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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Digital Marketing,London

To £58k Contract 12 months: Charter Selection: Major household name charity se...

Key Account Manager, Medical

£35000 per annum, Benefits: Excellent commission structure + Car: Charter Sele...

Key Account Manager, Medical

£35000 per annum, Benefits: Excellent commission structure + Car: Charter Sele...

Account Management Strategy Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum + competitive: Real Staffing: Required skills:Previo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The daily catch-up: fathers looking after children, World Cup questions and Nostradamus

John Rentoul
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Phone and data laws to be passed in haste

Andrew Grice
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice