Letter: The positive side of soft drugs

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The Independent Online
Sir: I fit into the category known as the mentally disordered offender. Shortly after receiving a discretionary life sentence, imposed for manslaughter (on the grounds of 'diminished responsibility'), in 1980, I found myself going through a spell of depression and visited the prison doctor. Being aware of the addictive qualities of such drugs as Librium, Valium and Largactil (used by the prison authorities in the Seventies for controlling prisoners), I told the doctor of my fears. He asked me whether there was any Paki-black on the wing. I replied that marijuana was freely available. 'Good, buy yourself a pound deal and you'll be as right as rain in the morning.' I did as I was advised, and believe that cannabis is useful rather than harmful.

In another prison a few years later, when a principal officer inquired what it would take to cure my 'behavioural problem', I suggested a pound deal of Paki-black. He remembered that he had such a sample in his top drawer (from a quantity that a drug dealer had lost and a prison officer had found), and he gave me this.

In yet another prison, in 1989, I was fined pounds 5 by the governor (for possession of a 'controlled drug' ie, cannabis) and the governor stated: 'If you've got a drug problem, I suggest you see the doctor]'

The prison authorities have a drug problem; I do not.

My empirical research, carried out in three long-term establishments, shows that 85 per cent of the population are drug users. This in itself is not a problem. The real menace is that drug dealers control the supply of cannabis.

I believe that had cannabis been legally available 14 years ago, its calming effect would have soothed away the build-up of anger, frustration and depression which proved a fatal combination. It is arguable that by legalising cannabis the prison authorities would regain the loss of control they are now experiencing.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN HIRST

HM Garth Prison

Leyland, Lancashire

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