Monday 15 October 2018

And Worse Than Tears

Peter Hitchens writes: 

Just as modish elite opinion swings ever more swiftly towards legalising marijuana, shocking and undeniable new evidence of its grave and frightening harms comes to light. 

Which will win? Fashion, and the prejudice of the chattering class? Or common sense? 

The truth about this very dangerous and far-from-soft drug can no longer be hidden. 

As The Mail on Sunday reveals today, there have been more than 125,000 hospital admissions related to cannabis or similar drugs in the past five years. These are concentrated among the young. 

Just how ill did the users of this supposedly harmless drug have to be, for them to end up in hospital casualty departments? How many others suffered panic and misery alone and untreated? 

Yet this country faces a grim race, between a fanatical and sometimes greedy campaign to decriminalise marijuana at all costs, and the accumulating evidence that such a move would be an irreparable disaster. 

For years, the billionaire-backed proponents of a cannabis free-for-all have sneered at warnings offered by me and many others that the drug is a major danger to mental health. 

Where was the proof of the damage it did, they would ask, ignoring the tragic evidence in every town centre of homeless, shattered, trembling men and women, plainly broken by drug abuse. 

These wicked cynics have, I believe, known all along that many individuals and families would pay a high and painful price for their pleasure, wealth and convenience. 

In much the same way, Big Tobacco knew for years that cigarettes were doing terrible damage to smokers, but carried on making millions from them and resisted attempts to restrict advertising and sales. 

The marijuana lobby, who I call Big Dope, are equally ready to overlook the horror of irreversible mental illness, for what some of them see as a good cause, and others see as a pot of gold. 

At a debate on the subject at Durham University on Monday, in which I opposed decriminalisation, supporters of drug legalisation openly conceded that marijuana does damage the mental health of some of its users. 

But it seems they don’t really care. They have dismissed as ‘anecdotal’ hundreds of individual stories in which the link between the drug and mental illness has been startling. 

Psychiatrists have little doubt. Dr Humphrey Needham-Bennett, medical director and consultant psychiatrist of the Cygnet Hospital in Sevenoaks, Kent, says that among his patients ‘cannabis use is so common that I assume that people use or used it. It’s quite surprising when people say, “No, I don’t use drugs.”’ 

Even then, they may not be telling the truth. Other psychiatrists report that cannabis use is now so common among the young that many who smoke it do not even regard it as a drug. 

Yet, until very recently, there was hardly any research into the link, and when it took place, in a Swedish Army survey that showed a clear connection, it was ignored. 

When the great foreign correspondent Patrick Cockburn bravely disclosed the harrowing story of his son Henry’s descent into severe mental illness after smoking marijuana at his Canterbury grammar school, he suddenly discovered that many friends and colleagues had been quietly hiding similar tragedies. 

He said he was ‘amazed to discover how many friends had a relative disabled by schizophrenia. The common feature in these tragedies was that the victim had taken cannabis in significant quantities at a young age.’ 

So why did these facts have so little impact? As Patrick puts it ‘supporters of decriminalisation in the media and among the intelligentsia see cannabis as harmless and discount opposition to it as ill-informed prejudice’. 

Patrick is too kind. In fact, an enormous, wealthy and powerful lobby wants marijuana laws liberalised at almost any cost, and will, if it is not stopped, force its views on this country very soon. Some of these campaigners are guided by a weird and twisted idealism. 

They genuinely believe that a society in which we are free to drug ourselves into a stupor will be better than the self-disciplined, self-restrained sobriety of the past. 

Such ‘libertarians’ are headed by the Hungarian multi-billionaire George Soros, whose Open Society Foundations contributed $200 million (£151 million) to campaigns in the USA and around the world to liberalise drug laws between 1994 and 2014. 

Much of his money is channelled through a body called the Drug Policy Alliance. But he is far from alone, according to Forbes Magazine

Many mega-rich Americans have also contributed large piles of dollars to such campaigns, for example the recent ‘Proposition 64’ ballot which legalised marijuana – including advertising of the drug – in California.

But these forces are not confined to the USA. The social-media multi-millionaire Paul Birch similarly backs a Utopian British campaign for drug liberalisation called Volteface, whose advisory board includes such grand figures as Fiona Measham, Professor of Criminology at Durham University.

It is also adorned by the veteran campaigner Mike Trace. Mr Trace, who was once ‘Deputy Drug Tsar’ for the Blair government, resigned from a key United Nations drug post in January 2003 after leaked documents showed he had privately described himself as a ‘fifth column’ for liberalisation, despite having been hired to reduce demand for drugs.

Perhaps most interesting of all of those on the Volteface advisory board is Brendan Kennedy, described as the ‘CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of Privateer Holdings and President of Tilray and Leafly’.

Leafly is the world’s largest cannabis website. Tilray is a Canadian marijuana company. It is owned by Privateer Holdings, a private equity firm whose other companies sell cannabis products for legal recreational use in America.

Privateer Holdings helped pay for a visit to Seattle for Tory MP and former Minister Crispin Blunt, an increasingly noisy campaigner for drug liberalisation.

Parliament’s register of MPs’ interests says the aim of the journey was ‘to understand the regulatory, licensing and economic issues around the cannabis industry in Washington State’.

Tilray, meanwhile, is booming, perhaps because of Canada’s recent decision to legalise marijuana, or perhaps because of the USA’s plans to import Canadian-grown marijuana for ‘medical’ use.

In July, Tilray became the first marijuana company to be publicly listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange in New York. Its shares at first doubled from $17 to $35, now stands at $148.

The company was recently said to be worth over $20 billion – more than American Airlines.

This is just part of a frenzy of mainstream investor interest in cannabis companies – an interest also raging in London where investors recently gathered in a St James’s hotel to discuss the large potential profits of ‘medical’ marijuana.

There is a savage irony here. While campaigners for legalisation claim marijuana is a medicine, growing numbers of its users, and their families, are learning that it is a major public health scourge.

Clever public relations men have in recent months managed to tear at the nation’s heartstrings with stories of sick children supposedly helped by marijuana products, and their noble mothers being frustrated by a cruel government.

It might be – though proof is hard to find – that some of the ingredients of cannabis may be helpful in such cases.

But there has been a close link, not least through Volteface and similar groups, between these touching stories and a much wider campaign for much less touching aim – general legalisation.

There is no real connection between these sad cases and legalisation. But the liberalisers want you to think there is.

This is really a public-relations campaign, to change, smooth and polish the image of a drug once rightly associated with dropouts, squalor, crime and lax morals.

As the veteran American campaigner for legalisation Keith Stroup said in an unguarded moment in 1979 (he has since very much regretted being so frank):

‘We are trying to get marijuana reclassified medically. If we do that… we’ll be using the issue as a red herring to give marijuana a good name.’

It must be the most successful red herring in history.

Medical cannabis is and always has been a Trojan Horse for general legalisation, aimed at bypassing our heads and wringing our hearts.

Despite false claims that the British Government has obstructed attempts to use marijuana as a medicine, it has repeatedly licensed experiments to see if it is any use.

There is now a legal cannabis farm at a secret location in Kent, where the plant can be grown for medical experimentation.

The trouble is, nobody has yet found any really convincing medical use for its main psychoactive ingredient, THC.

It all goes back to the 1960s, when the universities of Western nations became the scene of a mass rebellion against the marijuana laws, a rebellion winked at by the authorities.

When I was at the University of York in the early 1970s, then one of the new ‘plate glass’ universities, cannabis smoking was almost universal.

People said at the time that I and my contemporary Harriet Harman were the only people on campus who did not smoke dope, and they were probably not far wrong.

The future elite of Britain – lawyers, politicians, civil servants, police officers, novelists, broadcasters, teachers, journalists – were all sprawled on the sunny lawns of such campuses, engaging in the Holy Communion of the 1960s rebellion, the shared joint.

And when they went on into adult life, many of them continued to use it, or at least still feel sentimental about it.

Others, a shocking number, including some very prominent people whose identities are known to me, allowed their own children to take drugs at home, and became scared that they might face prosecution and career damage.

Such people are very powerful indeed in the media.

This is especially so in the BBC, which for some years has denied a fair platform to the case against legalisation, and is shamelessly biased towards the liberalisers.

But it is also true in more than one supposedly conservative newspaper.

Since the 1960s, often backed by big money, the cannabis generation have campaigned to weaken the law.

As long ago as 1973, they won a huge victory when the Tory government told magistrates to stop sending anyone to prison for cannabis possession.

Bit by bit, police forces – first secretly, then openly – gave up bothering to arrest or charge offenders. 

And so, for millions of law-abiding people, the stink of the cannabis weed lingers in their streets, drifts into their back gardens from neighbours’ homes, permeates the playgrounds of their children’s schools, pollutes the air of parks and can even be sniffed on buses and trains.

Don’t bother calling the police. They are not interested. They might make the occasional propaganda raid on dealers, for the cameras. But users are hardly ever bothered unless they are scooped up in an arrest for another crime.

This is not a private, victimless crime. Mental illness is a tragedy and a lifelong disaster for the families of those affected.

Thousands of careers are blighted by the damage that marijuana does to the intelligence of the young people who use it.

Many teachers know only too well the sad and weary signs that a star pupil has started smoking dope, and begun to slide to the bottom of the class, where he will stay.

And there are other more frightening implications.

A worrying number of ultra-violent crimes, including terrorist crimes, are committed by long-term marijuana users – the killers of Lee Rigby being an especially good example.

Drug-maddened drivers are a growing danger. A talented young doctor, Alex Boorman, would still be alive if he had not encountered the cannabis user Jake Rogers on a road near York.

Rogers was high on marijuana and overtaking at 87mph on a blind bend in December 2017. His criminal stupidity was bound to bring death or serious injury to someone.

This was a particularly spectacular case, and the doctor, riding his motorbike, lacked the protection of airbags and seatbelts which nowadays leaves so many crash victims alive but seriously injured.

How many others go unrecorded? How many more will there be if we heed last week’s bizarre shift by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (who of all people should know better) towards a liberal view?

The Big Dope lobby tell us that, in some magical way, legal cannabis will be safer. It will not. Legal alcohol and legal tobacco are not safe. Their users still get cirrhosis, cancer, heart disease and emphysema.

And, once marijuana is legal, available in shops and on the internet, and advertised (as Big Dope desires) many more people will take it, so greatly increasing the number of possible victims.

It is so obvious it hardly needs saying.

Then we are told that ‘regulation’ will limit the strength of the marijuana on sale. Really?

First of all, legal alcohol has steadily grown stronger in the past few decades. Both wine and beer are now startlingly stronger than they used to be.

As drinkers seek out the stronger brands, many drug abusers actively like and seek the strong strains of cannabis.

And if such strains are banned in legal shops, the illegal traders will always be ready to supply them, free of tax.

So the legal traders will lobby to be allowed to sell the stronger drugs.

This is more or less what has happened in the US state of Colorado, where legalisation, followed by taxation, has not ended the illegal trade at all.

The criminal gangs continue to operate, alongside the slick cynical businessmen who have moved in to the market.

And at the end of this week, on October 17, the whole of Canada will be subject to a similar crazy experiment, as legal marijuana goes on sale throughout that vast country.

I have no doubt that it will end in tears, and worse than tears.

But will the poor Canadians ever be able to reverse it once it has gone wrong, and the terrible price is evident? History suggests not.

It is very hard indeed to bring back a legal ban on a drug that has been legal and in mass use.

Meanwhile, in those wisely run and free, law-governed countries, Japan and South Korea, police continue to enforce laws against cannabis possession as we once did, and drug use and its attendant tragedies is far, far lower.

That must be the answer we give to those who would legalise this poison here. Even if their plan is a disastrous mistake, it will be incredibly hard to put right.

Let us wait and watch, for several careful and suspicious years, to see how their scheme actually works in practice.

Let us also study what happens in Japan and South Korea, and see how they are getting on.

And then let us have the honest debate we really need, in the full light of the day, without the lobbyists’ tricks.

No comments:

Post a Comment