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 Yes, we sought to dramatise that change, not least in order to question some outdated assumptions and suggest people look again at the latest evidence.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
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teacher Cornwall

£21500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: ***KS1 & KS2 Teachers ...

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: A huge step forward in medical science, but we're not all the way there yet

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron has painted a scary picture of what life would be like under a Labour government  

You want constitutional change? Fixed-term parliaments have already done the job

Steve Richards
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album