The film of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone had more advance publicity than yesterday's report from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, but not much more. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, said he was "minded" to downgrade cannabis from class B to class C last year, so the council's conclusion, that the harmful effects of cannabis were "very substantially less" than those of other class B drugs, should not have come as a surprise.
All the same, it is striking to read, after decades in which governments have been in denial, the plain statements that cannabis "is not associated with major health problems for the individual or society", and that it is less addictive than tobacco or alcohol.
This official confirmation of what anyone who cared to find out already knew is no cause for triumphalism, however. Satisfaction at the quiet dropping of the rhetoric of the "war on drugs" is justified, as is relief that the light of common sense has been let into one large dungeon of irrational public policy. But the problems that British society currently faces with other drugs – including, of course, alcohol – are so serious that any form of complacency is misplaced.
The question now is whether Mr Blunkett is prepared to use the fact that civilisation will survive the reclassifying of cannabis to reorder priorities elsewhere. A pragmatic approach towards other drugs that are not in themselves a threat to society might allow policy to focus on the ones that are really dangerous. Testing of ecstasy for purity ought to be encouraged. Heroin addiction should be treated as a medical issue rather than a criminal one, and we should return to a policy of prescribing heroin to addicts in exchange for co-operation with treatment.
That would enable policy to be targeted with more precision on the real problem areas, crack cocaine and ketamine, the increasingly popular "club" drug that provides temporary oblivion. Crack, an addictive stimulant often associated with violent behaviour, is implicated in the recent rise in street crime – but, again, should be approached as part of a set of social problems rather than simply as a form of crime to be stamped out.
At last, however, the confusion, fear and ignorance promoted by lumping all illegal drugs into one antisocial mass is beginning to be broken down. That can only be a step in the right direction.Reuse content