This is also noteworthy for the fact that he claims to have imported the cannabis from the USA and knew that it was strong, providing yet more evidence that cannabis smokers do, in fact, know what they are smoking:
A man who raped and sexually assaulted a teenage girl after a cannabis party at his home has been jailed for five and a half years.
Daniel Lee Cook, of no fixed address but formerly of Caernarfon, attacked the girl despite her telling him to stop.
The 22-year-old had admitted the charges at an earlier hearing and was at Caernarfon Crown Court for sentence.
Cook initially denied the offences, claiming he had slept through the night, and suggested the girl was lying.
When confronted by forensic evidence linking him to the victim, he claimed she had had sex with him while he slept.
Jailing him, Judge Huw Rees said Cook had admitted to an “unforgivable piece of behaviour, fuelled by drugs, to satisfy his lustful needs”.
In addition, the judge made an indefinite restraining order preventing Cook from contacting the girl.
He must also sign the sex offenders register for life.
The court heard Cook had been joined at his home by the girl and two friends and, during the evening, they had smoked several cigarettes containing cannabis.
Prosecutor Mathew Curtis said Cook had boasted the drug was imported from America and was very strong.
Later, during the early hours, the girl was asleep when she became aware of Cook behind her.
She told him to stop and Cook left the room, but later returned and attacked her a second time.
After this occasion, she left the house and the police were alerted. Cook was arrested the following day.
At interview, he claimed the girl was lying and later, after forensic tests were carried out, he claimed she had attacked him.
Elen Owen, defending, said Cook genuinely doesn’t recall the night in question, having taken a cocktail of prescription drugs, alcohol and cannabis.
She said his best mitigation was his guilty plea and urged the court to keep the prison sentence as short as possible.
A convicted sex offender who subjected a vulnerable teenager to a brutal rape on the day she discovered she was expecting a baby has been jailed – more than a decade later.
Judge Philip Parry branded the violent attack as “of the utmost depravity” as he found Michael Allen MacKenzie to be a dangerous offender who posed a substantial risk to women.
He imposed a 14 year jail term with an extended licence period of five years.
MacKenzie, 69, of Keswick Road, Blackpool, had failed to attend his trial at Preston Crown Court in March and was later found in Blackpool attempting to commit suicide.
But after being assessed by a psychiatrist and found fit to face trial, he admitted two rapes and two indecent assaults against the victim, who cannot be identified.
He was prosecuted as a result of a separate Lancashire Police investigation into the sexual exploitation of children in the resort, though he is not linked to that probe.
Prosecuting, Katie Jones said the complainant, now a married mum, had revealed the rape to her husband in 2013. She said she had been a vulnerable girl, her family were known to social services and she went to a local school in Blackpool.
She got to know some girls, and through their friendship she got to know MacKenzie.
Miss Jones added: “So it was that she got to know the defendant and he used to give the girls money, which they would spend on cigarettes, sweets and alcohol, and he would also give them cannabis.
“He would pay her compliments. It used to make her feel uncomfortable and she didn’t like his attention.”
The court heard she went to the defendant’s Blackpool flat with her friend the day she found out she was pregnant after her family’s reaction. She was told the defendant had keys to a flat he was “looking after” and could stay there.
Miss Jones said: “At the flat, the prosecution say, all three spent time drinking alcohol he had brought with him and smoking cannabis. She remembered the cannabis made her paranoid.”
The court heard the girls fell out, and the friend left the flat, leaving the pair alone. After locking the door MacKenzie then launched a vile attack, putting a washing line around the terrified teen’s neck and dragging her onto the floor and into the bedroom where he punched her. He ripped her clothes off and attacked her multiple times, holding her by her throat or by her hair. The attack went on throughout the night.
Miss Jones added: “She asks herself why she didn’t try and get out. She felt like her body had given up and would rather him do the awful things he was doing and get out alive for the sake of her unborn child.”
The following morning, after he left the flat, the youngster went to Blackpool Police Station and stood outside for a while, but did not have the courage to go in. In a victim impact statement she said she feared she would be judged because she was pregnant.
She said: ” I felt ashamed and dirty and I couldn’t tell anyone what he had done to me. “After all who would believe me? I was young and pregnant.” She also said she feared she could have lost her baby as a result of the violent attack.
MacKenzie has 20 convictions for 35 offences including unlawful sexual intercourse with 15 year old girl, an attempted rape in 1989, and violence.
Defending, Sara Haque asked for credit for his guilty pleas and argued he did not pose a risk to the public as 15 years had passed since his last conviction.
Judge Philip Parry said: “The victim was in my judgement an incredibly vulnerable young teenager.
“Set about that depressing background she was desperate for friendship and genuine affection.
“She was that day even more vulnerable and in need of comfort and affection than ever before.
“She cried out and begged you to stop.
“She was by now utterly terrified and in fear of her life.”
“She has nothing to be ashamed of – the shame Mr MacKenzie, is all yours.
“In my judgement you destroyed her childhood years and many of her adult years too.”
He must sign the sex offender’s register for life.
An ex-boyfriend wormed his way back into his former partner’s life before beating her, stealing her phone and posting revealing photographs on Facebook.
Jamie Lee, 25, appeared at Truro Crown Court to be sentenced after admitting an array of crimes which concerned shocking behaviour towards two separate female victims in Bodmin and in Somerset.
Lee, of Church Gardens, Glastonbury, stalked one of his former partners and shared revealing photographs after a two-week relationship broke down and was violent and threatening towards the other woman, again posting private images.
He was sentenced by resident judge Robert Linford for stalking, breaching a restraining order, two criminal damage charges, making threats to kill and disclosing a private revealing or sexual photograph.
The first stalking offence occurred in Taunton in May of last year after the defendant had a two-week relationship with the victim.
Prosecuting barrister Peter Coombe described how, when the woman woke him up from a sleep as requested, he threatened to “put her in a body bag” resulting in the ending of the relationship.
Despite the break-up he proceeded to follow her and her friend to the gym, throwing objects at the car as they sat in stationary traffic.
Lee then continued to drive around after the victim, calling her at work, throwing stones at her window and smearing barbecue sauce over her car. He then put an intimate photograph of her on Facebook and sent it to her former boyfriend.
The victim withdrew the evidence following pressure from Lee but even after doing so he continued what Mr Coombe described as “a campaign of persecution against her”, issuing further threats such as parking outside her house and texting her while she was in sight saying “only a matter of time, late at night ;)”.
Lee was then bailed and made his way to Bodmin after he contacted the second victim, with whom he’d been in a relationship with previously from when she was aged 15.
Mr Coombe outlined the violent nature of their previous relationship, describing how Coombe assaulted her and dragged her to the floor by her hair, resulting in a restraining order being put in place. Despite the restraining order Lee got in touch with the victim on Instagram in October 2017 and sent her a video of him self-harming and threatening to kill himself.
Mr Coombe said: “The victim drove him to Cornwall and dropped him to a friends, allowing him back into her life as she was scared he would kill himself.
“The defendant found out from a friend where she lived visited regularly, pressurising her to allowing him stay. There was then a rapid deterioration of the defendant’s behaviour as he was regularly under the influence of cocaine and cannabis.”
Doctors are currently treating Stip [the defendant] at Langdon Hospital. They say he is responding to treatment and showing greater insight into his crimes. His behaviour can only partly be explained by his mental health and may have been made worse by his drug use.
What ‘drug use’ could have so damaged his mental health? Either nobody bothered to find out, or the paper has not bothered to report it.
This trend alone, of drivers high on cannabis causing death or injury, ought to halt the legalisation movement. I don’t usually include them, as the link is undeniable, but this one is noteworthy for its terrifying nature, the fact the driver was a woman, and the fact that she was given only a two-year prison sentence for all offences: Drug-driver mowed down three children while fleeing row with her girlfriend.
A drug-driver who mowed down a mother and three children with her car whilst she was fleeing her girlfriend following a bust-up has been jailed.
Samantha Ogden, 28, was high on cannabis and had been reversing at speed when she mounted a pavement and ploughed into Natalie Mulligan who was walking hand-in-hand with her 11-year-old daughter and two other children aged 11 and six.
As paramedics were called to the scene and the youngest girl was pinned to a fence unconscious with a fractured skull, Ogden tried to explain her behaviour to an incredulous Miss Mulligan saying: ”I was just having s**t with my bird and I needed to get off.”
Tests showed she was three times the drug-drive limit.
Doctors said the six-year-old girl’s injuries will take nine months to heal.
She now won’t sleep in her own bed and has nightmares and flashbacks from the incident.
Miss Mulligan’s daughter is now afraid to walk home from school. Miss Mulligan and the other two children suffered minor injuries in the impact.
Quite often in cases of paedophilia and sexual abuse the victims are plied with alcohol and drugs, including cannabis. The link between these crimes seems less meaningful than that between cannabis and violence, but is nonetheless worth reporting. Here’s a dismally disturbing case from last year: Paedophile who ‘violated boy for his own perverse pleasure’ is jailed.
The court heard that on a number of occasions Logan took the boy to his flat, where he would smoke cannabis with him before ‘pestering’ him to engage in sexual activity.
Daily cannabis use was associated with increased odds of psychotic disorder compared with never users…, increasing to nearly five-times increased odds for daily use of high-potency types of cannabis… The PAFs [population attributable fractions] calculated indicated that if high-potency cannabis were no longer available, 12·2% of cases of first-episode psychosis could be prevented across the 11 sites, rising to 30·3% in London and 50·3% in Amsterdam.
This ought not to come as a surprise to anyone, but several aspects of the study are, nevertheless, worth analysing.
At the heart of the study is the risk of ‘high-potency’ cannabis, which the authors define as having a THC concentration of greater than 10%. In ascertaining the potency of the cannabis the participants smoked the authors relied in large part on the apparent objectivity of ‘skunk’.
I wrote recently that ‘skunk’, a slang term for marijuana that contains a high concentration of THC, has no objective meaning, and has, like many slang terms, fallen out of use in the last few years. The Lancet study suggests this is not so.
In the media, at least, ‘skunk’ does appear to have become less trendy. Listed below in chronological order are all the stories on my site that mention the word ‘skunk’:
As you can see, use of ‘skunk’ peaked in 2007, and has dropped significantly since 2010, perhaps not coincidentally the year Labour, which in 2002 downgraded cannabis from a class C drug to a class B (a decision it would reverse six years later, and which remains in effect), was removed from office after 13 years in power. In some cases it is used in single or double quotation marks, acknowledging a lack of objectivity, but in others it is not. Take, for example, the case of Tom Palmer (‘Life for double killer hooked on cannabis’). One day in 2005, 18-year-old Palmer stabbed to death two friends, aged 16 and 14, while they were walking on a woodland footpath in Berkshire, attacking one of them so savagely that he was nearly decapitated. According to the news report,
Palmer told prison doctors that he had tried, and failed to kick his cannabis habit in the year before the killing.
After trying the drug at the age of 14 he was smoking it daily by the time he was 15.
He was not smoking on the day of the killings but he told doctors he had been using the skunk form of the drug regularly in the preceding weeks. [My emphasis]
This suggests that, despite his young age, Palmer knew, or had a good idea of, the strength of the cannabis he was smoking. How would he know this? From the smell, you might think, given that ‘skunk’ is named after the black and white New World weasel that sprays a foul-smelling liquid from its rear when threatened, but this is not so. Some strains of cannabis smell somewhat differently to others, but this is governed more by terpenes than by THC. None, though, resemble the spray of a skunk, which I know from having spent my adolescence in the USA, where I smelt both skunk spray and cannabis on numerous occasions.
Regarding young Mr Palmer, then, one of the following is true: he was told the cannabis was strong by the person who sold it to him; he had smoked enough cannabis to be able to discern a difference in strength; he grew the cannabis himself and knew that it was strong (unlikely, given his age, and in any case not mentioned in any news report); or he had little, if any, idea, and claimed it was ‘skunk’ in mitigation. If one of the first two is true, the claim that hapless smokers don’t know what they are smoking is false, at least partly so, which leads back to the Lancet study.
The study did not test any cannabis, but instead relied on the participants’ own appraisal of the strength, which again is telling, if inexact:
‘The high-potency category (THC=>10%) included all the… types reported by the study participants in their original language street names such as: UK home-grown skunk/sensimilla UK Super Skunk, Italian home-grown skunk/sensimilla , Italian Super Skunk, the Dutch Nederwiet, Nederhasj and geimporteerde hasj, the Spanish and French Hashish (from Morocco), Spanish home-grown sensimilla, French home-grown skunk/sensimilla/super-skunk and Brazilian skunk.’
This information, which further suggests that cannabis smokers do know what they are smoking, was supplemented by the following studies of the potency of cannabis in the UK,
Our findings need to be appraised in the context of limitations. Data on cannabis use are not validated by biological measures, such as urine, blood, or hair samples. However, such measures do not allow testing for use over previous years. Moreover, studies with laboratory data and self-reported information have shown that cannabis users reliably report frequency of use and the type of cannabis used. [My emphasis]
To bring all this together, then. A London resident with mental illness is interviewed for the study. He is asked, amongst other things, what type of cannabis he smokes. If he says ‘skunk’, he is believed, and thus is notched in the ‘high potency’ column. If he simply says ‘cannabis’, he is also notched in the ‘high potency’ column, because he comes from an area where the average THC content of cannabis seized by the police is over 10%.
Of course, the legalisation lobby will say that this is further evidence of the need for legalisation; that only by ‘regulating’ the market can we eliminate these potent strains. The trouble for them is that this has not happened in any country or state that has legalised cannabis. There are several reasons for this, notably the tenacity of the illicit market, and, more importantly, people’s desire for a stronger drug. Furthermore, it is far from certain that ‘low potency’ cannabis is harmless.
In any case, bear these studies in mind next time you hear the pitiful refrain ‘young people don’t know what they’re smoking’.
Anyone who cannot see, or refuses to acknowledge, that cannabis is decriminalised in all but name in Britain, that it harms the user and others, and that large corporations exploit the alleged medical benefits of certain derivatives of cannabis to soften attitudes to the pleasure drug and ensure they are well positioned if and when cannabis is legalised, is either a charlatan or a fool. Most drug policy ‘reform’ activists are the latter, while those MPs and politicians who favour legalisation, such as Crispin Blunt and Zac Goldsmith, are the former. Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, though, is a mystery.
Member for North Norfolk since 2001, Mr Lamb was private secretary to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, another cannabis enthusiast, during the coalition years. The strange thing about his support for legalisation is that it appears to be based not on connections to the cannabis industry, as with Mr Blunt, Mr Goldsmith and others, but on his own perception of reality. Worryingly, his delusion is matched only by his determination.
Last December, while most MPs and journalists were distracted by the matter of exiting the EU, Mr Lamb tried to smuggle a cannabis legalisation bill through the Commons. Despite cross-party support, including from nine Conservatives, the bill failed by 14 votes. Conservative MP Steve Double deserves credit for leading the opposition.
There is a great irony in the government’s continued support for drug prohibition. It is founded on the claim that people must be protected from harm, yet the effect of their approach is precisely the opposite. This isn’t ironic, and there is, in any case, no ‘prohibition’.
Indeed, the government itself, and many others around the world, stands accused of directly putting children and young people at great risk of harm. Universal Credit might put people at risk of harm, but smoking cannabis is a choice. Those who buy it and smoke it put themselves at risk of harm.
So, my support for reform is based on a harm reduction approach. Ah, ‘harm reduction’, the most slippery and dishonest euphemism of the legalisation lexicon. As we shall see, the basis of his support is rather less noble.
As a liberal, I also make the case for an individual’s freedom to make their own decisions about what they want to do, provided it does not harm others. Cannabis ‘does not harm others’? Try telling that to the victims listed on this site.
But you don’t have to be convinced by that principle. Just consider the impact of our current approach, and you will conclude that it is reckless and irresponsible. It is indeed ‘reckless and irresponsible’ to decriminalise cannabis in all but name, as the Conservative government of Ted Heath did in 1971.
First, drugs are everywhere. One of the few true statements in this piece.
The so-called war on drugs has failed miserably. Why ‘so-called’? Perhaps this cautious phrase is a sign that Mr Lamb isn’t quite as sure of the existence of this ‘war’ as he was at the beginning of the article.
Opponents of reform will often point to teenagers whose lives have been ruined, for example, by smoking potent strains of skunk. Some might, but I don’t. Most of the cases I cite mention only cannabis. In addition, like a lot of slang terms, ‘skunk’ has fallen out of use in the last two years or so.
Yet this is happening here and now with cannabis prohibited. It’s happening because supply is in the hands of criminal networks. It’s happening because teenagers have no idea what they are buying and whether it is contaminated. Note the contradiction: hapless young people, Mr Lamb claims, are smoking cannabis that contains a large amount of THC, aka ‘skunk’, but these same young people also ‘have no idea what they are buying’. In other words, they don’t know what they’re smoking, but Mr Lamb does. Maybe in the cases of suicide and psychopathic violence I cite the cannabis was strong, maybe it wasn’t. In any case, what Mr Lamb implies is that certain strains of cannabis are safe, and that in the Brave New World of legalisation these are the only strains teenagers would buy. (By the way, how old are these teenagers? Mr Lamb wisely does not say what he thinks the legal minimum age would be, but it appears he means 18, as it is for cigarettes and alcohol. As with cigarettes and alcohol, though, this would be based on practicality rather than any objective scientific evidence, for such evidence suggests that cannabis can do a great deal of harm to the mind of an 18-year-old.)
So, leaving the supply of cannabis in the hands of criminals is stupid and dangerous. Leaving? I thought we were at ‘war’ with these criminals. It does nothing to protect young people from harm, but it does put them at risk of harm. To be at risk of harm they must choose to buy and smoke cannabis.
Second, with every additional gram of cannabis sold, more money goes to criminals – individuals who certainly won’t pay tax on their earnings. How ridiculous is that? It’s not ‘ridiculous’ at all, but predictable and logical, as it is for large corporations, such as Altria and Imperial Brands, to legally evade as much tax as they can. What he means, as we shall presently see, is that it’s a terrible shame the government can’t get its hands on that revenue.
During the coalition, the Liberal Democrats commissioned the Treasury to undertake an analysis of the potential tax revenues which would flow into government coffers if cannabis were legal and regulated. Up to £1bn a year was the answer. Instead of enriching organised crime, this money could do good – extra funding for the NHS, social care, education or the police, for example. The positive language strongly suggests Mr Lamb hopes and expects people to continue smoking cannabis, which contradicts a claim he makes later, and does not sit well with his support for ‘harm reduction’. Moreover, would £1bn compensate for even just one young man losing his mind from smoking cannabis?
But there are other awful consequences of prohibition. Given just how profitable the drugs trade is for organised crime, it is important to defend your market. They can’t issue a writ in the high court if they are faced by a competitive threat. So they depend on the use of extreme violence. And this impacts most heavily on the most deprived communities, with children and young people sucked into the drugs trade, putting them at enormous risk.
Just recently there was a news report of unscrupulous adults encouraging vulnerable children to take knives into school in order to get them excluded so they could then be exploited. Week after week we get horror stories of “county lines” – the despicable practice of using children to traffick [sic] drugs into rural areas. This is child exploitation of the worst sort when children are living in fear of drug masters, petrified of breaking rank for fear of violence or something even worse.
Too often the exploited children are treated as culpable, yet they are victims of a disgusting trade facilitated by government policy. When will we start to recognise the link between the illegal drugs trade and youth violence? When will we start to understand that there is a better way of confronting these horrors? See my post Does knife crime have anything to do with drugs markets? for evidence that very little, if any, violent crime is the result of drug dealers fighting to control a market. Note also that Mr Lamb offers no evidence that legalisation would eliminate these illicit markets, nor say whether putting the trade in the hands of Altria and Imperial Brands would make it any less ‘disgusting’.
And then there is the fact that we still prosecute more than 10,000 people every year for possession of cannabis, let alone other drugs. This is risible. If we take a conservative estimate of one million regular cannabis smokers in Britain, then it is the case, by Mr Lamb’s own figure, that 1% are prosecuted. How many of these go to prison? He doesn’t say, possibly because he knows the answer is zero. He also doesn’t mention that more than 30,000 smokers are let off every year with a meaningless ‘cannabis warning’.
A caution is enough to damage your career prospects – for doing something that half the cabinet have probably done at some point in their lives. I’d happily support the arrest and prosecution of these cabinet members. The hypocrisy beggars belief If they supported the punishment of cannabis possession by day and smoked cannabis by night, they would be hypocrites. Otherwise, they are not. – indeed, the most dangerous drug of all, in terms of harm to oneself and others, alcohol A ridiculous claim based on no objective evidence whatever., is consumed in vast quantities in our national parliament. And yet the government and the Labour party continue to support the criminalisation of fellow citizens for using cannabis, which is less dangerous. People who choose to break the law ‘criminalise’ themselves, if they are arrested and prosecuted, which they rarely are.
I am instinctively hostile to drugs, both legal and illegal, because I fear the dangers of consuming any drug in significant quantities. This contradicts his earlier enthusiasm for the estimated £1bn in tax revenue that legalisation could bring, which is dependent on the drug being bought and smoked in ‘significant quantities’. But I know that the present approach is a catastrophic failure. It is indeed, but he doesn’t know, or won’t admit, that that ‘approach’ is, in fact, decriminalisation, not ‘prohibition’. I know that the best way to protect young people from harm is to, first of all, legalise and regulate cannabis. Just as ‘regulated’ cigarettes cause cancer, so ‘regulated’ cannabis can cause mental illness. Let’s follow the rational approach (who says it’s ‘rational’?) of the Liberal government in Canada, and let’s have an informed discussion about how best to reduce the harm caused by other drugs.
Sooner or later, the people of this country will recognise the folly of the Conservative government’s approach, which is driven by fear-based, rather than evidence-based, policymaking [sic]. They will recognise that the stubborn refusal of those who govern us to look at the evidence is endangering our nation’s young people. It is shameful. Mr Lamb is interested only in evidence that appears to support his position. I have posted him a hard copy of Attacker Smoked Cannabis, which he has not read, nor acknowledged receipt of. He also refuses to answer any of my questions on Twitter. People, though, are indeed recognising the folly of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat policy of de facto decriminalisation. The cannabis zeitgeist is shifting, but Mr Lamb will not shift with it.
Here’s another case that reeks of cannabis, the rape and murder of 13-year-old Lucy McHugh of Southampton, found stabbed to death 24 hours after she went missing in July last year. Soon after her body was found, 24-year-old Stephen-Alan Nicholson, who had lodged with McHugh and her mother, was arrested and imprisoned for failing to provide his Facebook password to police investigating the murder. Why didn’t he want to reveal his password? Because he was worried the police would discover his cannabis dealings. The following November, he was charged with rape and murder.
Below is a reprint of my review of ‘The War We Never Fought’, which I wrote in 2015 for a previous employer, an online retailer of books and digital resources to schools. It was this vital book that sparked (as it were) my interest in cannabis as a social evil. If every MP, judge, police officer, cannabis smoker and legalisation lobbyist read it we would save ourselves a great deal of bother and confusion.
The National Curriculum for England states that Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) is a non-statutory subject for which schools must nevertheless ‘make provision… drawing on good practice.’ The lessons must include education on sex and relationships; finance; drugs; diet and physical exercise.
Now, which of those topics would you say is the odd one out? Or, which has the capacity to ruin the other four? It’s there in the middle; a black hole that sucks in money, health and happiness: drugs.
The confusingly non-statutory yet obligatory world of PSHE is a sadly fitting realm for lessons on drugs: though officially illegal in Britain, drugs are readily available, largely immune to the weak (non) laws that govern them and smugly celebrated by an increasingly liberal establishment, as Peter Hitchens makes clear in The War We Never Fought: The British Establishment’s Surrender to Drugs.
Published in 2012, Hitchens’ powerful book is a lesson in semantics as much as social policy. Take the following terms and expressions: ‘soft drugs’, ‘hard drugs’, ‘war on drugs’, ‘Class A/B/C drugs’, ‘gateway drug’, ‘addiction’. You’ve likely heard or read or even uttered words to the effect of ‘We should focus less on soft drugs, such as cannabis,’ or ‘Cannabis should be downgraded to a Class C drug’, or ‘Cannabis is much less addictive than alcohol or tobacco.’ Such statements, according to Hitchens are either wrong, dangerous or nonsensical.
Cannabis is the main antagonist in The War We Never Fought. This illegal plant (yes, it is illegal, at least nominally) is, as it were, the root of the greatest policy whitewash of the post-war era. The deception began on 24 July, 1967, when a group of celebrities, artists and pop stars, with the financial backing of Paul McCartney, took out a full-page advertisement in The Times, then edited by the late father of current conservative fan favourite Jacob Rees Mogg. ‘The law against marijuana’, read the advertisement’s headline, ‘is immoral in principle and unworkable in practice.’ The signatories made a number of demands, chief among them that marijuana be decriminalised. They also made some less reasonable claims about their favourite drug. According to the signatories (which included several scientists),
cannabis is the ‘least harmful of the pleasure-giving drugs’;
cannabis is ‘far less harmful than alcohol’;
cannabis is ‘non-addictive’;
nobody under the influence of cannabis has ever been prosecuted for disorderly behaviour;
cannabis has medicinal properties that ought to be researched and promoted.
When you finish The War We Never Fought you will realise that none of the above claims is true. Not just untrue, in fact, but utter nonsense; the kind of babble you’d expect from someone who is high.
