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 Yes, we sought to dramatise that change, not least in order to question some outdated assumptions and suggest people look again at the latest evidence.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

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US  

The 'caliphate'? We’ve heard Obama’s language of the Crusades before

Robert Fisk
 

Next they'll say an independent Scotland can't use British clouds...

Mark Steel
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan