The UK is the largest exporter of legal cannabis – now we just need to decriminalise it completely

Over the years, the absurdity of cannabis being illegal has been decloaked as often and effectively as the silliness of retaining that alleged nuclear deterrent. As with Trident, it has nothing to do with logic, and everything to do with retrograde symbolism

Matthew Norman
Sunday 03 June 2018 18:52
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A smart government would decriminalise milder variants for those over 21, and make skunk a class A drug
A smart government would decriminalise milder variants for those over 21, and make skunk a class A drug

Whatever you think about that former dominion across the seas, it’s a fair bet that the last adjective you’d spurt out in answer to “Canada” in a word association game would be “reckless”.

In America and Britain, it’s been fashionable for centuries to sneer at the country for being dull, although what passes for boring to one person looks more like sanity to another.

To many who started examining the globe within minutes of the Brexit referendum being lost, and again within 2.3 seconds of CNN calling Florida for Donald Trump, Canada’s reputation for studied caution made it New Zealand’s only bolthole rival in the Anglophone world.

On Thursday, offering an unwitting reminder about an area of home grown lunacy which predates Brexit, stuffy old Canada will vote, via its Senate, to legalise recreational cannabis.

It will be a while before Her Maj gives the royal assent to Bill C-45. By August, Canadians will be able to buy marijuana in shops, as inhabitants of nine US states already can (despite it remaining illegal under federal law).

Here, meanwhile, in the transatlantic Confederacy of Dunces’ junior partner, prohibition has no end in sight. In fact we’ve regressed. The drug’s classification was lowered to class C under Tony Blair during the brief and startling window when the Daily Mail thought it a good idea.

A few years later, under pressure from a more recognisably outraged Daily Mail, and in defiance of the best expert advice, Gordon Brown restored it to class B.

Over the years, the absurdity of this position has been decloaked as often and effectively as the silliness of retaining that alleged nuclear deterrent. As with Trident, it has nothing to do with logic, and everything to do with retrograde symbolism.

You may get the paradox-ridden flavour from this. Britain, the world’s largest exporter of legal cannabis with almost half the global market, officially refuses to recognise any medical benefits.

It is available on prescription, but on such a limited basis that it is far easier for a patient in need of pain relief to get hold of medical grade heroin.

God knows what someone normal would have to be smoking to confuse this with sensible policy, but I’d guess it was grown under hydroponic lights and has a stratospheric THC content.

Which brings us to the leading nominal objection to legalisation. While most cannabis forms are relatively benign – and incomparably less harmful than legal drugs such as tobacco, alcohol, diazepam and refined sugar – the strain known as “skunk” is a serious danger to the mental health of young people with unformed synaptic pathways.

The evidence, statistical and anecdotal, is clear. And so is the solution. A smart government would decriminalise milder variants for those over 21, and make skunk a class A drug. It would then spend a tiny proportion of its tax revenues from sales of the stuff that doesn’t cause psychosis on educating students about the difference.

Those revenues – from a decrease in crime and the prison population and a reduction in alcohol abuse, as well as the tax income – would be huge. A new report by Health Poverty Action, a British-based NGO, estimates them at up to £3.5bn – more than enough to fill the NHS funding gap, and about five times what the coalition government hoped to recoup from its wicked raid on disabled benefits.

Britain is the whore of the planet with a storied tradition of flogging anything, from passports to state-owned industries, to raise cash. Yet when a no-brainer like this presents itself, governments and potential governments are scared off by habitual terror of old media.

While decriminalisation is the policy of the Liberal Democrats and the aptly named Greens, even Jeremy Corbyn, that doyen of Glastonbury, hasn’t adopted it for Labour.

Legalisation will come eventually. The demographics of age make it inevitable. No one under 60 who isn’t a Tory MP believes that non-skunk cannabis is a serious menace. Already, a plurality of those polled favour its licenced sale. The margin will grow with natural wastage until the electoral maths make even the Mail’s opposition irrelevant.

But that could take years and years – decades, even, during which untold billions that should be spent on the NHS stay within organised crime; the crucial distinction between skunk and non-skunk strains can’t be effectively drawn; and next to none of the medical marijuana manufactured in Britain is used to help British citizens.

A guy I met a few days ago in a Turkish baths told me he has rheumatoid arthritis, an excruciating and often crippling auto-immune disease. After 12 weeks of using privately prescribed cannabis oil, his symptoms vanished dormant. Ten years of smoking a legal variety later, he’s in excellent health.

Such is the puritanism – even when the product produces no high – that an infinitesimal proportion of sufferers are given a very cheap treatment with no side effects, when the standard drugs are expensive and dangerously suppress the white cell count.

Tragic as every case of a teenage mind damaged by skunk certainly is, the institutional psychosis behind government policy on cannabis proves that you needn’t smoke it to lower the IQ dramatically or fall victim to extreme paranoia. Britain is now officially more cautious than Canada, and stupider than swathes of the United States.

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