by David Partington
Over the last Christmas period three babies were born in a Basingstoke hospital. However these three didn’t go home with their proud, doting parents like the all others. Instead, for up to three months, I am told by a friend, they suffered and communicated their suffering through almost constant screaming and crying as well as desperately voracious eating patterns and persistent bowel problems. Their suffering you will have already guessed was caused by the fact that they were quite simply withdrawing from the use of the drugs taken by their mothers. The fact that there were three babies, in one hospital at one time, each suffering from drug withdrawal is in itself a cause for very real concern. But the question I want to ask is what drug did their mothers first use before they got to heroin or cocaine which caused them such a tragic and miserable first few weeks of their lives? 22 years of working and living with addicts would lead me to strongly suggest that it was cannabis. I say this not least because that’s how over 95% of the addicts I have met began their slide into addiction.
Now I’m realistic enough (working with addicts makes you like that) to know that everyone who uses cannabis won’t automatically become a hardened junkie but let me further suggest to you that the more young people that use cannabis the more will become addicts. If one in 100 people who currently use cannabis become an addict then the extra one in each one million who use it if it is legalised means another ten thousand (or twenty, or thirty, or forty thousand) more addicts sometime in the future. All of this introduction does of course leave you in no doubt about where I stand on the subject of legalising cannabis! But lets away with emotive language and lets look at the arguments used by those who would legalise cannabis. Such arguments are often, at first sight, quite persuasive. They are often framed around the liberty and freedom of individuals to do what they like with their own bodies. They talk about minimising damage, reducing crime and, interestingly, about the economics involved. Given that this symposium was addressed by a journalist on the Economist it’s interesting to read in that worthy periodical that there would be value in legalising cannabis to increase tax revenue and to use it to ‘spend for the common good. Some would suggest that legalising cannabis would net millions, if not billions, in taxes. Interesting to ask the question - what level of tax, on yet another intoxicating substance, would be acceptable to the public? The same as on tobacco or alcohol? Whilst the government was working it all out (if someone in a treasury office hasn’t done it already) tens of thousands of young people would be intoxicating themselves every weekend (and then every Wednesday, and then every Wednesday and Friday, and then everyday and then twice a day……..) It also raises the interesting scenario of convoys of white transits crossing the channel and returning with cheap drugs because the tax in Europe somewhere was less than in UK.
Some also suggest that large ‘savings’ would be realised in terms of law enforcement, legal and penal systems if cannabis were legalised and, by implication, such savings could be used to ensure the sick got a hospital bed quicker. The fact that such beds if they are ever to become available for this reason will be needed to deal with the drug related health problems which will stem from the increased use of cannabis seems to have escaped them. That said of course some savings would be made in some limited areas but, given the scale of crime in general, one would reasonably suppose such savings would be very quickly diverted somewhere else.
Reducing the argument for legalising cannabis around economic benefits does of course reinforce the fact that society is already intoxicated by something else if it uses distorted logic to do so. After all surely the same distorted logic would suggest it’s uneconomic to treat thousands of cancer sufferers. Cancer brought on by years of the voluntary use of the cigarettes.
Incidentally, when it comes to the economics of legalising cannabis it’s been said that a five fold increase in drug use results in a five fold increase in the cost of the services required to treat those who use them.
We now come to the controversial ‘Gateway Theory’. This gateway theory states that the use of cannabis result in people being more likely to use other drugs. Proponents of legalising cannabis say of course not. But the evidence, once again, says different! In fact three serious studies say different. In 1980 a study cautioned that the statistical progression of cannabis to heroin and cocaine is ‘ten times greater than the evidence of linkage between cigarette and lung cancer.’ (Professors Clayton and Voss). In 1988 the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reported the findings of a Dr. Kleber who wrote that ‘20% of those who use Marijuana 3 to 10 times went on to use cocaine. And 75% of those who used Marijuana 100 times went on to use cocaine.’ Finally, in 1994 the Columbia Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse report that youngsters who smoke cannabis are 85 times more likely to use cocaine.
The supposed failure of Prohibition the USA is also trotted out in defence of legalising cannabis. They simply say it didn’t work in the US so it doesn’t work here! What they do (surprise, surprise) is to fail to acknowledge that prohibition of alcohol was all about restricting the use of a previously legal, cheap, widely used and socially acceptable substance. Cannabis is not legal, cheap, widely used or socially acceptable so such an argument is spurious to say the least! By the way on the subject of prohibition it’s interesting to note that it:-
· Reduced drinking by 33%
· Resulted in a 64% drop in deaths from cirrhosis of the liver.
· Resulted in a 53% decline in admissions to Psychiatric Hospitals.
Incidentally, after prohibition was repealed, it took 50 years to return to pre-prohibition levels of drinking. And by the way it is also true, in direct contradiction to what we have been led to believe through watching gangster movies, records prove that crime also reduced during prohibition as well.
