Letter from the Editor
Rosie Boycott is a journalist and the first female editor of two national broadsheets. In 1971 she co-founded the influential feminist magazine Spare Rib, from 1992 to 1996 she edited the men's magazine Esquire. She is a former editor of The Independent, The Independent on Sunday and the Daily Express.
Sunday 28 December 1997
I write in the hope that the arrest of a Cabinet member's son for supplying a small amount of cannabis might bring home to you just how stupid the law is, and how much police and court time is tied up in prosecuting people for possessing or dealing in a drug that is not dangerous.
I do not need to tell you how this young man's life will be blighted by this incident. He is likely to receive a criminal record and be punished by his school for selling a small lump of a drug that is not addictive and is less harmful than tobacco or alcohol.
It is three months since the Independent on Sunday launched its campaign to decriminalise cannabis for personal use. We have had thousands of messages of support from people in all walks of life, including serving and retired police officers, magistrates, doctors, teachers and multiple sclerosis sufferers, for whom cannabis can provide relief. So far you, as the minister in charge of drugs policy, have reiterated your oppositon to decriminalisation and the Government has refused to debate the issue in the Commons.
As Home Secretary, you must come across all sorts of terrible examples of violence and social breakdown. What proportion of them are caused by alcohol and how many are due to cannabis use? I am certain I know the answer. Yet society will reprimand this boy for possessing cannabis but ignore the fact that as a 17 year old he was in a pub where alcohol was being consumed.
A major plank in the Government's case is that cannabis is a "gateway" drug that can lead to heroin and cocaine addiction. We say that only occurs precisely because cannabis use is illegal. Cannabis dealers often trade in other, dangerous, substances; people meet them and they are on a slippery slope. Contrary to impressions given elsewhere, we do not advocate legalising all drugs. We do say, though, that it is time to decriminalise cannabis.
This boy was from a caring, respectable family, which goes to show how widespread the use of cannabis has become. Doubtless his father felt he was doing the right thing by taking him to the police. But if his family really wants to display compassion and understanding it might acknowledge the law is also at fault.
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