By Iain Bainbridge
©1997 The Christian Institute
What have the Methodist Church (1), a number of MPs (2) , The Independent newspaper, the European Commissioner for consumer affairs (3) , the Head of Interpo (4) and 16 senior members of the judiciary (5) got in common? The answer is that they have all reportedly called for the legalisation of cannabis to be considered. The campaign has come a long way since it was first launched with a full-page advertisement in The Times in 1967.(6)
Calls for legalisation are now not so much found in advertisements but in newspaper editorials. In October 1995 The Independent, for example, stated that it:
'has long argued for the legalisation and licensing of those drugs that have little or no ill-effect on health if used in moderation, like alcohol, like cannabis and (in all probability) like the dance drug Ecstasy.' (7)
The tragic death of Leah Betts, who died within weeks of this editorial after taking an Ecstasy tablet, makes this statement look rather foolish and irresponsible. Yet this sort of comment is not untypical.
certainly faces a serious drugs problem. The official estimate is
that over £500 million of tax payers money is spent by the
Government on tackling drug misuse each year. (8)
This excludes many indirect costs (e.g unemployment, housing.) The
number of registered addicts has rocketed from approximately 1,000
in 1970 to almost 30,000 in 1992. Seizures of drugs by customs and
police have risen from 11,000 in 1974 to nearly 70,000 in 1992.
There are three categories of illegal drugs in the United Kingdom; Classes A, B and C. Class A is the most serious. It is illegal to possess, supply or manufacture these drugs. (See Fig 1.)
As cannabis is a Class B drug the police have the power to stop and search any person they believe have it on them. Theoretically stiff custodial sentences can be applied (See Fig 1). In reality however, according to the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependency:
"About a third of all cannabis offenders are either not taken to court at all or discharged. Less than 10 per cent of those found in possession of cannabis are sentenced to immediate (as opposed to suspended) imprisonment. Most prison sentences for cannabis are for no more than a year, while fines are generally between £20 and £100. (10)"
The use of cautioning increased dramatically from 1% of cases in 1981 to 45% of cases in 1992. (11)
It is often argued that the prohibition of the use of cannabis represents an unjustified infringement of people's civil liberties. Surely, they say, taking drugs is a private matter and does not affect others. This is the classic libertarian position of J S Mill, that:
"the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised society, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. (12)"
There is a growing campaign from the political Left and Right for drugs to be legalised. (13) As the authors of a British Social Attitudes (BSA) report observe:
As calls for legalisation have grown, recent years have witnessed a dramatic change of emphasis in the general approach to the drugs problem. Prevention has been replaced by 'harm reduction' as the overriding strategy employed by government and drug misuse agencies.
The approach of the 1980's was one of empowering young people to "Just Say No" and to resist peer pressure to take drugs. In the 1990's the view prevailing amongst organisations in the field seems to be that it is now a waste of time trying to dissuade young people from using drugs.
A recent academic study by the highly respected BSA concluded that drugs professionals in Britain have "a very liberal approach towards drugs." (15)
'Drug agency workers are virtually united in rejecting abstention as a policy, believing that this is not only unrealistic but that it has proved counterproductive in the past. Much better, they argue, to accept that drug use will occur and warn those doing so of the risks they take. (16)'
An international comparison with Sweden confirms this picture. A study (17) sought the opinions of drug professionals on eight key issues. It ranked the response on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the most liberal and 5 being the most restrictive attitude to drugs. The average score for the Swedish drug professionals was 3.8, compared to an average of 2.0 for British drug workers. BSA put the same issues to members of the British public and found that the average score was 3.5. (18) This illustrates that our 'front-line' prevention workers hold far more liberal views than the public as a whole.
Harm reduction, the approach initially intended to be used when dealing with addicts is now being used almost universally among young people. The importance of harm reduction is not being disputed. When faced with individuals that are dependent on drugs it is right to seek to minimise the harm that they are suffering. Hardened drug addicts do need to be helped to give up drugs. In the short term this may well involve seeking to minimise the dangers from their habit. Applying harm reduction methods universally, however, is inappropriate.
Ecstasy : "The most serious danger is dehydration (loss of water) and heat stroke...To combat this users who are dancing need to drink water at the rate of about one pint an hour. It is best to sip water regularly. People also need to eat or drink something to replace the sodium they lose through sweating. A salty snack, fruit juice, fizzy drink or sports drink will be sufficient."
GHB (Gammahydroxybutyrate) : "The biggest dangers come from the unknown strength of the drug itself and from mixing it with alcohol"
Poppers : "When used for sexual enhancement, the user should be aware of the need to practice safe sex and take appropriate precautions"
Taken from Drugs :Know the Facts. Heath Education Authority/Boots Chemists
The harm reduction approach can be criticised on a number of grounds:
people do need information. Literature should emphasise the dangers
and folly of drug-taking. It should positively seek to persuade
young people not to take drugs rather than adopt a 'take it or leave
it approach' which may do more harm than good.
Christians believe that everyone has a natural tendency to act wrongly. (24) The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.
Marriage and the nurture of children within the family, social conventions, the Church and the law, should all have a vital role in discouraging wrong behaviour and promoting good.
Proper fear of authority is a healthy thing. As Digby Anderson states:-
"Goodness does not come naturally. Weak, tempted humans need authority and fear to promote their goodness." (25)
Habits of wrong behaviour develop which become increasingly difficult to amend. (26) Personal behaviour inevitably affects other people. The law is a necessary restraint on wrong behaviour for the good of us all. Without law society itself would collapse. Legislating morality is therefore an act of societal self-protection.
The sole purpose of taking cannabis is to become intoxicated. The Bible repeatedly condemns intoxication when it addresses drunkenness.
Firstly, when intoxicated, people lose control. This often leads to wrong actions such as irresponsible behaviour, violence or sexual immorality. (27)
Secondly, substance abuse leads to problems in health, relationships and work. Money spent on alcohol or drugs is not available for food, housing and clothing. This can have profound effects on the family. (28)
Thirdly, dependence on drugs or alcohol compounds problems.
Fourthly, drugs are a means of escapism and distort one's perception of reality. No one can ever solve their problems by running away from them.
Christians are instructed that their body 'is the temple of the Holy Spirit. (29) They are not to abuse their bodies. Christians are exhorted to "be alert and self-controlled. (30)" They are to be controlled by the Holy Spirit and not by alcohol. (31) Within the Church, a qualification of all Christian leaders is that they should 'not be given to drunkenness. (32)'
Ultimately man's problem is one of a relationship with God broken by sin. Only by recognising this and by turning to God in repentance can man find peace with God and power to change a wrong way of life.
The use of so called 'recreational drugs' like cannabis and ecstasy was undoubtedly widespread in the 1990's. In the 1994 British Crime Survey 42% of men and 30% of females aged between 20 and 24 indicated that they had used cannabis. (20) According to a 1996 Health Education Authority survey 78% of young people aged between 20 and 22 had been offered illegal drugs and 54% had taken them. (21)
Young people are often told that the greatest danger connected with drug taking is getting caught by the police. Those wishing to see cannabis decriminalised quote statistics like the above, arguing that the time and resources spent on prosecuting cannabis users could be used far more effectively in the battle against 'hard drugs.' The result is that defeatism is fostered among those involved in enforcing the law.
possession of cannabis still constitutes a criminal offence. Most
people believe it should remain that way.
The legal status of cannabis
Taking cannabis... 1995
|should be legal, without restrictions||6|
be legal, but it should only
be available from licensed shops
|should remain illegal||64|
Base 1221, Source : British Social Attitudes, The 13th Report, SCPR 1996, page 97
Other criminal activities are not presented to young people in such a value-neutral way (22). The mere discussion of legalisation suggests that the law is possibly unjustified, and further reduces the stigma rightly attached to it.
From 1985 to 1992 illegal drug use fell dramatically in the US. (See Figure 2). Peter Stoker of the National Drugs Prevention Alliance attributes this fall to the vigorous pursuit of drugs prevention policies. Things can be done, the problem can be tackled. A continuous rise in drug use is not inevitable.
Household Survey (NIDA) and High School Seniors
Drug Abuse Survey, University of Michigan
|Any current illegal drug use||24.3||23.0||14.5||11.4|
|Current Marijuana Use||22.5||18.2||11.6||9.0|
|Current Cocaine Use||4.3||5.8||2.9||1.3|
|Any Teen Current Illicit Drug Use||4.1||3.3||1.9||1.3|
figures are of users in millions. Current = Within past month.
Since 1992 drug use has increased as drug prevention policies have been relaxed. (see text)
Since the relaxation of these measures, drug use has increased. Between 1994 and 1995 there was a 33% increase in substance abuse among teenagers. Use of LSD and other hallucinogens alone rose 55% in the same one year period. (23).
A number of countries have experimented with legalisation including Spain and Italy. Those arguing for reform claim that the policy of partial decriminalisation has been successful in Holland, asserting that there has been no great increase in cannabis use. The number of pot-purveying 'coffee shops' has, however, increased dramatically. According to John Malouf (33) up to 20% of the 'coffee shops' in some areas of Amsterdam were shut down in 1993 because of dealing in other drugs. A Dutch Government policy document published last year, following pressure from other EU member states, proposed that half of these 4,000 coffee shops should be closed, and "soft-drug users" should be allowed to possess no more than 5g (current limit 30g) . (34)
- Cancer of mouth, jaw, tongue, and lung in 19-30 year olds (40)
- Non-lymphoblastic leukeamia (41)
Babies born to mothers who smoked marijuana during pregnancy have an ten-fold increase in non-lymphoblastic leukaemia.
- Short term memory loss (with heavy use) (42)
- Long term impairment of memory in adolescents(43)
- Carcinoma of the tongue (with heavy use) (44)
- Brain Damage in rats (45)
- Schizophrenia (46)
Marijuana smokers are six times more likely to develop schizophrenia than non-users.
- Damage to foetuses (47)
Marijuana smoking during pregnancy is associated with impaired foetal growth.
- Reduction in sperm count and disruption of hormone cycles (48)
- Mental confusion (49)(with prolonged use i.e. 6 months - 25 years).
- Difficulties in communication, the ability to think logically and to maintain attention.
- Depression and lack of motivation (50)
Disturbed nocturnal sleep at age 3 years. (53)
Inattention, bad conduct, in 6-9 year olds. A deficit in sustained attention, verbal ability and memory of 5 and 6 year old children of marijuana users. (53)
- Higher rates of school difficulties, conflict in the home, depression, low religiosity, early sexual experience, low parental influence and high peer influence. (54)
- Lack of meaningfulness of life with sustained use. (55)
- Psychosis (56)
Moderate to heavy doses can produce psychotic symptoms in clear consciousness, especially auditory and visual hallucinations and persecutory delusions.
- Damage to the immune system (57)
Marijuana impairs the white blood cells which fight infection.
Many people believe that cannabis is harmless. (36) Literature given to young people by drug organisations often seems to promote this view.
The following is an extract from a booklet published by Lifeline, a drug advisory organisation based in Manchester.
"The lethal dose of cannabis is a 2 kilo block dropped on your head from the 25th floor of a high rise building. In other words - cannabis can't kill you, it is not a poison like alcohol and not addictive like cigarettes. The more you smoke the more stoned you get. Carry on and you'll just fall asleep....
None of these harms are irreversible."
"The single biggest cannabis problem is the risk of being caught with it by the police. Whilst there is no cast iron evidence that cannabis does serious physical or psychological damage, a police record can ruin career prospects overnight."
"Cannabis has been smoked for pleasure for thousands of years. Nobody can predict what will happen to anybody who uses cannabis anymore that they can to anybody who doesn't. A lot of people who are now both parents grandparents smoked cannabis during the sixties and seventies...." (37)
So is there actually any scientific evidence that it is harmful?
At an international conference in 1992 scientists concluded:
'The toxicity of cannabis is well-established, experimentally and clinically. This drug adversely affects the central nervous system, the lung, immunity and reproductive functions.' (38)
An article in Policing Today cites the University of Mississippi as having a library of over 10,500 world-wide accredited research papers all giving evidence of the harmfulness of cannabis. (58) Much has come to light only recently. Those who argue for legalisation have yet to respond to this vast, growing body of evidence.
It is widely accepted by most involved in the legalisation debate that cannabis users can become psychologically dependent and are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and paranoia. (59)
People involved in counselling drug users know that physical addiction is often easier to deal with than psychological dependence.
Alcohol and tobacco can be used in small quantities without having such an impact on the user. Cannabis is smoked for one reason only, to get intoxicated.
One of the strongest arguments against legalisation is that cannabis use very often progresses to use of harder drugs. Once introduced to the drug culture buying other drugs becomes an easy matter. Hard drugs are very often available from the same 'pusher,' and young people like to experiment.
is claimed by some that cannabis should be legalised at the very
least for medical purposes. Peter Stoker lists nine major medical
organisations which have rejected cannabis as having any medicinal
value. (60) He also cites one leading
pro-pot activist as saying that the 'medical marijuana' argument
can be used 'to give pot a good name. (61)
Legalisation would have disastrous effects. The sociologist Norman Dennis believes that "the normalisation of drug-taking,.. overwhelmingly will constitute the most serious problem for our society." (62)
It is ironic that at a time when drug-related crime is at a record level and local authorities are taking further measures to tackle public drunkenness (63) the legalisation of another harmful drug is being considered.
Instead of encouraging cannabis use (which legalisation most definitely would), we should use all possible means of drug prevention. Changing attitudes takes time. We need to :
Acknowledgement : The author wishes to thank Peter Stoker, Director of the National Drug Prevention Alliance for helpful advice and encouragement in writing this article.
Substances of Abuse: Getting A Perspective a report of The Division
of Social Responsibility of the Methodist Church. 1995
(2) Examples of MPs include Claire Short (The Daily Mail 17 August 1996) Alan Duncan (The Sunday Times 14 May 1995) and Paul Flynn (Daily Mail 17 August 1996). Last year Paul Flynn brought a Private Member's Bill, proposing the legalisation of cannabis for medical use. It was defeated.
(3) Emma Bonino was quoted as saying: "I believe that cannabis should be able to be sold and used freely as it is in Holland." The Daily Telegraph 10 October 1996
(4) Raymond Kendall, has called for all drug use to be decriminalised. (The Times 9 June 1994) (See also The Times 8 June 1995)
(5) The Sunday Times 1 December 1996. Lord Woolf, Master of the Rolls reportedly suggested in a speech on 12 October 1993 that it is time to consider controlled legalisation of some drugs. The Times 14 October 1993. Legalisation: For or Against Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence 1995
(6) The Times 24 July 1967
(7) The Independent 31 October 1995
(8) House of Lords Hansard 20 November 1996 Col 1255
(9) Plant M Drugs In Perspective, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1987
ISDD Drug Misuse in Britain, London, 1994
(10) Cannabis Drugs Notes 3, ISDD 1993
(11) Loc Cit
(12) Mill, J S Essay on Human Liberty. Cited in Classics of Western Philosophy Ed. Cahn , S M Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis 1990. Pages 1110 - 1111
(13) See 2 above. The right-wing libertarian case for legalisation has recently been expounded: Stevenson R in Winning The War On Drugs: To Legalise Or Not? The Institute of Economic Affairs, London 1994.
(14) Illegal Drugs: liberal and restrictive attitudes Gould, A; Shaw, A; Ahrendt, D; British Social Attitudes: The 13th Report SCPR 1996 page 106.
(15) Ibid, page 111
(16) Ibid, page 93
(17) Ibid page 112
(18) Ibid page 104
(19) See for example Talking About Drugs a Channel 4 drugs information video 1994
(20) Drug misuse declared: results of the 1994 British Crime Survey, Home Office Research Study 151. Pub 1996 Page 84
(21) Drugs Realities, National Drugs Campaign Survey. Health Education Authority 1996 Page 5
(22) "When it comes to theft, burglary or violence we do not say to young people you have a choice whether to participate or not; we tell them 'no.' When it comes to the legal drug tobacco we also tell them 'no', and for alcohol 'no' at certain ages/places. And yet when it comes to street drugs a large number of people ostensibly having a responsibility of care for young people are either sanguine about or even facilitate a choice to use drugs." (Drugs - Whose Choice Is It Anyway? Shiv Singh, National Drug Prevention Alliance)
(23) Figures are taken from the National Household Survey (NIDA) and High School Seniors Drug Abuse Survey, University of Michigan. (As cited in Brett M and Stoker P Thinking The Thinkable, Policing Today February 1995.) and Preliminary Estimates from the 1995 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Office of Applied Statistics, Advance Report Number 18, August 1996, pages 2, 12
(24) Romans 3 v 23
(25) The Loss of Virtue - Moral Confusion and Social Disorder in Britain and America, Ed Anderson, D The Social Affairs Unit 1992 Page xxvii
(26) James 1 v 14,15
(27) Ephesians 5 v 18
(28) Proverbs 21 v 17; Proverbs 23 vv 20-21, 29-35; Isaiah 28 v 7.
(29) 1 Corinthians 6 v 19. See also Romans 12 v 1.
(30) 1 Thessalonians 5 v 6; 1 Peter 5 v 8
(31) Ephesians 5 v 18
(32) 1 Timothy 3 v 3
(33) Malouf J Should Marijuana Be Decriminalised? A paper written for the Australian Medical Association. Mr Malouf is a former president of the Society of Pharmacists, New South Wales.
(34) The Times 1 November 1995 "Drug friendly nations taking tougher line." The Lancet Vol 346 16 September 1995, 762
(35) As Peter Stoker comments: "Faced with this incontrovertible proof the police and other authorities enacted a swift repeal, returning drug possession to the status it deserves as a negative influence on society." Stoker P Harm Reduction and the Abuse of Liberty Positive Prevention Plus, Berks 1994.
(36)The Independent on the 28th January 1996 printed an article entitled: 'Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll: High Society: Heroin makes you rob chemists at gun point. Cocaine gives you three nostrils and an overdraft. Alcohol makes you makes you violent and stupid. Dope only makes you want sex and chocolate. So why isn't it legal?"
(37) Everything You Wanted To Know About Cannabis But Were Afraid To Ask Your Kids. Lifeline, Manchester.(38) Cannabis - Physiopathology, epidaemology detection. Proceedings of 2nd International Symposium organised by the National Academy of Medicine with the assistance of the City of Paris. April 8- 9 1992. Ed. Nahas G G and Latour C. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Ann Arbor, London, Tokyo, 1993.
(39) Sherman M P et al Effects of Smoking Marijuana, Tobacco or Cocaine Alone or In Combination on DNA Damage In Human Alveolar Macrophages Life Sciences, Vol. 56, No.s 23/24, pp. 2201-2207, 1995
(40) Nahas G and Latour C The Human Toxicity of Marijuana Med J Aust 1992; 156: 495-497
This influential article has been criticised, but has been robustly defended by the authors.
(41) Robison L L et al Cancer 63:1904-1910, 1989
(42) Block R I and Ghoneim M M Effects of Chronic Marijuana Use on Human Cognition Psychopharmacology (1993) 110 : 219-228
(43) Nahas G and Latour C The Human Toxicity of Marijuana Med J Aust 1992; 156: 495-497
(44) Caplin G A et al Marijuana Smoking and Carcinoma of the Tongue: Is there an association? Cancer 66: 1005-1006, 1990
(45) Rubio P et al Long-Term Behavioural Effects of Perinatal Exposure To D9 - Tetrahydrocannabinol In Rats: Possible Role Of Pituitary-Adrenal Axis Life Sciences, Vol. 56, No.s 23-24, pp. 2169-2176, 1995
(46) Andreasson S et al Cannabis and Schizophrenia. A Longitudinal Study of Swedish Conscripts Lancet 2 : 1483-1485 1987
Martinez-Arevalo, M J et al Cannabis Consumption as a Prognostic Factor in Schizophrenia British Journal of Psychiatry (1994), 164, 679-681
(47) Zuckerman B et al The Effects Of Maternal Marijuana and Cocaine Use on Fetal Growth N Engl J Med 1989; 320: 762-768.
(48) Gold M S Marijuana NY: Plenum Med Bk Co pp 69-71
(49) Lundqvist T Specific Thought Patterns in Chronic Cannabis Smokers Observed During Treatment Life Sciences, Vol. 56, No.s 23/24, pp.2141-2144, 1995
(50) Musty R E and Kaback L Relationships Between Motivation and Depression In Chronic Marijuana Users Life Sciences, Vol. 56, No.s 23/24, pp. 2151-2158, 1995. This study establishes a clear link between cannabis use and depression. It does not establish which comes first.
(51) Fried P A The Ottawa Prenatal Prospective Study (OPPS): Methodological Issues And Findings - It's Easy To Throw The Baby Out With The Bath Water Life Sciences, Vol. 56, No.s 23/24, pp. 2159-2168, 1995
(52) Dahl R E et al A Longitudinal Study of Prenatal Marijuana Use Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1995; 149: 145-150
(53) Fried P A Prenatal Exposure to Marijuana and Tobacco During Infancy, Early and Middle Childhood : Effects and an Attempt at Synthesis Arch Toxicol Suppl 1995; 17: 233-60
(54) See studies cited in Cornelius M D et al Prenatal Tobacco and Marijuana Use Among Adolescents : Effects on Offspring Gestational Age, Growth, and Morphology Paediatrics Vol. 95 No. 5 May 1995
(55) Lundqvist T Chronic Cannabis Use And The Sense of Coherence Life Sciences Vol. 56, No.s23/24, pp. 2145-2150, 1995
(56) Thornicroft G Cannabis and Psychosis Is there Epidemiological Evidence for an Association? British Journal of Psychiatry (1990), 157, 25-33
(57) Spector S Lancz G Adv Exp Med Bio 288: 47-56 1991; Djeu J et al Adv Exp Med Biology 288: 57-62 1991; Watzl B et al Adv Exp Med Biology 288: 63-70 1991; Cabral G et al R.. Adv Exp Med Bio 288: 93-105 1991
(58) Brett M and Stoker P Thinking the Thinkable, Policing Today February 1995
(59) Drug Capsule 3: Cannabis, ISDD, 1995
See also Cannabis Drug Notes 3, ISDD 1993: "Regular users can come to feel a psychological need for the drug or may rely on it as a 'social lubricant.': it is not unknown for people to use cannabis so frequently that they are almost constantly 'under the influence.'...A heavy user chronically intoxicated on cannabis may appear apathetic, lack energy, and perform poorly at their work or education."
(60) Brett M and Stoker P Thinking the Thinkable Policing Today, February 1995 lists the following organisations which reject cannabis as having any medical value:
The British Multiple Sclerosis Society
The American Medical Association
The Institute of Ophthalmology
The Institute of Oncology
The National Eye Institute
The Glaucoma Society
The Institute of Neurological Disorders
(61) Stoker P Legalisation - The Fool's Gold
(62) Dennis N Who's Celebrating What?, The Christian Institute, 1995, page 15
(63) The Independent 7 September 1996
(64) We should also resist calls to relax the guidelines relating to the depiction of drug-use on television. The present guidelines prohibit the promotion of drug-taking as a normal activity. The Times 27 August 1996
(65) This was suggested by Chief Inspector Tony Doyle, head of the Merseyside Police Drug Squad, at the ACPO conference in Dunblane. The Scotsman 26 October 1996
(66) In 1994 a teenage driver who killed a 25-year-old man in a hit-and-run accident whilst under the influence of cannabis was sentenced to four years' youth custody. This appears to be a typical sentence. The Times 9 June 1994
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