Media bias

It goes without saying that the way in which the media reports – or doesn’t report – on cannabis greatly influences people’s perception of the drug. As I waded through the blood of weed-related savagery, I discovered that in the last ten years or so a number of prominent newspapers have consciously changed how they report on cannabis, nearly always to the benefit of the pro cannabis lobby.

Much of this change has to do with the fact that from 1997 to 2010 there was a Labour government in Britain, and that in 2002, led by then Home Secretary David Blunkett, Labour downgraded cannabis from a class B drug to a class C (a decision it would reverse six years later). In theory this meant a less severe punishment for possession, but in practice meant nothing at all, because the police had long since given up. Nevertheless, three newspapers, the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Evening Standard, were openly hostile to Labour’s policy change (and to the party in general). Once Labour was removed from office, though, their tone changed. Charting exactly how it changed provides a clear insight into the shifting zeitgeist around cannabis. I’ll start with the Daily Mail.

Listed below are headlines of stories about cannabis on Mail Online from 2000-2010 and 2011-2018. The list includes only stories that might be broadly described as suggesting something about the nature of cannabis. I have coded the list to indicate positive, negative and neutral coverage. (Note: Mail Online comprises the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, different papers that for much of the time frame in question were edited by, respectively, Paul Dacre and Geordie Grieg, whose often bitter rivalry may explain some of the apparently contradictory coverage. Nevertheless, I have treated the site as a single entity.)

2000-2010

  • Cannabis triggers risk of mental illness
  • Cannabis link to male fertility
  • Cannabis ‘kills 30,000 a year’
  • Blunkett reclassifies cannabis
  • The cannabis timebomb
  • Smoking cannabis ‘damages lungs’
  • Heads fear for new cannabis laws
  • Cannabis causes mental illness
  • Why cannabis is a greater cancer risk than tobacco
  • How cannabis can trigger schizophrenia
  • Cannabis: the scientific evidence against it
  • Early cannabis abuse ‘leads to heroin addiction’
  • How cannabis turned a bright public schoolboy into a schizophrenic
  • Soldier killed friend’s dad while having ‘cannabis-induced delusions’
  • Teenager jailed for stabbing friend during alcohol and cannabis binge
  • How my life was destroyed by cannabis
  • Life for cannabis addict who murdered two friends in frenzied knife attack
  • The cannabis diaries of a mum whose family was torn apart by addiction
  • Boy on skunk cannabis butchered a grandmother
  • Lawyer who fell to his death from Tate Modern was driven mad by cannabis
  • How cannabis made me a monster
  • Rick Stein restaurant worker commits suicide by slashing throat after mind ‘warped’ by cannabis
  • How cannabis made me a monster
  • Smoking just one cannabis joint raises danger of mental illness by 40%
  • Cannabis can cause insanity, scientists warn
  • Mother blames cannabis for suicide of promising violinist daughter
  • One cannabis joint ‘is the equivalent of smoking 20 cigarettes’
  • Teenager high on cannabis stabs girlfriend 32 times during bondage game after being wrongly told she had Aids
  • Cannabis ‘is making teenagers impotent’, say doctors
  • Cannabis addict jailed for life after stabbing Good Samaritan to death
  • Teacher’s son ‘stabbed his girlfriend to death after being driven mad by 10 years of cannabis abuse’
  • Cannabis abuser ‘snapped his 16-month-old daughter’s back in two’
  • Cannabis addict’s student career wrecked after being jailed for robbing elderly shop assistant
  • Cannabis ‘could stop dementia in its tracks’
  • Cannabis-smoking schizophrenic butchered his gran on Christmas Day
  • ‘Cannabis obsessed’ thugs who left pickaxe victim for dead are jailed for four years
  • Smoking cannabis ‘increases risk of aggravated testicular cancer’
  • How cannabis use can destroy mental skills
  • Cannabis addict gripped by paranoia stabbed a stranger to death in the street
  • Cannabis-smoking mother stabbed two young sons to death after begging social services to collect her children
  • Richard Madeley: ‘I couldn’t give a stuff that my daughter Chloe was pictured smoking cannabis’ (19 May 2010, 13 days after Labour’s election defeat)
  • Stephen Gately smoked cannabis on night he died, civil partner tells Spanish police
  • LAUREN BOOTH: Honest Professor Nutt… he makes much more sense than ‘Just Say No’ Zammo
  • Fatuous, dangerous, utterly irresponsible – the Nutty professor who’s distorting the truth about drugs
  • Skunk cannabis smokers seven times more likely to suffer from psychosis
  • Cannabis mouth spray gives pain relief to cancer patients
  • The making of two monsters: Cannabis and cider at nine, violent and explicit DVDs and a father who threatened to slash his wife’s face
  • Robbie Williams says cannabis is ‘lovely’ – tell that to the parents who’ve suffered the same nightmare as me
  • Care in the community patient with 39 convictions free to stab father to death during cannabis-induced psychosis
  • Smoking cannabis found to ease pain caused by damaged nerves
  • Legalise cannabis sales to cut crime and save the NHS millions, says expert
  • George Michael sobs as he is branded a drug addict and sent to prison for smashing car while high on cannabis
  • Häagen DAZE: Medicinal marijuana shop in California offers dope-flavoured ice cream
  • Quack addicts: French duck farmer fined for feeding birds cannabis to rid them of worms

