If cannabis is legal, more teenagers will smoke it – and that can’t be good

People who want to legalise drugs talk about harm reduction, and they are right to

Share

I know all right-thinking people are supposed to be delighted that Colorado has legalised cannabis, the first American state to do so. We are supposed to say, “When, oh, when will our government realise that it is losing the war on drugs and should take a lesson even from Americans, who can be surprisingly liberal sometimes?” But let us pause.

The idea that the existing policy on drugs in this country, and almost everywhere in the world apart from Colorado and Uruguay, is a self-evident failure is not a truth that is self-evident to me. In particular, the “war on drugs”, and the notion that it is being “lost”, is a cliché that helps to shut down thought rather than encourage it.

Illegal drug use in this country has decreased, is decreasing and ought to decrease further. In particular, young people in Britain drink less alcohol, smoke less tobacco and use fewer illegal drugs than they did. Those are good trends. If the Government is waging a war on drugs, it is winning it.

People who want to legalise drugs talk a lot about harm reduction, and they are right to do so. Let us then, while we are pausing, ask two questions. One, is cannabis harmful? Mostly, no. Mostly, its effect is to make people boring. But it is possible that, in some cases, it acts as a trigger for serious mental illness, especially for male teenagers.

Whether cannabis has been shown to be a trigger for people who are susceptible, or whether such people tend to try cannabis, is disputed, and the proportion of people who might be susceptible is small. But it would seem an unwise idea to do anything that might encourage more people to try cannabis unless we are sure.

So the next question is whether legalising cannabis would lead to more young people trying it. Well, what do you think?

It is at this stage that supporters of legalisation tend to drive the argument into the bowling-alley gutters by saying, “What about the harm done by alcohol?” It is serious, is the answer to that. And it is certainly more serious, on aggregate, than the harm done by cannabis. But that is an attempt to change the subject. Do something about attitudes to alcohol by all means. Rush out and buy Alastair Campbell’s much-admired novel, My Name Is. Give up for January. Or for life. But none of this answers the question about how to minimise the harm of cannabis.

Then there is the harm done by the control of the production and supply of drugs by criminals. Yes, it is a problem. But we are mainly talking about cocaine and heroin, if we mean organised crime and drugs, and a lot of the harm in those cases is suffered in Colombia and Afghanistan. I don’t have the answers to that; but then, neither do the advocates of legalising cannabis, who tend not to propose legalising “harder” drugs, yet.

Finally, legalisers sometimes say that it is jolly confusing that cannabis is illegal in theory but that the police tend to concentrate on more important things in practice. It’s a compromise. It is so sensible that it is the most common legal position all over the world: illegal but not stringently enforced for small amounts. It is intellectually unsatisfactory, but it is winning. The people who want to change it have to make a better case.

Twitter: @JohnRentoul

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: ENGLISH TEACHER REQUIRED - Humbe...

Chemistry Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: We are looking for a Qualified C...

Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are currently...

Year 1 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 1 Primary Supply Teachers ne...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Take a moment to imagine you're Ed Miliband...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Letters: No vote poses difficult questions – so why rush?

Independent Voices
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits