tripe spewed by self-serving ‘journalists’ like Mr Clarkson. It is for their sake that I am writing this response, in the hope that seeing a different side to the story will at the very least prompt them to do some thinking of their own.
The article begins with the story of Cyril, a ‘hash financier’ who ‘lives in a five-bedroom detached home hidden along an 800-yard drive in the middle of the Kent countryside’. He is also, according to Wensley Clarkson, ‘one of the single most dangerous criminals I came across’ and is ‘clearly more than capable of having someone killed’. Now in all honesty I don’t doubt this statement; it is certainly true that there are many unsavoury characters and criminals involved in the cannabis trade, as there are in any illegal trade. My issue with this is that Mr Clarkson suggests that the cause of this violence and criminality is cannabis itself, rather than the simple fact that if a product, in this case cannabis, is prohibited and criminalised, its production and control inevitably fall into the hands of hardened criminals such as Cyril.
The reason Cyril is able to ‘cough up £50k on a Monday and by Friday get £120k back, no questions asked’ is because under prohibition the value of herbal cannabis (a natural plant that anyone can quite easily grow) has reached a level where it is now twenty times more expensive than silver per gram. Under a legal and regulated system there would be Government taxes placed on commercial sales of cannabis; under prohibition the taxes are placed on the product by the criminals who risk imprisonment and worse to provide the product. Which sounds preferable? Paying tax to the government, or paying it to men like Cyril? He may be a dangerous criminal involved in the cannabis trade, but it is prohibition which has given him his seat of power, not the plant.
You only have to look at the example of alcohol prohibition in the United States of America to see proof that repressive laws can be far more damaging, and breed far more violence and criminality, than any substance. From 1920 – 1933 the production and distribution of alcohol was a federal offence in the USA. During this time the overall consumption of alcohol may have dropped, but the law was far from a success. As is the case with cannabis prohibition today, the majority of people did not agree with the criminalisation of alcohol. As a result criminal gangs popped up all over the country to pick up the supply and the lucrative profits, causing carnage wherever they went; it is a direct result of alcohol prohibition that the American Mafia was formed and flourished. Not only did criminals take advantage of the situation; corrupt police officers and politicians were also able to manipulate the system and accrue vast fortunes for themselves, making prohibition not only dangerous to the general public but also ensuring that it was almost impossible to enforce.
Compare this to the alcohol business in America now – there are rules and regulations in place that mean the mayhem and chaos of the moonshine era is now a distant memory. The ingredients of a bottle of liquor are now tested and marked on the label, under 21’s cannot purchase alcohol and its sale earns the government billions of dollars every year. Money that would have gone to dangerous criminal syndicates is now back where it should be. Whether or not the government uses this money sensibly is another issue entirely, and one that is being tackled with some success in Colorado – where cannabis has recently been legalised for recreational use.
It doesn’t take a genius to see how this relates to Wensley Clarkson’s article and the issue of cannabis law reform in general. Clarkson says himself that cannabis is ‘the biggest source of income for organised crime around the world…an underground network of gangsters, drug barons, crooked police and even terrorists have made cannabis their contraband of choice’. By forcing cannabis and those who choose to use it into the shadowy criminal underworld, those who claim to protect us have unwittingly created and fuelled a sophisticated organised crime system the likes of which has never been seen in this country before. It is blatantly obvious that prohibition has had little to no success in stopping the spread of genuinely dangerous criminal behaviour, and has instead provided gangs with the easiest source of income imaginable. All they have to do is pop a few seeds, wait for sixteen weeks or so, and hey presto they will have earnt themselves upwards of £1000 per plant to spend on their other interests (i.e. people trafficking, terrorism etc). Money, it would seem, does grow on trees after all.
The only way to successfully put a stop to this, and in doing so make a massive dent in the income of the world’s most dangerous criminals, is to legalise and regulate the sale of cannabis to anyone over the age of 18.
Now that I have, hopefully, shown why Wensley Clarkson’s implications that cannabis somehow causes the violence and bloodshed associated with organised crime in general are completely baseless, I’ll move on to the other points raised in his article. Firstly, he came out with this quote –
“Cocaine, Heroin, LSD and amphetamines all bring devastating consequences but it is no exaggeration to say that cannabis, and in particular hash, its concentrated resin, is the most deadly of them all. It brings a level of violence, illness and addiction that to most people would seem barely credible.”
There’s a very simple reason for that Mr Clarkson – It isn’t credible. Not even a little bit. To claim that cannabis is ‘deadly’ in any sense is to completely ignore all of the evidence accrued over thousands of years of use that has shown one simple fact – no one has EVER died as a result of smoking, eating, or in any other way ingesting cannabis. It just isn’t possible. As for the claims of ‘violence, illness and addiction’ caused by cannabis, these are quite simply lies.
As I have already explained, the only violence associated with cannabis is not associated with the actual use of the drug. It is violence committed by criminals who have been gifted control of the production and supply of cannabis by the very laws that are supposedly meant to stop it from falling into their hands. Take that control away from the criminals and you take away any need for violence; surely no one would suggest that cannabis causes people to be violent, would they?
In terms of the claim that cannabis ‘brings a level of illness that to most people would seem barely credible’, I can hardly believe that this was printed. To be fair to Mr Clarkson, he did at least make a vain attempt to back this claim up. According to him, ‘users are six times more likely to suffer from serious mental illness than non-users’. Quite where he gets this piece of information from is a mystery to me, and his source is certainly not provided in the article.
The question of the relationship between cannabis and mental health is extremely complex, often misunderstood and certainly cannot be summed up by one inaccurate statistic. It has long been claimed that cannabis causes schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, especially with the rise in prevalence of so-called ‘skunk’ (a term adopted by the media which actually has no meaning whatsoever). In actual fact no study has ever been able to prove a direct causal link between cannabis and mental health problems; the only studies that show any kind of link at all seem to suggest that smoking large amounts of cannabis during an individual’s teenage years can trigger psychotic episodes in those individuals who are genetically predisposed to be susceptible to them. In other words – yes, some people who smoke cannabis from an early age can develop mental illness. But should that make them criminals, along with everybody else who smokes it with no ill effects? Of course not. And is the best way to protect those who are vulnerable to leave the control of the drug to unscrupulous criminals rather than medical professionals? A thousand times no.
It is worth pointing out a couple of very important pieces of research at this point (with sources, I don’t expect nor wish my words to be taken as gospel). Firstly there is the study carried out by Keele University entitled ‘Assessing the impact of cannabis use on trends in diagnosed schizophrenia in the United Kingdom from 1996 to 2005’. This study looked at the rate of diagnosed schizophrenia alongside the rate of cannabis use and concluded that “Between 1996 and 2005 the incidence and prevalence of schizophrenia and psychoses were either stable or declining…this study did not find any evidence of increasing schizophrenia or psychoses in the general population”. This despite the huge rise in the number of people reportedly smoking cannabis during this same period, especially those who were smoking the supposedly stronger and more dangerous ‘skunk’.
There is also the study entitled ‘Cannabidiol, a Cannabis sativa constituent, as an anti-psychotic drug’, published in the Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological research in 2006. This study looked at the effects of Cannabidiol (CBD) on patients suffering from psychoses and schizophrenia and concluded thus –
“The results of two studies on healthy volunteers using perception of binocular depth inversion and ketamine-induced psychotic symptoms supported the proposal of the antipsychotic-like properties of CBD. In addition, open case reports of schizophrenic patients treated with CBD and a preliminary report of a controlled clinical trial comparing CBD with an atypical antipsychotic drug have confirmed that this cannabinoid can be a safe and well-tolerated alternative treatment for schizophrenia.”
If you ask me, that should really put an end to all the ‘Cannabis causes schizophrenia’ arguments. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part.
The other supposed string to Wensley Clarkson’s bow regarding the harmful effects of cannabis was his assertion that “It is also carcinogenic. The British Lung Foundation says smoking three joints a day causes similar damage to smoking 20 cigarettes a day. That would suggest that up to 30,000 people a year contract cannabis-related cancer.” Well at least that explains where the 30,000 deaths mentioned in the headline are supposed to have come from. The BLF quote that Clarkson alludes to is taken from a 2012 report entitled ‘The Impact of cannabis on your lungs’. In it, much is made of the claim that one joint can allegedly do as much damage to a person’s lungs as twenty cigarettes. However, if you actually read the report in full you will see that it also says that “studies in human populations have yielded conflicting evidence on the subject: some suggest there is a link between smoking cannabis and lung cancer while others don’t. It’s worth noting that these studies are of limited value as they looked at relatively small numbers of people and didn’t take into consideration the quantity of cannabis smoked or the effects of smoking a mixture of tobacco and cannabis. In addition, some previous evidence suggests that THC may have anti-carcinogenic effects.”
Hardly the clear cut and bullet-proof evidence that Clarkson’s article seems to suggest then. In fact, it goes further than that. After explaining that the evidence around cannabis and lung cancer is mixed at best, the BLF report gives an explanation of the research which in their eyes proves that cannabis is twenty times more carcinogenic than tobacco. Unfortunately for them, that study (conducted by Aldington et al) has since been given a thorough scientific rebuttal, – and which shows that the research which Clarkson and the BLF based their assumptions on was in fact fatally flawed.
The third and final part of Clarkson’s astonishingly ill-informed attack on cannabis related to addiction. I’ll keep this simple – cannabis is one of the least addictive substances on the face of the earth. People ‘coming off’ cannabis will not suffer physical withdrawal symptoms like those associated with harder drugs, caffeine for example. It is habit forming, as is anything pleasurable; but addictive? No. It just isn’t.
There are many other points and quotes that I could pull apart from the article, however I fear I would just end up repeating myself. I will end by saying that despite the best efforts of Wensley Clarkson and The Daily Mail, the times are changing. All over the world people and governments alike are waking up to the fact that cannabis prohibition is wrong and it isn’t working. Even here in the UK the government have finally admitted that cannabis has medicinal value. They may be doing their best to deny it and hide it under bureaucracy, but Sativex, the GW Pharmaceuticals produced cannabis tincture, is no longer a schedule one drug. GW produce hundreds of tonnes of cannabis every year in this country under strict regulations and ship it all over the world. And guess what; that so-called deadly plant is being used to help patients suffering from diseases such as epilepsy, crohn’s, Multiple Sclerosis and even cancer; and there are no gangsters with bloodied hacksaws, drug mules or crooked cops anywhere to be seen. Funny that.