Twenty-five years gone up in smoke

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The Independent Online
Herewith a look at some of the highs and, in particular, the lows, that have marked 25 years of illicit indulgence

24 July 1967 An advertisement in the Times states: 'The law against marijuana is immoral in principle and unworkable in practice.' It quotes a leading article from the Lancet which suggests that it is 'worth considering . . . giving the same status as alcohol by legalising its import and consumption'. The advertisement proposes that everyone currently imprisoned for possession of cannabis should have their sentences commuted, a view supported by 65 signatories including the Beatles, Graham Greene, Dr Jonathan Miller, David Dimbleby and Jonathan Aitken.

May 1968 Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones is arrested for possession, for what he estimates is his 12th time. This time his cannabis is hidden in a ball of wool in his Chelsea flat. 'Is this your wool? ' the arresting officer inquires. 'Could be,' Jones replies.

July 1969 The Rolling Stones play a free concert in Hyde Park in tribute to Brian Jones, found dead in his swimming pool. At the concert, an organisation called Bong Bong Parade attempts to pass a foot-long joint around the entire perimeter of the crowd.

April 1971 In Oz magazine, a student writes: 'The public schools have been hitting the headlines - 'Boys expelled for possessing cannabis'. But of all the drugs that float around public schools, cannabis is about the rarest. In my own experience the number of boys who smoke is remarkably small compared to the number who indulge in much worse forms of self-prescription (such as) cough mixtures.'

1972 A graffito appears in Notting Hill Gate, London, inspired by lyrics from the rock group Man: 'I like to eat bananas because they have no bones, I like marijuana because it gets me stoned'.

August 1973 A BBC survey estimates that nearly four million Britons have used cannabis at least once.

December 1976 Sid Vicious, of the Sex Pistols, says: 'Pot is not drugs, pot is for dropouts. Only hippies like pot.'

February 1978 A Birmingham nursery teacher is fined pounds 500 for possession of a resin block weighing more than 1lb.

1980 Cannabis offences in Surrey increase by 43 per cent over the previous year. 'It's like an epidemic,' a constable says. 'They're growing it in window- boxes, gardens, even on the commons.'

May 1981 After a year in which 12,400 people have been prosecuted for cannabis offences, the Smokey Bear direct action group sends cannabis plants to 60 MPs. 'So far, no one has said thank you,' a spokesman says.

November 1981 The son-in-law of an Appeal Court judge is sentenced to six years in jail for helping to smuggle 15 tons of cannabis, worth pounds 20m, from the US to a remote Scottish island.

June 1982 A clerk at Buckingham Palace is fined pounds 50 for possessing 4.3 grams of cannabis and 7.4 grams of cannabis resin.

July 1983 Christopher Whitehouse, 36, the son of Mary Whitehouse, receives a suspended sentence for possession.

January 1984 Paul McCartney is busted in Barbados, Linda McCartney at Heathrow. Paul says: 'It's a whole lot less harmful than whisky, rum punch, nicotine and glue'. His most recent hit single is called Pipes of Peace.

January 1984 Edwin Shore, chairman of the West Midland police authority, says that smoking cannabis made him 'giggly' and calls for it to be legalised. He later says he regrets the remarks.

August 1985 A marine engineer at the Polaris base in Faslane, Scotland, is court-martialled for smoking and supplying to other sailors at the base.

May 1986 Ian Botham admits to smoking pot 'at various times in the past'. For this he is banned from top-class cricket for two months. T-shirts appear in Carnaby Street showing a drawing of Botham with a joint and the legend 'From Hashish to Ashes'. Five months later he tells a a young audience on television: 'I don't regard marijuana as drugs'.

September 1986 Police in Bristol foil an operation to sell special bars of Cadbury's Dairy Milk to children. Special because they have been melted down by dealers and sprinkled with Lebanese Gold.

October 1986 Two Huddersfield Town soccer fans are fined pounds 5 after they are spotted rolling a joint by police surveillance cameras 30ft above their heads.

June 1987 Senior teachers at a school in Wembley, are questioned after a six- year-old boy admits smoking cannabis in the playground.

July 1987 The poet Adrian Mitchell says: 'Pot should be legalised, nationalised and classified into a variety of brands according to taste and strength. It should also be sold in packets of three, five, or 20'.

June 1988 The Prison Governors Association reports that cannabis has replaced tobacco as the principal currency in British prisons.

July 1988 Howard Marks, an Oxford graduate and former MI6 agent, is arrested in Majorca for master-minding what is called the biggest cannabis smuggling ring in history. He is convicted in October 1990 and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

October 1988 Paul McCartney recalls the Times advertisement: 'At the time it didn't seem in the least bit radical. But now - to imagine that Jonathan Aitken came round and solicited my support . . . now's when it looks far out to me]'

September 1989 Adam Clayton, bass player with U2, agrees to pay pounds 25,000 to charity to avoid a conviction. He admits possessing enough cannabis for 150 cigarettes.

January 1990 Cannabis worth pounds 9m is smuggled into Britain in barrels of sausage skins. Five months later a businessman is jailed for 10 years for smuggling pounds 400,000 worth in jars of pickled gherkins.

February 1990 Britain's longest cannabis trial ends after 107 days when eight men are convicted of a conspiracy to smuggle pounds 18m worth of the drug concealed in African timber.

July 1990 Farmers in rural Wales set up Pot Watch to report illegal plantings. The spread of the crop is reported to be widespread as hard-up smallholders attempt to increase the cash yield from their land.

September 1990 A 68-year-old resident of Notting Hill is fined pounds 1,000 after his defence solicitor argues that he was supplying cannabis 'only to people of his own age'.

April 1991 A man who grew 1,659 cannabis plants worth pounds 500,000 in his back garden tells Wolverhampton Crown Court that he is a heavy smoker.

June 1991 A report in the science journal Nature suggests that cannabis might improve night vision. Jamaican fisherman are found to have an uncanny ability to see in the dark, an attribute linked to their taste for a punch made with cannabis and rum.

June 1991 Judge James Pickles calls for the legalisation of cannabis during a television interview. Two days later John Patten, then a Home Office minister, tells the Commons that he and the Home Secretary regarded it as 'entirely wrong' to consider such a step.

August 1991 Cannabis plants are found growing in a flower box outside a McDonald's restaurant in Stourbridge, West Midlands. The local drug squad says there will be no prosecution. McDonald's did not know how the plants came to be growing there. One theory is that birds may have carried the seeds.

October 1991 A 52-year-old woman tells Swansea Crown Court that she was sent to 'hell and back' after eating a chocolate cake laced with cannabis prepared by her niece. She explains that after eating a slice she believed she was being chased by rottweilers and that she was starring on Esther Rantzen's That's Life television show.

January 1992 Tony Banks, Labour MP for Newham North-west, tells the Commons that soft drugs should be legalised. But the party's deputy leader, Roy Hattersley, dismisses the suggestion that Labour is committed to such a policy. The Green Party, which advocated legalisation in 1983, decides not to call for legalisation in its election manifesto.

March 1992 During Operation Pussycat a London drugs squad seizes 440kg (200lb) of cannabis valued at pounds 1.4m, but for this they have to sift through 147 tons of cat litter for five days.

April 1992 Eleven pupils at the pounds 8,000-a- year Wellington College are suspended for using cannabis at parties outside school. The assistant bursar says 99 per cent of pupils expect illegal drugs to be available at parties.

April 1992 The Daily Telegraph prints a story by its health services correspondent headlined: 'Pot smoking is 'popular with the young' '.

July 1992 Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, requests a box of illicit drugs as his luxury item on Desert Island Discs.

July 1992 Research among Sussex police shows that one in five uniformed officers favour the decriminalisation of cannabis and are likely to caution or ignore anyone they find in possession of a small quantity of the drug.

July 1992 Two masked men enter the headquarters of the West Midlands Police drugs squad, bypass an alarm system and steal cannabis resin worth pounds 150,000. One raider wears jeans, brown suede shoes and a ski mask and carries an axe.

31 July 1992 The drugs agency Release holds its 25th anniversary party in Notting Hill Gate. Lighting and design are by Peregrine Armstrong-Jones. A double ticket costs pounds 25.

Legalise it?

JONATHON GREEN, chronicler of the Sixties

I signed this petition, but i got replaced by the grander folks the second time they ran it. For 44-year-old white ex-hippies like me, it's still the preferred after-dinner choice. On a scale of 1 to 10 of danger, cannabis is 1. I tried LSD, and that was more duty than pleasure. There's no proven link between cannabis and any danger, or that it leads you on to harder drugs. But please let me know what you're writing - I don't want my mother thinking I'm the centre of the drugs scene.

ALAN BLEASDALE, writer, is signing this time.

I MISSED out on cannabis - I was just leaving college when people started doing funny walks and leaving things hidden in ice cubes. I'm a 10 pints of Guinness man, myself.

I do think dope should be legalised; that'd stop it being trendy. I did have some in a cake once - yes, very pleasant. The few times I smoked it, I just became very benign. I had it three times at parties; the best time was with two other actors - that was very powerful stuff: I went home and listened to all the scratches on my Bob Dylan records.

However, I plead with my children not to smoke - when you play football you just can't go down the left wing at the same pace. But my daughter's the only one in her class who hasn't been smoking since the age of 15.

STEVE ABRAMS (Organiser of first petition)

I haven't signed this petition, because I like to see what I'm signing, and nobody will show it to me. I don't see the point of this initiative - today no-one gets a prison sentence for personal possession.

Of course, I'm in favour of legalisation - the traffic could be completely outflanked by growing cannabis in this country and providing it through cafes of pharmacies.

CAROLINE COON, worker for Release and organiser of the new advertisement.

A GP gave Steve Abrams and me a prescription for cannabis. We walked into Boots in Piccadilly and the chemist reappeared with this huge bottle caked in dust, and poured out two little green bottles. We walked out into Piccadilly while all around us people were being arrested.

Of course it should be decriminalised, but if it is legalised it must be licensed, there must be quality control, and education. I don't want a crazed person stoned on drugs stabbing me. And I'm against adults being able to give children drugs.

Legalise it?

TARIQ ALI, writer, Sixties radical. He signed the Times advertisement in 1967 and has signed a new one which appears this week.

I'VE never smoked - I have a phobia about inhaling. But this is a civil liberties issue: in the Sixties the police planted cannabis on blacks so they could beat them up. Today, the black and white middle classes who smoke are safe, but the police can still use it against people they don't like. Intelligent officers would opt for decriminalising so they can get on with crime detection.

My generation still smokes dope at dinner parties. In the Sixties, I don't think there were any parties where it wasn't smoked - there was a different mood then, full of hope. John Lennon had a beautiful wooden box, with eight compartments for different brands of marijuana.

WILLIAM REES-MOGG, wrote the notorious 1967 Times editorial, 'Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?', after Mick Jagger's arrest on drugs charges.

I AM unsympathetic with legalising cannabis - as I was then. I wrote that editorial because I thought the case against Jagger hadn't been made. But as anti- drugs programmes break down, it's possible that legalisation is becoming inevitable. The conditions in the US, where drugs finance crime, show how difficult it is to uphold the law. The question is what price one has to pay to keep it illegal.

PENELOPE LEACH, childcare expert.

I WON'T have drugs in the house, but that's because of British Psychological Society rulings, frankly.

Certain research suggests that cannabis itself does little harm, but it also suggests that dope users are more likely to go on to harder drugs than those who haven't tried anything.

It's a dilemma for me: I'm passionately against people being sentenced for personal use, but that's a different matter from legalising it.

DR SAM HUTT (Hank Wangford), doctor and country singer. He signed the first petition and is signing again.

AS FAR as I can see, apart from smoking being bad for your chest, and dope doing funny things to your memory, it is the least harmful of all the drugs, and it's non-addictive. Nobody smokes a joint and then beats up their old woman. Some people may get awful paranoid feelings. I was a dedicated pot smoker in the Sixties, a loner who felt outside society: classic characteristics of the reefer smoker. Now I live in Notting Hill Gate; people smoke joints in the street. The only astonishing thing is that it's still illegal.

JULIE BURCHILL, columnist.

DEAD against legalisation; people are slow and stupid enough already. It would make them sit around listening to Genesis records all day. But I do think amphetamines and cocaine should be legalised - which would make everybody much more lively. I think MPs should be force-fed


I tried dope in my youth - it was disgusting stuff; not as good as alcohol. In fact, it's the poor man's alcohol - alcohol for those who aren't able to handle a hangover in the morning.


I WAS asked 25 years ago, and I wouldn't sign then, and I won't sign now. I don't agree with smoking, let alone cannabis. I've never tried it - certainly not. But you don't have to shoot someone to know about murder. Bringing up the American experience is no argument - you could legalise killing by saying that if you don't, guns will be driven underground.

GEORGE MELLY, critic and singer, signed the original advertisement and has signed again.

I WOULDN'T dream of going to the trouble of getting some dope today, but I'd have it if someone passed me some at a party. I was always more of a drunk, so cannabis seemed very harmless to me - alcohol is much worse.

I believe in the maximum liberty of the individual - including the liberty to destroy oneself. I always found cannabis a boring topic of conversation, but you can't ban it because it makes people boring.

BERNIE SIMONS, solicitor.

I'M NOT sure I'm in favour of legalisation for possession. But it doesn't seem an important issue any more. For me, 25 years ago, it was really important in my life - as a libertarian issue. Today the police rarely prosecute; they're told to administer cautions, and even bringing small amounts into the country doesn't lead to court. In my youth, in Notting Hill, people were stopped and searched all the time, and they had nothing on them. You used to have police raids on parties, where they'd find a bit of cannabis and arrest everyone in the room; 12 people would appear in court charged with the same bit of cannabis. It doesn't happen any more, certainly not in London - though I can't speak for rural Wales.

ADAM FAITH (then pop singer, now financial consultant)

I haven't been asked to sign, but I would. I'm all for legalisation. There are certain drugs which are less harmful than drink. I'd register people, and legalise all drugs across the board; then the Government could sell the drugs, and that would solve America's balance of payments problem.

Look, banning it hasn't worked, so you have to control it somehow.

I've never done it myself - though I often fancied having the odd puff, but I just never did, because I'm so weak-willed I'd be mainlining heroin in a week.

(Photograph omitted)