Cannabis or alcohol? The listening prime-minister.
New Labour has shown again that it only has one response to things it doesn’t like: that is, criminalise them.
And if it wants to show it dislikes something more than it used to, it puts the criminal penalty up a notch, pour encourager les voters.
Many of us don’t like hunting, even if -- in my case – we flirted with it in our rural pasts. But I can't help thinking that it would have been a good deal better to kill off this nasty nineteenth-century tradition (which is what it surely must be) with the drip, drip of ridicule than with unenforceable legislation. After all, those men in red (pink, I mean) jackets do look very silly, don’t you think?
As for cannabis, it is extremely enjoyable (more enjoyable than hunting, as -- inter alia - it doesn’t require staying on the back of a horse). There is also no doubt at all that for some users it is dangerous, even life ruining. Surely there is a way of getting that message across without upping the potential prison sentence, which is what the government’s reclassification of the substance from Class C to B means. In fact young people's cannabis use had actually been falling since it was down-graded to C, which makes one wonder whether the risk of punishment might have been part of the allure.
But isn’t it odd that Gordon Brown’s first, turn-over-a-new-leaf, style of listening, actually means not listening to the very committee he got to advise him on this ? For they advocated precisely the reverse. I guess ‘listening’ is a good sound-bite, but it still means a choice about who you are going to listen to.
Almost 50% of young people between 25 and 29 in the UK have used cannabis, just like their parents – ie my generation – did. We might want to encourage them not to, but what on earth is the point of criminalising half the population? OK, 5 years inside is the maximum sentence. But can we really countenance a government regulation that could in principle put half the nation behind bars for half a decade (with remission)?
The police wont enforce this, of course; they haven’t got the time, for one thing. But that ends us up in a worse position… with the idiocy of an un-enforced law.
There is also the complete illogicality that rules most of our “rule-making” on drugs. We all know – and any sensible teen-age sees this clearer than any of us – that if either alcohol or tobacco were subject to the same scrutiny as cannabis it would be found a much more dangerous substance indeed. But in the case of alcohol we decide to allow its sale at all hours, in the case of tobacco we just ban it from public spaces.
It is the weird accidents of history that have decided which dangerous things we tolerate and which we don’t.
Of course the big bogey of the moment is skunk. Apparently this is much stronger than what Mums and Dads used to smoke in the 1970s, and so much more dangerous. But as the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs observes, that may well mean that kids use less of it.
Come to think of it when I have a whisky, I don’t put it in a pint glass.