A review of ‘Tell your Children: the Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence’, by Alex Berenson

This well written and highly informative book begins with a fascinating study of cannabis in India and Mexico in 1900. Even then, in two countries thousands of miles apart, with nothing in common, doctors and researchers saw the link between cannabis and madness, and documented it thoroughly.

Berenson then examines how in the 1980s the American marijuana lobby, led by Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance and backed by George Soros, overcame the failure of Keith Stroup and NORML to spread cannabis legalisation, using ‘medical’ marijuana as, in Stroup’s words, a “red herring”.

Then come the many studies that prove the link between cannabis and mental illness. These are anathema to the pro cannabis lobby, but it is in examining violence in American states that have legalised cannabis that Berenson really puts his head above the parapet. I happen to think that Berenson could have saved himself some time by pointing out that as legalisation nearly always follows years of lax enforcement, comparisons of before and after are misleading. As it happens, though, violence has not, as the legalisers promised, decreased in those states that have legalised the drug, as Berenson clearly shows.

Finally, Berenson presents dozens of stories of cannabis smokers committing psychopathic violence, many of which are gruesome and deeply distressing – and largely unknown or forgotten. To those with an open mind not under the influence of the drug in question the conclusion is evident: ‘Marijuana causes paranoia and psychosis…Paranoia and psychosis cause violence.’

This is, again, a very well written and meticulously researched book, but it is not perfect.

I have two major problems with it. The first is Berenson’s evident belief in ‘addiction’, the mysterious ailment that compels people to consume a drug, yet is often overcome by willpower alone. This fictitious condition is at the heart of many drug policies, and influences many people’s perception of cannabis, including Berenson’s.

Berenson’s belief in the self-pitying fantasy of addiction may explain his second, more worrying opinion: ‘Decriminalisation is a reasonable compromise. People shouldn’t be arrested or sent to jail for possessing marijuana.’ While people who smoke in public are ‘dumb’, and ought to be fined and have their drug confiscated, those who smoke in private homes, Berenson believes, ought to be left alone. This is dangerously incoherent. Deterrence through law enforcement works, as shown in Japan and Korea today, and in Britain prior to 1973.

Still, given the influence of America, this brief yet devastating work may yet halt, or slow, Big Cannabis here in the UK. Sadly, though, it has probably come too late to make any difference in the USA.