Peter Hitchens, a Mail on Sunday columnist and winner of the George Orwell Prize for journalism, is known by many on the left only as the younger brother of the late Anglo-American writer Christopher Hitchens. The pair had a fraught relationship born of ideological and fraternal differences, though the acrimony waned towards the end of Christopher’s life. Peter is a conservative and patriotic English Christian, while Christopher was a self-styled anti-theist who achieved global fame in 2007 (the same year he took American citizenship) with his book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, which criticises the Christian church that Peter regards as ‘the foundation of civilisation’, as he (Peter) made clear in his 2009 riposte, The Rage Against God.
As one would expect from a book by an award-winning journalist who has spent over 30 years on Fleet Street, The War We Never Fought is well written, robust and meticulously researched. Scornful of critics who misquote, misrepresent and employ stale or lazy language, Hitchens (Peter) does not leave the Big Dope lobby (as he calls it) much, if anything, to seize on.
Hitchens sees a strong link between the ‘self-pitying anthems of rock music’ and the zombie-like march towards drug decriminalisation. Many songs illustrate this, but PSHE teachers might consider ‘The irony of it all’, by The Streets. ‘My name’s Tim and I’m a criminal’, begins lead singer Mike Skinner. ‘In the eyes of society I need to be in jail / for the choice of herbs I inhale.’ One might feel sorry for Tim were he in jail, but he is in fact singing from his flat, where he makes bongs using his ‘engineering degree’, watches TV ‘until six in the morning’, and suffers nothing worse than the delivery of a pizza that mistakenly contains chicken. If he has been arrested for cannabis possession, he doesn’t mention it.
But of course, he hasn’t been arrested for cannabis possession: nobody nowadays is arrested for cannabis possession. The Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971, which followed the Wootton report of 1969, was so spineless in its wording and has been so diluted by subsequent governments that today one can smoke a joint in a park in broad daylight and face nothing worse than confiscation, or perhaps a caution or – gasp – a two-figure fine. Even suppliers and dealers rarely face prison, ostensibly to allow police to focus on ‘harder’ drugs, such as heroin, cocaine and ecstasy.
Has this narrowing of the drugs lens made things more difficult for the purveyors of ‘harder’ drugs? No. Consumers, dealers and suppliers of heroin and cocaine are as safe as those who deal only in cannabis. In 2010, for example, of the 12,175 people arrested for possession of ‘Class A’ drugs, a mere 779 were sent to prison. This figure is even more pitiful than it appears, for it does not reveal whether the imprisonment was exclusively for possession, or (more likely) for one or more other crimes. And remember, these figures are for ‘Class A’; cannabis lies further down this pointless and misleading spectrum.
‘Just a few eighths and some Playstations are my vocation’, sings Skinner. True for him, perhaps, but anyone who claims cannabis is harmless is deluded. As Hitchens points out, while we associate potheads with the idle idyll that Skinner describes, many violent crimes – including murder and manslaughter – have been committed by people high on weed, which provides a succinct answer to Skinner’s question in the song’s fourth verse ‘How can something with no recorded fatalities be illegal?’ Furthermore, there is growing evidence of the link between cannabis consumption and paranoid schizophrenia, to say nothing of the obvious fact that the drug reduces one’s alertness and energy levels. Thanks to 40 years of surrender to the drugs lobby, secondary school pupils now arrive to school stoned with depressing regularity (something the present writer has witnessed). In what sense, Hitchens asks, can any of these people – the paranoid schizophrenic, the stoned motorist, the zombie schoolchild – be considered ‘harmless’? How can the drug responsible, cannabis, be considered ‘soft’? How, to rephrase Skinner’s question, can something with so many recorded fatalities be legal in all but name?
Unhelpfully, the pro-health lobby is often guilty of using the false categories of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’. Cannabis, some warn, is a ‘gateway drug’. That is, the youngster who starts with ‘a few eighths and some Playstations’ soon ends up robbing pensioners to feed a crack habit. This is both true and untrue. Though some people spend their lives (and money) seeking a higher high, to place cannabis at the bottom of the ladder, or as the first ‘stepping stone’, is to contradict the scientific evidence that, nascent as it is, proves the long-term mental health effects of cannabis to be every bit as damaging as the physical harm caused by heroin, cocaine or ecstasy. In any case, the goal is the same. Self-stupefaction (as Hitchens bluntly calls it) is self-stupefaction.
With the evidence of weed’s potential for damage now undeniable, the pro-legalisation lobby, without ever admitting that it got that first part wrong, now claims, as the 1967 signatories did, that cannabis is ‘far less harmful than alcohol’. Mike Skinner and the Streets do the same. ‘The irony of it all’ is actually a duet in which a loutish drunkard named Terry, a self-declared ‘law abider’, defends his ‘right / to get paralytic and fight’, while the ‘friendly peaceful’ student Tim and his friends ‘sit in a hazy bubble’ and ‘pose no threat’ to the nation. The song ends with Terry threatening to ‘batter’ Tim after the latter points out that
Government funding for further education pales in insignificance
When compared to how much they spend on repairing
Leery drunk people at the weekend
In casualty wards all over the land.
Put like that, cannabis does indeed appear ‘no worse than alcohol’. It’s a spectacularly unscientific assertion that Hitchens carefully debunks.
First, one should always note the precise wording of the claim. Depending on your interlocutor, the comparison of cannabis to alcohol ranges from ‘far less harmful’ to ‘less harmful’ to ‘no worse than’: again, the kind of inconsistency one would expect from people who have just spent 10 minutes staring at their hands.
To argue that the presence of one disastrous legal poison (alcohol) justifies legalising cannabis is nonsensical. Moreover, unlike the aforementioned Terry, Hitchens is no binge-drinker pushing for more lenient licensing laws and cheaper booze. Quite the opposite, in fact. The efforts of successive governments to make alcohol cheaper and more accessible mirror the less publicised dilution of the Misuse of Drugs Act.
The only claim of the pro-cannabis lobby that contains a morsel of truth is the belief that cannabis is not addictive. This is true, but only because, according to Hitchens, there isno such thing as addiction. What makes one want to consume heroin is one’s desire to consume heroin. There is no evidence that total withdrawal damages health. As Hitchens ruefully points out on his blog, Johann Hari makes the same point in his new book Chasing the Scream. Why, Hitchens wonders, has Hari’s work received such gushing praise, while The War We Never Fought was greeted with ‘howls of execration’? It is because Hari, in that consoling way of his, paints drug users as ‘victims’, while Hitchens sees only a conscious and free decision to indulge in self-stupefaction.
As for the popular argument that cannabis has medicinal properties, Hitchens points out that if numbness and euphoria were the only goal then brandy would be considered a medicine. While there is no scientific consensus on the medicinal properties of cannabis. there is, as Hitchens describes, much evidence that people are using the medicinal argument as a front behind which non-medical consumption and trade takes place.
None of this would be possible if the police in Britain were enforced existing drug laws. Long ago, though, the police realised that enforcing such laws was, Hitchens writes,
a complicated and time-consuming nuisance with few rewards for them. It made them unpopular and it also led to them being accused of racial prejudice in some urban zones where the cannabis trade was dominated by ethnic minorities. This, though nobody mentioned it, was a direct result of the neutering of the penalties for possession, and the law’s absurd view that possession was somehow less of an offence than trafficking. If police arrests and prosecutions had resulted in severe penalties, then their actions would have a deterrent effect. But arrests and prosecutions which end with feeble penalties undermine the law.
Hitchens then goes on to describe the extraordinary initiative of Brian Paddick, the former Commander of Lambeth police in London and now a baron and Liberal Democrat politician. In 2001, he decided that the Lambeth police would no longer arrest anyone caught in possession of cannabis, and instead confiscate the drugs on the spot, allowing the erstwhile possessor to go free and the police to focus on ‘harder’ drugs. The results were disastrous, but, with no officer willing to admit as much to Scotland Yard, the indulgence continued.
The new National Curriculum for England is the work of Michael Gove, the former Secretary of State for Education. His erstwhile boss, David Cameron, was part of the latest committee to make drug consumption easier and the punishments for it less severe. In May 2002 the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee published a report on drugs that gave a strong ‘wink’ in the direction of legalisation, while giving no consideration to a strong deterrent law or to the objections of one of its members, the Conservative MP Angela Watkinson. The Committee rejected every one of Mrs Watkinson’s proposed additions to the report, including the sentence, ‘Cannabis is also known to be a risk factor for schizophrenia and to affect levels of attainment in students, performance at work, the ability to drive safely, judgement and insight.’
Hitchens sympathises with Mrs Watkinson because he too has seen his sensible and logical arguments dismissed or ignored by people who ought to know better. Far from ignore him, schools ought to be clamouring to have this articulate father explain why and how the status quo exposes everyone’s children to the dangerous world of illegal drugs.
In recent years Hitchens’ book has amassed added significance due to the growing evidence of a link between “terrorism” and cannabis: Paris (x2), Copenhagen, Woolwich, Tunisia, Sydney, Ottawa, Quebec, Tennessee, Boston, Brussels, Amsterdam, Marseille, Westminster, Berlin, Stockholm: the list is long and growing, and in each case the pattern is the same: young man, or men, smoke cannabis in early adolescence, undergo a dramatic personality shift, and emerge in early adulthood as deranged suicidal killers. Can we not, Hitchens asks, investigate whether cannabis and violence are linked before we think about surrendering further to Big Dope?
By coincidence, I finished Henry’s Demons the day after ‘World Mental Health Day’. Let us imagine this day is actually important, and not a hashtag concocted by Twitter to generate good publicity. In that case, as so often, it was notable only, as far as I could see, for a total lack of discussion about mind-altering drugs. Yes, funding for mental health is important, and ‘Care in the Community’ has largely failed, sometimes with tragic results, but these do not tackle the root cause of most, if not all, mental illness.
With that in mind, Henry’s Demons, by the well known foreign correspondent Patrick Cockburn and his son Henry, ought to be as integral to World Mental Health Day as pancakes are to Shrove Tuesday. The book is a joint account of Henry’s seven-year descent into mental illness, written mostly by Patrick and interspersed with Henry’s firsthand accounts. There is also a series of excerpts from the diary of Henry’s mother, Jan, which are actually the most harrowing of all. Written in the heat of the moment, they are devastating, though far from overblown.
What is Henry’s mental illness? Patrick calls it schizophrenia, and also mentions ‘bipolar disorder’, though acknowledges that these are largely subjective and still not fully understood. What matters is that at some point while studying in Brighton Henry began to lose his mind: he would go for long walks barefoot, swim in the freezing sea and even climb into people’s gardens and strip naked, all, he says, at the behest of trees, roots, flowers and other voices from the natural world. Together, he and Patrick recount his admission to, and frequent escapes from, one mental hospital after another, until, after seven years, he began to regularly take the medication he had shunned for so long.
With no history of mental illness in his family, Patrick looks elsewhere for a culprit. Though he does not say it explicitly, he – and Henry – mention a particular illegal drug often enough to make even the dullest mind take notice. From the age of 14, Henry smoked copious amounts of cannabis, and continued smoking years after he was first sectioned. Patrick admits he thought it was harmless, but soon realises it is a major factor in the destruction of his son’s mind.
Without being flippant, there is something schizophrenic in a nation that purports to care greatly about mental health, yet also not only fails to police a dangerous mind-altering drug, but actually advocates its legalisation. As this book shows – and Henry’s tale is far from unique -, cannabis is a grave threat to mental well-being. How much tax revenue would compensate for the fear, anxiety and misery endured by Henry, his parents and (as Patrick painfully describes) his younger brother, Alex? Those who wish to legalise – and profit from – cannabis ought to read this clear, measured and powerful tale of one family’s struggle with insanity.
I argue with many dim-witted cannabis enthusiasts on Twitter, but in a discussion yesterday my adversary reached new depths of ignorance, made stranger by his apparent abundance of expertise.
The person is Dublin-based Dr Garrett McGovern, @AddictionsPMC. His profile reads:
Sensible drug policies. E-cig advocate. MB BCh, BAO (T.C.D.); MSc.(Clinical Addiction, King’s College London); CISAM (Addiction Medicine) #SaferFromHarm#MUFC
That last hashtag is, as far as I can tell, his only redeeming feature. As one would expect from a man who has built a career on the pitiful fantasy of ‘addiction’, he supports the legalisation of cannabis.
I happened upon him through Niamh Eastwood, an even soppier drugs legalisation advocate, and director of Release, a legalisation pressure group. I follow her to keep abreast of legalisation trends and tactics, and to challenge them as and when I feel like it.
Ms Eastwood has long since stopped replying to my messages, having fled when I asked her to cite a single case of somebody in the UK being imprisoned for drugs possession. Dr McGovern, though, lasted a bit longer. The discussion went as follows.
Dr McGovern: ‘Decriminalisation and legalisation are very different entities. Criminalising ppl who use drugs causes stigma, is inhumane and doesn’t deter drug use anyway. I can’t understand how anybody would support it.’
Me: ‘If people break a known law they ‘criminalise’ themselves. We don’t ‘criminalise’ murderers, burglars and rapists. They choose to break the law, are arrested and prosecuted, and become criminals. Same with drug users, except they are, in fact, rarely arrested.’
Dr McGovern: ‘1. Not true. Drug users are regularly arrested. 2. That’s the while point. Drug use shouldn’t be a crime. Alcohol and tobacco use aren’t.’
Me: ‘Arrested maybe, but not regularly. According to Norman Lamb, 10,000 cannabis smokers a year are prosecuted, which represents less than 1% of smokers. None goes to prison, even though cannabis is a prime factor in countless acts of suicide and psychopathic violence.’
Dr McGovern: ‘If cannabis is as bad as you say should we not be regulating the drug?’
Me: ‘That would do nothing except make Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco very rich. ‘Regulated’ cigarettes cause cancer. ‘Regulated’ cannabis causes mental illness, and mentally ill people are a danger to themselves and others, as my site shows.’
Dr McGovern: ‘I think you’ll find unregulated tobacco causes cancer. If tobacco and alcohol were banned tomorrow there would be blood on the streets. Unimaginable harm and chaos at every level. We don’t have regulated cannabis so your statement is untrue.’
Me: ‘Er, I think you’ll find ‘regulated’ packages of cigarettes bear messages such as ‘Smoking kills’ and ‘Smoking causes cancer’. They have ‘regulated’ cannabis is California and Colorado and it’s causing all sorts of misery.’
Dr McGovern: ‘Misery? If this is misery I’ll take misery.’
As I told Dr McGovern, this chart is risible. All crime is caused by law. If you eliminate a law, it follows that fewer people are arrested for breaking that law. This steep drop in prosecutions for cannabis offences is, therefore, nothing to be proud of.
What is remarkable is that even two years after legalisation came into effect, nearly 2000 people were still prosecuted for cannabis possession. This is presumably for having more than the legally permitted total of one ounce, or for being under the age of 21, or both. The question is, do people like Dr McGovern and Ms Eastwood have a moral objection to these people being arrested and prosecuted (or ‘criminalised’, as they would put it)? Should the maximum legal limit of possession be increased, and the legal minimum age dropped? Will these totals be pushed, respectively, higher and higher, and lower and lower, until we have 12-year-olds carrying several pounds of marijuana?
Dr McGovern, you won’t be surprised to learn, has run away from our discussion, back to his fantasy world of ‘addiction’, a ‘war’ on drugs that ‘criminalises’ hapless users and ‘regulated’ cannabis enabling ‘harm reduction’.