By Deej Sullivan
The news that Radio 4 was planning a ‘Cannabis Awareness Week’ was met with a great deal of intrigue and even that rarest of things amongst activists – hope – over the past week or so.
Sadly that initial, tentative intrigue was replaced almost immediately with a crushing sense of déjà vu with the release of a study into cannabis and psychosis which prompted sensationalist (not to mention factually incorrect) headlines up and down the country.
If there is one silver lining to be found amongst the fallout from that (as usual) utterly misrepresented report though, it is that cannabis activists were being invited onto the likes of Sky News, the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV even before Radio 4’s awareness week began in earnest yesterday evening.
The PM programme is to be the home of Cannabis Awareness Week (although many other stations, networks, newspapers, etc do seem to be getting involved), with a healthy chunk of the show dedicated to cannabis each evening this week culminating on Friday, when a full half of the running time will be taken up with a debate on cannabis.
Last night’s cannabis section began with the host, Eddie Mair, reading in full a New York Times editorial from last year calling for the full legalisation of cannabis at the Federal level in the USA. It was refreshing to hear these words being spoken live on BBC Radio, even if they weren’t necessarily the opinions of Mair (although who knows, maybe they are).
After a brief, but revealing report from a dispensary in Washington – which looked ‘more like a juice bar’ – the reporter explained some of the teething problems involved in regulating cannabis, once the citizens of a state had voted for legalisation. This was a fascinating bit and really drove home to me the fact that what we have in this country, especially compared to state level politics in the US, is not democracy. Here you had citizens fully engaging in political decisions which directly affected them, and their voices were actually being heard. Compare that to the UK, where poll after poll has revealed widespread support for ending the drug war, and yet the government continues to insist that it knows better.
Following on from this report was an interview with Brent Staples, a member of the Editorial Board at the New York Times and one of the people involved in writing the words that were spoken at the beginning of the segment. Eddie Mair asked him almost immediately about the ‘skunk’ report, to which Mr Staples replied that he would love to read the report and that they had not had anything like it in the US. He explained that as far back as 1937 prohibitionists were making wild claims about cannabis causing schizophrenia which have never been proven to be true, whilst at the same time scientists were, and have remained, appalled by the treatment of drug users as criminals.
He went on to explain that even if it is the case that cannabis can trigger mental health problems, leaving it in the hands of the black market is the absolute worst way to protect people. In much the same way that if other medicines or recreational products were deregulated completely they would become instantly far more dangerous than they ever had been previously.
Of course, this being the BBC, they couldn’t give the last word to someone who supported legalisation – that went to the government. They have, of course, hailed the skunk study as proof that the current approach of criminalisation is the best way forwards, since cannabis is so obviously destructive; conveniently failing to take into account their own report, released just a few months ago, which concluded that punitive drug laws have no effect whatsoever on levels of drug use in a country.
Cannabis Awareness Week will continue this evening at 5pm on the PM programme, this time looking at two cannabis users from the UK who have had two very different experiences with the drug. If you would like to get involved keep an eye on the NORML UK Facebook page, as well as the pages of the UKCSC, UPA, Feed The Birds etc for information on when and where the ‘cannabis issue’ is being raised in the media. You can let the PM programme know what you think by Tweeting @BBCPM