2011-2018

  • ‘My son played Russian roulette with cannabis – and lost’: Patrick and Henry Cockburn tell their story
  • Cannabis is used for first time in hospitals to relieve pain of terminal cancer patients
  • Cannabis makes pain more bearable instead of reducing it, say scientists
  • Smoking cannabis could reduce the risk of diabetes by controlling blood sugar
  • Devout Christian mother-of-three, 31, becomes first woman in Britain to DIE from cannabis poisoning after smoking a joint in bed to help her sleep
  • Smoking cannabis CAN kill you: German researchers identify two men who died purely as a result of using the drug
  • Cannabis CAN reduce anxiety levels – but only in small doses
  • Cannabis increases heart problems and ‘may even prove fatal for young and middle-aged users’
  • The mother’s story anyone who still says cannabis is harmless MUST read: Henry came from a wealthy family and had a golden future but his life is now in tatters thanks to the drug
  • Cannabis cuts men’s fertility – but smoking, drinking and wearing tight underwear don’t, say scientists
  • Grandfather, 63, claims he cured his cancer with ‘Breaking Bad’ style homemade CANNABIS OIL
  • Cannabis ‘may trigger a heart attack’: Risk increases FIVE-fold in the hour after drug is smoked
  • The terrible truth about cannabis: Expert’s devastating 20-year study finally demolishes claims that smoking pot is harmless
  • Paranoid factory worker stabbed parents to death in frenzied attack during psychotic episode after smoking cannabis for years
  • Could CANNABIS prevent PTSD? Drug ‘alters the area of the brain associated with traumatic memories’
  • Is CANNABIS the secret to acne-free skin? Brand launch range with curious ingredient that promises to soothe skin conditions
  • Can cannabis help TREAT depression? Compounds in marijuana ‘may help balance brain chemical linked to emotions’
  • ‘I just want to give her my love and care’: Father pleads with authorities to let him help his sick two-year-old daughter fight cancer… after he was banned from seeing her for giving her cannabis to ease the pain
  • How CANNABIS can help cancer patients: Drug kills cancer cells and shrinks brain tumours, report reveals
  • Britain’s first cannabis ‘pharmacy’ opens to treat patients with skin problems – but its products WON’T get users high
  • Cannabis breakthrough as scientists manage to SEPARATE the drug’s medicinal benefits from its hallucinogenic effects
  • Have cops gone potty? They post this photo online and say cannabis growers only need a caution
  • Thought cannabis was safe? Meet the South African teens being ravaged by dangerous strain known as ‘swazi gold’
  • Smoking cannabis daily ‘IS safe when treating chronic pain – but only if you’re an experienced user’, study finds
  • Could CANNABIS help transplant patients? Drug ‘delays rejection of organs by slowing the immune system’s attack’
  • Proof strong cannabis DOES harm your brain: Regularly smoking ‘skunk’ found to damage area that carries signals – and can lead to mental illness
  • Cannabis DOES alter your brain – and the younger you start the ‘greater the risk of serious damage’
  • Could CANNABIS boost your sex life? Smoking pot ‘increases libido, heightens the intensity of orgasms and helps men with erectile dysfunction perform’
  • The more cannabis you smoke, the more likely you are to be a loser, finds international study
  • Cannabis leads to early death: New study finds teens who use drug heavily are more likely to die by 60
  • Smoking cannabis ALTERS your DNA ‘causing mutations that can trigger serious illness, including cancer’
  • Cannabis IS addictive – and smoking it harms the brain permanently
  • How pot harms your baby’s brain: Smoking cannabis in pregnancy ‘impairs memory, decision-making and personality’
  • Father who claimed cannabis oil cured his cancer dies a year later aged just 34
  • Cannabis link to brittle bones: Heavy users found to be at a higher risk of osteoporosis and have more fragile spines and hips
