- 06 Jun 08
May 10 saw a crowd of several thousand take part in a pro-cannabis rally outside the Dáil. However, political expediency and media scaremongering mean that misinformation about the drug continues to be rife.
On May 10, a week after the rest of the world’s cities had staged their annual ‘J-Day’ festivities, Dublin hosted a colourful and impressive pro-cannabis rally. It was attended by around 1,500 stoners and sympathisers. As the protesters made their way from Parnell Square to Leinster House, bemused onlookers pointed and laughed. A surprising number even joined in, stepping along behind the disorderly crowd as it kept pace with the impromptu stage erected on the back of a pickup truck.
Though there was no keynote speech, the rally sent its own message, bluntly summarised by organiser Tim Reilly as: “We’re not fucking criminals”. This was one of the few messages which could be heard through the drums and the din, as the speaker system struggled to cope with the size of the throng.
Whatever was said, no politicians were around to hear it. The ex-toking Taoiseach was busy being feted in his native Offaly, while the rest of the Dáil had been home since Thursday. The image of stoned protestors venting their frustration before an empty Dáil seemed quite apt. After all, nobody listens to this constituency anyway. Many of them may have smoked the drug along the way, but not a single representative in our national parliament openly favours the de-criminalisation of cannabis. This total lack of balance has resulted in publications such as 2007’s astonishingly inept Dáil report What Everybody Should Know About Cannabis, which warned the people of the nation that weed was as dangerous to kids as paedophiles.
CANNABIS DOES NOT CAUSE MENTAL ILLNESS
Reefer madness, in other words, has been resurrected. Today’s scaremongering is driven by a right-wing cultural agenda, typified by the UK Daily Mail, which has headed a vicious anti-cannabis campaign for the last number of years. At the root of the madness are a number of lies: that today’s cannabis is stronger than ever and getting stronger every year, and that cannabis causes mental illness. Neither of these statements is true. But that hardly matters. As far as politicians are concerned, the only approach to drugs is to ‘get tough’ on them.
This desire to appear tough has inspired the increasingly ludicrous British prime minister Gordon Brown to overrule his own experts and reclassify cannabis from Class C to Class B, in a bid to “send a message to children that cannabis use is unacceptable”. Brown also tried to claim that his political sop to the Daily Mail was actually motivated by concern for the health of young people, who were now faced with cannabis “of a lethal quality”, which the prime minister worried would cause their minds to melt.
Had he bothered to read his own Government’s experts’ report before he threw it in the bin, Brown would have found solace in the evidence they had gleaned from two large-scale studies, one British, the other Australian. Both of these recorded a decline in the rates of mental illness and psychosis over the last half-century, despite a tenfold increase in rates of cannabis use. If cannabis caused mental illness, we would surely see a corresponding rise in the rates of such illness in tandem with the increase in cannabis consumption, just as increased use of tobacco led to higher rates of lung cancer.
“Cannabis does not cause mental illness”. So said the British government’s chief mental health advisor. It could not be clearer.
That said, there is an undeniable statistical connection between cannabis use and mental illness. According to the available figures, cannabis users are fractionally more likely to suffer such illnesses than non-users. It is a question of how this should be interpreted.
If cannabis doesn’t cause mental illness, what is the explanation for this consistently observed link? It is this: cannabis contains an ingredient – CBD – which treats the symptoms of certain types of mental illness. According to a recent Brazilian study, CBD is as effective in this regard as the leading anti-psychotic medication. It is hardly surprising, then, that patients may self-medicate with cannabis. In other words, to suggest that cannabis causes mental illness is as misleading as suggesting that paracetemol causes headaches.
The second aspect of the resurgent myth is that the potency of cannabis is escalating wildly. This theory was examined and dismissed not by a bunch of dope heads, intent on defending their toke, but – again – by the British government’s own advisory council. This august body found that the average potency of cannabis has actually been decreasing, from over 13% THC in 2005, to around 10% today. The potency of the hashish consumed in the ‘60s was over 15%, while the original Skunk plant from the 1960s clocked in at around 10% THC. The notion that today’s cannabis is 30 times more potent than it was in the 1960s (as the Guardian, the Independent and, alarmingly, the Observer among others have stated) is total nonsense.
It simply cannot be true. It is not scientifically possible. It defies the laws of physics. As revealed by Hot Press, in a recent report from a locally based grower’s ‘farm’, it is wrong, wrong and wrong again. It is time that we nailed the lie definitively.
WEED AND VIOLENCE – ANOTHER MYTH
Faced with the demolition of their rationale, what was the response of the Daily Mail and their fellow crusaders in the anti-cannabis coalition? Ingeniously, the Mail and co simply pretended that it hadn’t happened. Dismissing the advisory council as hopelessly liberal, the Mail continued to paint a picture of polite society demanding a tightening of the law, and simply ignored the evidence which had been presented to the council. They condemned the experts’ recommendation without ever telling their readers why the council had come to the conclusion they did.
Even after the government decided to disregard their experts and reclassify regardless, the Daily Mail wasn’t satisfied, and complained that cannabis users would largely escape punishment under a ‘three fines and you’re out’ system similar to Ireland’s arrangement for possession of small amounts. This is the crux of the issue. It is not about protecting people’s health or safeguarding the minds of the young. If it was, TV would be reclassified, YouTube would be banned and Coca-Cola would be consigned to the Class A dungeon along with Ronald McDonald. This is about punishing those who are different. It is about what Time magazine recently defined as Britain’s hatred of its young.
Just as Mexican immigrants served as the stoned scapegoat of 1920s America, today’s acceptable scapegoats in the UK – and increasingly in Ireland – are young people. Both then and now, the tabloids built an association between cannabis and anti-social violence, and terrified readers with tall tales of cannabis-induced mania. The ludicrous thing is that we have been down this discredited road before. In today’s UK, murderers use this tabloid-created hysteria, associating cannabis with violent behaviour – to claim immunity for their actions, just as killers in early 20th century America claimed that the wicked marijuana made them do it.
Every May, J-Day offers the scapegoats a chance to speak back. For one day, the police turn a blind eye to counter-cultural ‘crime’ and stoners are treated like citizens. On May 11, though, it’s back to madness as usual. As everyone knows, scapegoats are to be kicked, not heard.