Leading article: The cannabis debate

Share

Our front-page headline last week, "Cannabis: an apology", certainly grabbed the attention of a lot of people. No issue since the Iraq war has provoked such a reaction from our readers and from other media. Today we publish a selection of letters, including many from people dismayed by our repudiation of our 1997 campaign to decriminalise cannabis.

Our front page was no mere attention-seeking device, however. The Independent on Sunday has changed its view because of the growing weight of evidence that cannabis contributes to mental illness. Yes, we sought to dramatise that change, not least in order to question some outdated assumptions and suggest people look again at the latest evidence.

It may be, though, that last week's headline did not do full justice to our special report. Certainly some of the journalists who contacted our office to follow up the story of our "U-turn" had not read much beyond the headline. Our "apology" was not a complete reversal of everything this newspaper stands for, or a repudiation of our fundamental liberal values. We still believe that adults should be free to live their lives as long as they cause others no harm. But the argument about the harm caused to family, friends and the wider society by cannabis-induced psychosis has changed. As we made clear in this space last week, what was a law-enforcement argument about priorities in 1997 has become, in 2007, a medical debate about mental health. Two things changed in the intervening 10 years: one was the increasing evidence that cannabis is a trigger factor in psychosis, especially for males, with the risk greater the younger cannabis use starts and the stronger the dose; the other was the big switch to high-strength "skunk".

Some of our readers doubt the medical evidence, and suggest that the growth in reporting of mental illness might have suggested causation where none exists, or even that those who are susceptible to mental illness would be more likely to misuse cannabis. We would urge them to read the testimony, on page 43, of Julie Lynn-Evans, a child psychotherapist with extensive experience in the field, which makes persuasive reading.

Others noted the Lancet study last week that compiled an "index of harm" for a number of mood-altering drugs, legal and illegal. Cannabis was ranked in the middle of the table, as more harmful than ecstasy and less harmful than either alcohol or tobacco. Two fallacious arguments are made on the basis of this kind of ranking. One is that cannabis should be legalised because more harmful drugs are already legal. That is a bit like the argument, which this newspaper never made, that we should not invade Iraq because North Korea was a worse tyranny. The other is that the risks of taking cannabis - or ecstasy - are low. There is a difference between overall "harm" and individual risk. Last week, another teenager died after taking ecstasy. And if you are among the one in four who is susceptible, to use cannabis, especially at a young age, is to take a terrible risk with your mental health.

Nor is our position the only one that has changed over the past decade. We hear much less of the "war on drugs" from the Government now, and the emphasis of public policy is much more focused on information, education and harm reduction. That is how it should be, and we should say so.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A pack of seagulls squabble over discarded food left on the beach at St Ives on July 28, 2015  

Number of urban seagulls in Britain nearly quadruples: Hide food and avoid chicks to stay in gulls’ good books

Tom Bawden
 

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen