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

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

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions