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More Marijuana Law Reform Talk in Britain

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #650)

Marijuana law reform is back in the news in the British Isles, as both a high-ranking police officer and a leading Liberal Democratic politician made comments over the weekend suggesting that pot should be decriminalized or regulated and sold legally.

Tim Hollis
Marijuana is currently a Class B drug with possession punishable by up to five years in prison. It was down-scheduled to Class C under the Labor government in 2004, but then returned to Class B by Labor in 2008. The current Conservative/Liberal Democratic government supports keeping marijuana as a Class B drug.

But on Saturday, Tim Hollis, chief constable of the Humberside police and chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers' drug committee, told the Guardian marijuana possession should be decriminalized to allow police to devote more resources to dealing with more serious crime. The criminal justice system can offer only a "limited" solution to Britain's drug problem, he said.

"We would rather invest our time in getting high-level criminals before the courts, taking money off them and removing their illicit gains rather than targeting young people," said Hollis. "We don't want to criminalize young people because, put bluntly, if we arrest young kids for possession of cannabis and put them before the courts we know what the outcome's going to be, so actually it's perfectly reasonable to give them words of advice or take it off them."

Hollis also backed increasing calls for the current drug classification system to be reexamined. He said concerns that placing drugs such as heroin and ecstasy in the same classification were justified. He also said whether to include tobacco and alcohol in the country's drug strategy should be open to debate.

"My personal belief in terms of sheer scale of harm is that one of the most dangerous drugs in this country is alcohol," he said. "Alcohol is a lawful drug. Likewise, nicotine is a lawful drug, but cigarettes can kill," he said. "There is a wider debate on the impacts to our community about all aspects of drugs, of which illicit drugs are one modest part."

Hollis's comments came as a row between scientists and politicians over marijuana policy continues. Just last week, Professor Roger Pertwee, arguably Britain's top marijuana researcher, called for decriminalization. But last month, the Home Office rejected marijuana decriminalization, calling it "the wrong approach."

And on Sunday, the junior partner in the government, the Liberal Democrats, were scolded by one of their leaders for staying "silent" on drug policy since the issued was last discussed at a party conference in 2002. Then, the party voted to legalize marijuana and end jail sentences for simple possession of any drugs.

At the party's national conference, Ewan Hoyle, founder of Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform, called for a "rational debate" on drug policy, saying the party had been left "vulnerable" because it was seen as "soft on drugs." What is needed, he said, is detailed discussion of regulating drugs, the sale of drugs in pharmacies, and the diversion of profits from those sales to drug treatment programs.

"The last time we talked about this was in 2002 and we certainly haven't heard our candidates and representatives talking about it very much since," Hoyle told delegates. "I put it to you that we have been silent on this issue because we got our policy wrong. Our policy, especially on cannabis, was a soft on drugs policy which has left us vulnerable," he said.

"We have to start discussing policy features like pharmacy sales, the provision of detailed information on harm before individuals are permitted to purchase the drug, and bans on branding and marketing," Hoyle proposed. "We have to find a policy that can best protect our citizens from harm, especially our children, and that can end the massive profits from the criminal gains that control the illegal trade."

Will the Liberal Democrats listen and perhaps nudge their Tory partners toward a more reformist stance? Time will tell, but the pressure is mounting.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


maxwood (not verified)

Many Americans are not aware, until they visit Europe, that youngsters there have been routinely counseled for a generation or two to mix cannabis (usually hashish) with tobacco in a joint, ostensibly to get the hashish started burning more easily.  This destroys lots of cannabinoid and gets the victim hooked on nicotine, meanwhile enabling prohibitionists to blame a mess of ugly symptoms on the cannabis.  A further "benefit" is that the hot burning joint with tobacco makes it harder to tell by taste whether the hashish is adulterated, and there is a huge problem with impurities in the UK.

Note: this practice was guilelessly reported on most Wikipedia articles such as Cannabis, Cannabis (drug), Cannabis smoking, etc., up till about 2008, even including photos showing how to wrap cannabis and (brown-looking) tobacco together in a joint.  That has been largely rectified in English-language articles (and Brown was thrown out too, but I digress)-- meanwhile work remains to be done in other languages (including inventing various indigenous words for "one-hitter", and providing better photos of the kiseru, midwakh and sebsi).

Mon, 09/20/2010 - 9:42pm Permalink
McD (not verified)

In reply to by maxwood (not verified)

Some interesting facts here, Max; just a couple of points:
1) "Many Americans are not aware, until they visit Europe, that youngsters there have been routinely counseled for a generation or two to mix cannabis (usually hashish) with tobacco in a joint, ostensibly to get the hashish started burning more easily."
It's not quite correct to say youngsters were 'counseled' to mix cannabis (resin) with tobacco to get it to burn more easily. First, there wasn't much counselling; that's just the way joints were, and to a lesser extent still are, rolled. Try crumbling hashish onto a rolling paper, skin it up without any tobacco and see what you get. Good result? Until fairly recently - four or five years ago - herbal cannabis was much less common than cannabis resin in Europe, although tobacco is mixed with herbal cannabis, as well. Furthermore, a lot more people smoked tobacco and many enjoyed it. After several years of smoking tobacco, it becomes familiar and even pleasant. Hashish and tobacco become a familiar mixture which many enjoy. I wouldn't have said the most important part of the exercise was "to to get the hashish started burning more easily." There are pipes in Europe, as well, and herbal cannabis, as already pointed out, is also usually mixed with tobacco. Smoking pure cannabis is extremely rare. Most people who smoked tobacco with cannabis smoked tobacco before their first experience with cannabis. Do bear in mind: until not so many years ago tobacco was a perfectly acceptable and virtually universally accepted recreational drug.

Also, I wouldn't have thought this practice has been more common for the past couple of generations than it was before that. Certainly, tinctures and other preparations, like Queen Victoria used to treat PMT, would have been more common before the First World War, but as smoking tobacco really took off in the trenches, I would have thought it has been the principle means to smoke cannabis ever since.

"This destroys lots of cannabinoid and gets the victim hooked on nicotine, meanwhile enabling prohibitionists to blame a mess of ugly symptoms on the cannabis."
Yes, it does that, unfortunately. Certainly in the UK, however, there is an awareness of the dangers of tobacco and how dangerous smoking cannabis mixed with tobacco is. People understand what causes cancer and what doesn't. I don't think prohibitionists have really managed to get as much mileage out of the fact as you might think. The simple answer would be to legalise cannabis and sell it with advice on administration, from a pharmacist for example - resin to be sold for use with a pipe,(even a long-stemmed one-hitter!) hookah or vaporiser; herbal for other occasions.

"A further "benefit" is that the hot burning joint with tobacco makes it harder to tell by taste whether the hashish is adulterated, and there is a huge problem with impurities in the UK."
Can't agree with you on this one, I'm afraid. For a start, the impurities in cannabis resin - the appearance of the dreaded 'soapbar' - is a fairly recent phenomena. I know this is what they all say, but the resin really was cleaner when I was younger (and the sky was bluer, the water - wetter). Really, it's only the past ten years or so that hashish has become soapbar and good resin has become very rare. Secondly, I don't think many people would have much difficulty telling the difference between soapbar and proper, unadulterated hashish. Tobacco really isn't an impediment here, nor does it effectively mask such impurities. If it did, a hell of a lot fewer people would have given up smoking tobacco.

"Note: this practice was guilelessly reported on most Wikipedia articles such as Cannabis, Cannabis (drug), Cannabis smoking, etc., up till about 2008, even including photos showing how to wrap cannabis and (brown-looking) tobacco together in a joint."
Can't understand how the hell you work this out. I enter 'roll joint' into Google and this is the first result that comes up: If you look at, 'The Mix, Filling' you'll find, "Bud really needs to be combined with tobacco, leaf or an other herbal smoking mixture to allow it to 'breath' in the joint." That looks pretty guiltless to me. You can find even more guiltless descriptions at, which is number four in the Google search results list. I think most tobacco is brown, isn't it?

Now, I really must update my responses to your comments about the advantage of using long-stemmed one-hit pipes and vaporisers. You're right, of course, it's much better for you(r health). I don't think many people would disagree.

To some extent, however, it's not very tactful of you to go banging on about it. We don't all live in Humboldt County or the Netherlands. A lot of people don't enjoy de-facto or quasi-legalisation and have never had, and most likely will never have, any experience of high potency cannabis. A lot of plants simply don't flower above fifty degrees north. We had a good summer, for example, this year and I got a couple of two-and-a-half metre plants out of it, but none of them has started flowering yet and the weather is forecast to freeze at night next week. No flowers for me this year! But I can't complain; I've been extremely lucky - spent quite a bit of time in the NL and experienced enough high-quality weed to understand why you're so convinced everyone should forsake any and all other means of consumption and run out to buy a long-stemmed one hitter and/or vaporiser. You're right, of course, but it's not always practical. For many it's not even possible and for many more it would be extremely dangerous. (Cigarette papers and tobacco can be explained. Long-stem one hitters and vaporisers...?) You get the point?

Having said that, I must admit: you managed to beat me down and I gave in earlier this year. I took all the pennies out of my piggy bank and bought myself a vaporiser. (Carried away by fantasies of harvesting enormous buds and beautiful flowers this autumn, I got a long-stemmed pipe, as well, but I really don't fancy stuffing a bowl full of ditchweed leaf into it. Two or three hits will not do the job, so I got it with a lovely, big soapstone bowl, as well, but I just can't get myself all excited about firing it up. In fact, it's sat in the bag I got it in since the summer - still not used.) The vaporiser, on the other hand, worked a treat. It really is as good as everyone raves about and I really must thank you for playing such a significant role in making me get it. Unfortunately, it only worked for a few weeks before fading out and I have no recourse where I am. (Don't ask, it's complicated.) So, it was a lot of money down the drain for something that didn't work for very long, but I can't complain; I've been lucky enough to have the experience, for which I'm very grateful and don't resent having paid for. Don't think I'll be able to do it again for a while now, though. Moral of the story: you get what you pay for and cheap vaporisers are just that - cheap.

Anyway, thanks for the advice. It is sound.

Sat, 09/25/2010 - 2:56pm Permalink
McD (not verified)
"Marihuana"'s currency in American English increased dramatically in the 1930s, when it was preferred as an exotic-sounding alternative name during the debates of the drug's use.[1] It has been suggested that it was promoted by opponents of the drug, who wanted to stigmatize it with a "foreign-sounding name".

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937
Dr. Woodward came to testify at the behest of the American Medical Association saying, and I quote, "The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marihuana is a dangerous drug."
Woodward started by slamming Harry Anslinger and the Bureau of Narcotics for distorting earlier AMA statements that had nothing to do with marijuana and making them appear to be AMA endorsement for Anslinger’s view.

He also reproached the legislature and the Bureau for using the term marijuana in the legislation and not publicizing it as a bill about cannabis or hemp. At this point, marijuana (or marihuana) was a sensationalist word used to refer to Mexicans smoking a drug and had not been connected in most people’s minds to the existing cannabis/hemp plant. Thus, many who had legitimate reasons to oppose the bill weren’t even aware of it.
Dr. Woodward: "We cannot understand yet, Mr. Chairman, why this bill should have been prepared in secret for two years without any intimation, even to the profession, that it was being prepared."
Dr. Woodward: "I use the word "Cannabis" in preference to the word "marihuana", because Cannabis is the correct term for describing the plant and its products. The term "marihuana" is a mongrel word that has crept into this country over the Mexican border and has no general meaning, except as it relates to the use of Cannabis preparations for smoking. It is not recognized in medicine, and I might say that it is hardly recognized even in the Treasury Department.?"
"In other words, marihuana is not the correct term." <snip> "So, if you will permit me, I shall use the word "Cannabis", and I should certainly suggest that if any legislation is enacted, the term used be "Cannabis" and not the mongrel word 'marihuana'."

Advice from the AMA, needless to say, was ignored and the resultant cannabis prohibition began. The American public proved foolish enough to accept the lie by proxy through their representatives and went on to be deceived and manipulated to the extent that the word 'marihuana' and the later spelling, 'marijuana' entered the English language through fear and ignorance. Once there was an 'n' word, then there was an 'm' word. Use them both appropriately.

Perhaps cynicism or scepticism is somehow related to geographical location, because use of the word 'marijuana' by the credulous never really had the same appeal or got the same foothold in other English dialects, even as close to the US as Canada. Further afield - in Ireland, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and almost everywhere else - the fear-mongers' brave new word never really took off, although their zeal did prove infuriatingly successful in subjugating and coercing virtually all participants in the global economy to pledge allegiance to a new world order by which cannabis (use) was eliminated.

Recently, with the increase in attention to cannabis, its prohibition and prohibition in general, the word 'marijuana' is now sometimes used in press reports of origin other than the US, particularly on the Internet, where US-word choice is often by default. In conversation, outside the US, generally speaking, it's the older generation and others without experience of cannabis who (have probably been more exposed to American propaganda than fact, truth or objectivity regarding cannabis and consequently) use the word 'marijuana'. Users, activists, prohibitionists, legislators and others who are supposed to know what they're talking about generally don't. Using the word would probably betray fundamental ignorance, although many would probably not be aware of it. No-one wants to be seen as ignorant.

Another significant factor is the increase in the use of herbal cannabis (weed, grass, green or 'marijuana') throughout Europe - outdoor grows in Spain, Portugal and the South and indoor cultivation in the NL, UK and North - becoming much more prevalent. Traditionally cannabis resin (hashish) dominates the market in Europe and India. Fearsome repression - a bit like US interference in Columbia and Mexico - supported by agencies such as the UNODC in counties such as Morocco has led to a decline in the production of hashish. Once one of the world's greatest producers of fine hashish, production in Afghanistan was considerably reduced under Taliban rule. Although rising again now under US control, production of hashish in Afghanistan is probably crowded out by the more lucrative rewards offered by opiate production. The result is an increase in herbal cannabis and a decrease in cannabis resin on the market in Europe.

From professional journalists' point of view, and I hasten to add I am not any sort of journalist at all, there are several problems with the use of the 'm' word in this article. Right from the start, the very first words, "Marijuana law reform is back in the news in the British Isles..." it's wrong, because  the 'm' word has never been in the news or on the agenda in the UK or most other places outside of the Americas. The word 'pot' is also almost never used anywhere but in the Americas, either. Here cannabis, prohibition and reform are in the news and being discussed (by those who know what they're talking about. Drunken louts at the pub may shoot big mouths off about exciting things they've heard from America, but they don't usually get into the news.) The 'm' word has never been mentioned in any British law, nor has its assignment to various categories by the ACMD (Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs). Consequently, Tim Hollis did not tell, "....the Guardian marijuana possession should be decriminalised..." because he simply wouldn't use the 'm' word. Nor is "...Professor Roger Pertwee, arguably Britain's top marijuana researcher...", because they don't research 'marijuana' in the UK; nor did "...the Home Office reject[ed] marijuana decriminalization..." because no-one would have understood what the hell they were talking about if they had. (Actually, that's not quite true, I exaggerate a bit: although many in the US might not know what cannabis is, fewer in the UK wouldn't understand the meaning of the 'm' word (although many of its connotations would be lost on most)). It may seem a pedantic point, but words are important, especially for journalists. It's their use that captures hearts and minds and moulds mentalities. This is why acceptance and use of the prohibitionists' term is so offensive to so many - it's precludes hope for change. In this case because the subject isn't familiar cannabis tinctures, as the AMA understood it at the Marihuana Tax Act hearings, but alien, or 'mongrel', marihuana-crazed Mexican migrants lackadaisically labouring while teaching black men how to make white women lust after, have sex with and babies by them, as Anslinger wanted it to be understood. Then there were the jazz musicians! That acceptance has been responsible for untold distress to untold numbers for quite some time now. It's got to stop some time and approaching it through language is a good place to start. Let's hope we can get more people on board through education, careful use of language and journalistic prowess.

Which brings me to the next part of this article: to comment on developments in the LiberalDemocrat Party policy, as revealed last week. How disappointing it was to receive the most significant revelations from the Liberal Conference; I don't like the sound of this:
1) "...Our policy, especially on cannabis, was a soft on drugs policy...";
2) "We have to start discussing policy features like pharmacy sales...";
3) "One by-product of such a policy on cannabis could be hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of pounds, raised in taxes."

It's not about money. However important - indeed, all-consuming - financial considerations may have become, drug policy is one aspect of policy which demands deeper consideration. That is exactly what the last Home Secretary said, when defending his decision to sack David Nutt, the head of the science-based ACMD: that science is not as important as our great leaders' secret insights and commonly incomprehensible understanding. As one might expect, like all successful post-war politicians, he could be considered an Anslinger disciple, but it's true here - it's not about money; drug policy is more important than just money.

For those not too familiar with current or recent UK party politics, since 2002 the Liberal Democrat Party manifesto has included the decriminalisation (I'm sure it was decriminalisation. Not even the Liberals would dare to use the 'L' word.) of cannabis for recreational purposes and enabling access to cannabis for medical reasons. Unfortunately, I can't remember the exact words, but that was their effect. I read it in 2002, several times since and only a few months ago, with all the attention to David Nutt and the AMCD (October-November 2009). It's no longer online at the LibDems' website.

There are an estimated six million cannabis users in the UK (population approx. sixty million). The Liberal (Liberal Democrats since 1982) Party came to power as the junior partner in a coalition government by making a deal with the Conservative party after June's general election. Changing their position on cannabis, as they have - after the election, could prove to be a fatal mistake.

Sat, 09/25/2010 - 2:46pm Permalink

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