  • ‘Can cannabis oil treat my weakening limbs?’ A reader suffering from a degenerative muscle disease consults our expert for possible treatments
  • Cannabis ‘affects your eyesight’: Study finds regular marijuana use damages link between retina and brain
  • Cannabis is NOT as dangerous as we think, expert claims: Study shows the drug only rarely causes psychosis
  • Boy of 11 who had up to 100 epileptic seizures a day becomes the first person to get cannabis on the NHS
  • Should patients be prosecuted for using cannabis oil to ease chronic pain? Some say it has transformed their lives but doctors are divided over the drug’s medicinal use
  • More evidence cannabis can make your teeth fall out: Smoking weed increases the risk of severe gum disease, study warns
  • One puff of cannabis DOES help relieve stress, study confirms – but any more is bad for your anxiety levels
  • A compound in cannabis is ‘significantly’ effective in destroying cancerous tumours in leukaemia, study reveals
  • Proof cannabis DOES lead teenagers to harder drugs: Study finds users are 26 times more likely to turn to other substances by the age of 21
  • Got a migraine? Cannabis could help: Compounds in the drug are better than medication for treating the pain
  • Make cannabis LEGAL for MS patients in the UK who get no pain relief from conventional drugs, charity urges
  • Could cannabis PROTECT you from a stroke? People who smoke marijuana every day have better blood flow and oxygen to the brain, controversial study claims
  • Woman, 49, given just months to live claims cannabis oil CURED her brain tumour after chemotherapy failed
  • Epileptic boy, 11, who became the first Briton to be prescribed cannabis on the NHS, makes ‘incredible’ recovery after having NO seizures for 10 months
  • Smoking super-strength cannabis or ‘spice’ may trigger deadly seizures, claims new research
  • Legal cannabis linked to 66% rise in traffic deaths in Colorado: Study reveals surge in fatal motor accidents since the state went green in 2013
  • Thirteen-year misery of sciatica sufferer, 55, whose crippling back pain reduced her to tears is cured in just a day after she uses a £54 cannabis oil bought online
  • Marijuana linked to BETTER sexual performance and higher libido: Stanford study finds cannabis users have 20% more sex than the rest of us
  • Grandmother-of-10 ditches chemotherapy after she claims CANNABIS oil caused her cancerous breast tumour to shrink to an eighth of the size and her case has sparked the interest of scientists
  • Would you try a CANNABIS inhaler to help you doze off? Inventor claims device can help insomniacs fall asleep within 10 minutes
  • ‘I thought I’d died and gone to hell’: Christopher Biggins reveals he ‘threw up millions of times’ after ‘horrendous’ experience smoking marijuana… as he joins Pam St Clement on weed-fuelled American road trip for new show
  • Cannabis studies overestimate the drug’s benefits because participants know they are ‘high’, expert says
  • Cannabis killed my son – don’t let it do the same to you: Mother tours schools to warn how drug led to 22 years of mental illness
  • Medical marijuana has NO public health risks and should not be withheld from patients, WHO declares after months of deliberation
  • ‘Medical cannabis has helped me a lot’: Olivia Newton-John speaks candidly about the ‘healing remedies’ that have helped CURE her pain during her agonising cancer battle
  • End the year on a high! Bar creates a cocktail laced with CANNABIS for its New Year’s Eve party (and it’s said to relax revellers)
  • Could cannabis be a CURE for psychosis? Key compound in the drug has been found to ease hallucinations, reveals ‘promising’ study
  • Grandmother, 70, who has thrown away ‘all her pills’, claims smoking cannabis for FIVE decades is the secret to her good health and allowed her to manage her ailments
  • 2018’s shocking new beauty secret: Cannabis! No, it’s not illegal and it WON’T get you high
  • California woman caught meningitis from smoking medical marijuana contaminated with lethal fungus
  • Mother, 44, diagnosed with deadly breast cancer claims she has cured herself by using cannabis oil after refusing to have chemotherapy
  • ‘I beat cancer with weed’: Woman who was told by her doctors to undergo chemotherapy claims she cured her cervical cancer with cannabis oil
  • Mother who gave her dying son cannabis to ease his cancer symptoms says it’s saved his life and HERS after she used it to treat her depression
  • Alcohol damages the brain more than cannabis, study finds
  • Can eating a £1 Gummy Bear made from CANNABIS oil really boost your health?
  • Ocado is the first British supermarket to sell cannabis-infused water
  • The UK is the world’s biggest producer of medical cannabis, growing nearly half of the world’s legal marijuana, official figures reveal
  • Woman, 52, given just six weeks to live claims she has ‘cured’ her terminal cancer with cannabis oil – and baffled doctors have labelled her ‘Wonder Woman’
  • Smoking cannabis just 5 TIMES as a teenager raises the risk of psychosis, reveals ‘worrying’ study
  • Could cannabis help treat eczema and psoriasis? Scientists believe anti-inflammatory compound found in plant may offer hope to millions of patients
  • Star Trek star Sir Patrick Stewart, 77, backs campaign for boy, 6, to be given medical cannabis to treat his epilepsy – as he reveals he uses the treatment to help his arthritis
  • Cannabis drug may help alcohol and cocaine addicts overcome their cravings, study finds
  • Does cannabis really cause schizophrenia? Researcher asks why rates of psychosis aren’t going up if use of the drug continues to soar
  • Toddler born with a painful condition that causes his skin to develop scales ‘like a fish’ is finally cured after his mother started treating him using lotions mixed with CANNABIS oil
  • MP’s assistant, 69, claims she has destroyed a 33mm cancerous tumour in her breast using cannabis oil
  • A cat, who almost lost all of his nine lives after developing cancer on his paw, sees the tumour SHRINK within days of eating cannabis-oil laced food
  • The link between cannabis and psychosis: Who is most at risk of dangerous side effects from marijuana and why
  • One puff is enough! A single drag of cannabis can alleviate depression, 2 can ease anxiety and 10 can slash stress (but long-term use could WORSEN symptoms)
  • Doctors are calling for heroin, cocaine and cannabis to be made LEGAL: Experts argue users should be able to seek help without the threat of jail
  • Could cannabis treat autism? Scientists will study the effects of marijuana in children with the disorder
  • Cannabis oil could treat epilepsy: Landmark study reveals it can reduce the severity of fits by more than 40 per cent
  • Early cannabis use makes drugs more addictive: Teens who first try the drug before 15 are TWICE as likely to get hooked than those who start at 17
  • Cannabis puts 27,000 people a year in hospital: Rise in admissions could be due to increase in use of super-strength ‘skunk’, warns MP
  • Smoking cannabis can harm unborn babies who were conceived years after their parents stopped using the drug, startling study suggests
  • ‘They signed his death warrant!’: Mother stopped with cannabis oil at Heathrow Airport says her epileptic son, 12, suffered his first seizure in 300 days after officials seized his medicine
  • Mother, 52, who took illegal cannabis oil to battle her terminal stomach and bowel cancer is given the ALL-CLEAR by doctors after a two-year battle
  • Fresh hope for epileptic boy, 12, ‘fighting for life’ as Home Office sends medicinal cannabis oil seized from his mother at Heathrow to his hospital
  • Brave Billy Caldwell walks out of hospital after taking illegal cannabis oil that his mother fought to have returned to him
  • Jesus used CANNABIS oil to perform healing ‘miracles’, controversial expert claims
  • Medicinal cannabis is NOT as effective at relieving chronic pain as thought, four-year study suggests as Government looks set to overturn its stance on prescribing the drug
  • Why cannabis gives you the munchies: First ever study on the drug’s hunger-inducing qualities shows it triggers your hormones as well as your brain
  • Doctors SHOULD be allowed to prescribe medicinal cannabis products, declare Government advisers
  • Cannabis may boost the immune system and fight cancer, scientists claim
  • Long-term use of cannabis or medication derived from the drug impairs memory, conclude researchers
  • Canadian startup creates world’s first beer brewed from CANNABIS plant in bid to provide an alternative to alcohol
  • Mother, 37, who fears her football-mad son will go BLIND within months without medicinal cannabis begs the Government to grant her son a special licence
  • Medicinal cannabis WILL be available on prescription from the autumn after scandal over epileptic boy banned from taking drug
  • ‘I had two kids, a nice house and an addiction’: The rise of Britain’s secret marijuana mums
  • Cannabis drug may help pancreatic-cancer patients live almost THREE TIMES longer, study finds
  • Smoking cannabis ages the brain by an average of 2.8 YEARS – compared to four years in schizophrenics, major study finds
  • Five-year-old girl who takes cannabis for her seizures is allowed to go to school and take medication during breaks as court decides whether to ban it on campuses
  • Schizophrenia and cannabis are genetically linked: Mental disorder may drive people to smoke pot, DNA study finds
  • Single dose of the cannabis compound CBD reduces psychotic symptoms by normalising brain activity
  • Why cannabis works for me: Groundbreaking survey sets out to discover how and why people use medical marijuana across America
  • Just who is going to get medical cannabis on the NHS? Confusion as Olivia Newton-John is taking for breast cancer and ministers reveal the drug will be available to British patients this month
  • Coca-Cannabis? Coke analyzing cannabis in wellness drinks
  • Acne sufferer, 25, whose skin was so bad strangers called her a ‘spotty freak’ says CANNABIS oil finally banished her spots after 8 years of problem skin
  • Former Playboy Bunny who refused chemotherapy is using CANNABIS oil to treat her brain cancer – four years after doctors removed a tumour that altered her personality
  • Cannabis inflicts long-term damage on teenage brains: Those who use the drug as teens struggle with reasoning, memory, and inhibitions in later life
  • Emmerdale star Leah Bracknell reveals she is breaking the law to stay alive by making cannabis oil at home believing it is slowing the progress of her terminal lung cancer
  • Fertility risk from cannabis? Marijuana linked to lower sperm count and more abnormalities
  • Devastating figures reveal true toll of cannabis on the UK’s health as 125,000 people are admitted to hospital over the drug in just five years
  • Canada readies to become the second and largest country with nationwide legal marijuana as cannabis goes on sale at midnight
  • Marijuana’s effects linger for 24 hours: Study finds users struggle to retain new information for a day after indulging
  • Crazed cannabis user, 31, who gouged a seven-month-old boy’s eyes then threw him and his mother out of a window is jailed for life
  • Pictured: Office worker fighting for life with mother after horrifying hammer attack as family of man, 27, charged say ‘cannabis messed him up and he was sectioned eight years ago’
  • Smoking cannabis may boost your risk of stroke by cutting off blood supply to the brain, scientists say
  • Is it time to legalise cannabis, asks ex-Met Police chief Bernard Hogan-Howe as he intervenes in drugs debate
  • Epileptic boy, seven, whose plight triggered the Government’s medicinal cannabis review now attends school every day and can even ride a bike thanks to taking the oil
  • Up in smoke: Hamas cracks down on Gaza drugs
  • Teenager, 16, left paralysed by 13-year battle with rare brain tumour is given new hope after cannabis oil shrinks the growth

The shift in coverage from mid May 2010 is notable not just for the increasing number of favourable stories, but for the nature of the unfavourable ones. From 2000 to 2010, Mail Online confidently asserted on many occasions that cannabis was a factor in particular violent crimes, with headlines such as ‘Cannabis-smoking schizophrenic butchered his gran on Christmas Day’, ‘Cannabis addict gripped by paranoia stabbed a stranger to death in the street’ and ‘Care in the community patient with 39 convictions free to stab father to death during cannabis-induced psychosis’. That last one came in March 2010.

In May 2010, Labour lost the general election. Perhaps not coincidentally, with the Conservatives in a coalition with the suddenly popular Liberal Democrats, who strongly support legalisation, stories on the alleged benefits of cannabis began spreading, as it were, weed-like in the paper, and tales of violent ‘cannabis-smoking’ criminals disappeared almost entirely, until two damning stories in quick succession in August this year (‘Crazed cannabis user, 31 who gouged a seven-month-old boy’s eyes then threw him and his mother out of a window is jailed for life’ and ‘Pictured: Office worker fighting for life with mother after horrifying hammer attack as family of man, 27, charged say ‘cannabis messed him up and he was sectioned eight years ago’’). As if checking itself, the paper has more recently published a string of positive stories, including the former head of Scotland Yard openly calling for legalisation, supplemented by an unsubtle attempt to link punishment of drugs possession with the tyranny of Hamas.

Two more examples further illustrate this dubious editorial shift. In December 2007, James Howson violently murdered his infant daughter. Nearly a year later, Mail Online reported on his conviction with the headline ‘Cannabis abuser ‘snapped his 16-month-old daughter’s back in two’’. The headline is based entirely on this section of the accompanying article: ‘Asked what happened he told officers the child had fallen out of bed the previous night and banged her head. He said he took her downstairs, smoked some cannabis and cradled the baby in his arms until they both fell asleep.’ Given the nature of the crime, and the father’s casual admission to police that he smoked cannabis while allegedly caring for his baby, I would be confident that Howson was a long-time smoker of the drug. However, I have not found this stated in any other newspaper report, and so have not included it in the main catalogue. By contrast, Mail Online felt confident enough to point out not simply that Howson smoked, but was an ‘abuser’ of cannabis, in a headline clearly intended to suggest that the drug was a significant factor in his horrific act of child abuse and infanticide.

Fast forward eight years, and we come to the murder of 16-year-old Becky Watts of Bristol. In February 2015, 28-year-old Nathan Matthews and his 21-year-old girlfriend Shauna Hoare kidnapped the attractive and petite Miss Watts, Matthews’ stepsister, apparently only to frighten her as punishment for alleged disrespect towards Matthews’ mother, though the sexual proclivities of the couple strongly hint at a more sinister motive. When Matthews’ mask slipped and Watts recognised him, he brutally murdered her. He then purchased a power saw, dismembered her body, put the limbs in a bag with a particular type of chemical compound, and gave the bag to a friend, who later told police he had jokingly asked Matthews whether it contained cannabis. Matthews was found guilty of murder, and in November that year was sentenced to 33 years in jail. His girlfriend was jailed for manslaughter.

Subsequent news reports all agreed on one thing: Matthews was obsessed with violent pornography. Only two newspapers, the Sun and Sunday Sport, noted that Matthews smoked cannabis, something the writers at Mail Online seemed to go out of their way to avoid mentioning, in, for example, describing him as an ‘Abuser, hoarder, layabout, pornography addict, sexual fantasist and now convicted child killer.’

Around the same time Mail Online began to have doubts about the significance of cannabis in violent crime, the Daily Telegraph and Evening Standard also became increasingly reluctant to point out that a psychotic criminal had a history of smoking marijuana, so that such headlines in the former as ‘Life for double killer hooked on cannabis’, ‘Cannabis smoking led to brutal killing, court hears’ and ‘Schizophrenic cannabis user jailed for stabbing policeman to death’ gradually gave way to ‘Vaping cannabis may be good for the skin’, ‘Cannabis does not cause anxiety and depression, study finds’ and, from a paper whose usual attitude to the current Labour leader might be generously described as sceptical, ‘People should not be prosecuted for possessing small amounts of cannabis, says Jeremy Corbyn’, in an article full of positive claims about alleged medicinal benefits and possible tax revenues. At the time of writing, by the same subjective measure as above, there have been 41 positive cannabis headlines in the paper this year, and only nine negative, from a once prestigious broadsheet that only in 2007 had, quite literally, nothing good to say about this drug.

As for the Evening Standard, one senses it had in mind its, shall we say, thought-provoking, though factually accurate, coverage of cannabis during the first decade of the 21st century (‘Teenager jailed for stabbing friend during alcohol and cannabis binge’, ‘Rick Stein restaurant worker commits suicide by slashing throat after mind warped by cannabis’ and ‘Deranged cannabis smoker obsessed with Satanism stabbed vicar to death’) when in 2009 it launched its curious ‘Sorry’ campaign around London to apologise for ‘being negative’ and ‘losing touch’, ahead of rerouting the paper away from unpopular tales of cannabis-smoking killers to such urgent developments as the availability of ‘cannabis-infused, vegan frozen yoghurt’ in the capital, along with the usual praise of apparent health benefits, Canada and the cannabis oil that may or may not have cured the epileptic fits of a British boy whose mother, one learns elsewhere, runs a business that sells cannabis oil.

One horrifying story illustrates the full extent of this alteration. On 17 January 2018, 19-year-old Jamil Jabbie was given an indefinite hospital order for stabbing his mother 23 times and leaving her for dead. Only on the website of Talk Radio do we find a headline that points to what many would consider the underlying cause of this act: ‘London teenager pleads guilty to stabbing mother 23 times in “cannabis-linked attack”. Mail Online chose ‘Skunk user who bit, throttled and stabbed his mother 23 times in drug-induced frenzy leaving her fighting for her life is detained in hospital indefinitely’. The phrase ‘cannabis-induced frenzy’, which follows in the first paragraph, would be more accurate, but in any case, the story is there, and the culprit’s use of cannabis prominently noted. By contrast, the Daily Telegraph and Evening Standard did not cover the story at all, which is particularly odd for the latter as the attack occurred at the family’s home in the London district of Peckham. Two weeks earlier, the paper had seen fit to publish a somewhat related story with the headline ‘If cannabis can be legal in LA, why not do the same in Britain?’ Perhaps they didn’t consider young Mr Jabbie’s stabbing frenzy the right answer to this modish question.

The only newspaper that has had the opposite revelation is the now defunct Independent on Sunday. In 1997 it called for the decriminalisation of cannabis, and even helped organise a march on Hyde Park. Ten years later, it apologised for this, warning that cannabis is extremely dangerous. Curiously, the daily Independent, which now exists only online, is entirely positive in its coverage of cannabis, except in its foreign correspondent Patrick Cockburn, father of the aforementioned Henry, who in 2010 published a book with his son called Henry’s Demons, which describes Henry’s descent into mental illness, almost certainly brought about by his smoking of cannabis from age 14.

This changing media zeitgeist might explain why the 2012 book The War We Never Fought: the British Establishment’s Surrender to Drugs, written by Peter Hitchens and published by Bloomsbury, generated so little interest. It describes how, why and when the police and courts largely gave up punishing possession of cannabis, refuting the popular belief that there is a ‘war on drugs’ in Britain that is as costly, futile and unfair as the ‘prohibition’ of alcohol in the USA in the 1920s. Despite the prominence of the author, the power and prestige of the publisher, and a clever front cover, the book received very few reviews, which is the surest way to keep cultural works hidden.

The deliberate attempt to downplay the dangers of cannabis is the reason I have altered many of the headlines in the catalogue. I think that if such telling and factually accurate wording appeared regularly in our media I and others would not be fighting desperately to keep the drug illegal. I also doubt we would have had the grotesque recent spectacle of the former leader of the so-called Conservative party, in a supposedly conservative newspaper, calling for the legalisation of cannabis.