Then there is the argument that says because the Law doesn’t work in stopping people using drugs then change it. People use cannabis despite it being illegal so legalise it and everything will be tidier. If we applied the same increasingly familiar and distorted logic to other areas of life we would have an interesting and dangerous society in which to live. For instance vast numbers of drivers break the speed limit daily but few people would suggest that we allow everyone to drive at any speed they liked especially in a densely populated area. Why do we all, or nearly all, willingly obey the law and use seat belts? The point is that whilst the law does not necessarily prevent people from disobeying it it nonetheless gives people a guideline or framework and makes a statement about what society views as acceptable. By the way there is another benefit of legislation in a Swedish booklet on arguments against drugs, ‘ Legislation which clearly distances itself from the use of any drug is not only legally effective but is humanitarian since it facilitates early intervention from social services, schools and parents.’ The fact is that the Law as it stands means that 83% of young people do not use cannabis at all or, if they do, they do so only once or twice and then give it up all together. The implications of saying to that 83% of young people that society now believes it is OK to be ‘stoned’ doesn’t bear thinking about.
Many parents however struggle with the persuasive argument that legalising cannabis would mean less chance of their child becoming criminalized. I have shared the same struggle with three sons boys but what is the alternative? To legalise it would be to see them more likely to use cannabis and become physically and physiologically damaged by it! But you say we are told that cannabis is no more dangerous than tobacco or alcohol so it’s better to let them do it anyway.
All of this patently and self-interestedly ignores the fact that we have been desperately trying to stop all the suffering and death from lung cancer and cirrhosis of the liver caused by these supposedly harmless substances. Sanctified common sense tells us that the more widely you make available a harmful substance the more harm will be associated with its increased use. I gave up smoking 22 years ago and I still suffer the impact of doing so. I will spare you the gory details of what difference it still makes. More seriously I wonder sometimes what silent time bomb is ticking away somewhere in my body from indulging myself all those years ago?
Drugs are not dangerous because they are illegal they are illegal because they are dangerous. Neither does cannabis become healthy because you legalise it. In fact there are over 15000 research papers held in the University of Mississippi not one of which gives cannabis a clean bill of health. These and other papers confirm that cannabis can have a harmful impact on the lungs, the heart, the immune system and brain function. Cannabis is also implicated in infertility and psychological disorders. Forgive one more specific piece of information after Mary Brett’s catalogue this morning! A survey in California confirms that fathers who use cannabis double the risk of cot deaths in their offspring. Yet another reminder that whatever negative impact cannabis has on the individual it also endangers others. Professor David London wrote, ‘ I don’t think anyone should go away with the idea that cannabis is safe. The evidence is that it isn’t.’ (Daily Mail 03/2000). The fact is that if as many people used cannabis as use alcohol and nicotine the impact would be horrendous in terms of ill health and death.
Yet another professor, Susan Greenfield of Oxford, points out that compared with alcohol cannabis is ‘far more potent and therefore riskier ……if you have just one or two joints the skills you need for driving are impaired for a full 24 hours.’ Her statement is supported by government statistics that reveal that in a recent survey of road deaths, a quarter of motorists killed have taken drugs, mainly cannabis. Superintendent David Rowe, Police Liaison Officer with the Department of Transport said, "drug driving is increasing and I believe that the number of drug-drivers we detect at present is simply the tip of the iceberg."
On another issue the jury is still out on the subject of the use of raw cannabis for medical purposes. It’s worthwhile putting its use into context however and the words of an expert in its medical use, Dr William Northcutt, are worth hearing, "……the traditional joint may be an effective way of delivering toxic chemicals to the base of your lungs but it is not suitable for medical practice."
One of the greatest deceptions being perpetrated surrounds the way in which some people suggest that liberalising the use of cannabis and other drugs has worked so wonderfully in other countries. What is really disturbing about this particular fabrication is that it is patently untrue. Let me give you some examples. Alaska allowed the consumption and possession of hashish between 1980 and 90 without the restraint of it being a criminal offence. However during this period of time some interesting things happened. Namely, the consumption of cannabis rose dramatically amongst adolescents. In 1988 the proportion of adolescents hash smokers was double that of all other US States. As a consequence of this and other disturbing effects the people of Alaska insisted on voting to repeal the decriminalisation measure BUT not before it had impacted on the lives of tens of thousands of young people.
After experimenting with permissive drug policies in the 60’s and 70’s Sweden has adopted a policy of social refusal and interdiction against drugs and, as a consequence, has the lowest incidence of drug abuse in the EU. They concluded that if drugs are readily available and society takes a permissive attitude then the numbers trying drugs will automatically increase. Conversely if drugs are difficult to come by and there is a very real danger of arrest then the numbers trying drugs will decrease. Finally, when it comes to the experience of other countries, lets look at Holland which is often used by the liberalisers as the great example of reducing usage of cannabis. The Pompidou Council reported that between 1981 and 1993 the number of the infamous Coffee Shops allowed to sell cannabis grew from 20 to more than 3000. Between 84 and 96 the use of cannabis by young people doubled and there was a 25% increase in the number of registered cannabis addicts. This last statistic by the way demolishes the oft quoted statement that cannabis is not addictive. Street crime in Amsterdam alone rose from 800 cases in 1960 to 64000 in 1986. In three years, between 84 and 87, seizures of heroin rose by over 300%. Burglary rates are three times greater than in Switzerland, four times that of France and 50% higher than in Germany.
You may interested to hear what a Dr Frans Koopmans wrote in the ISAAC magazine about the prevailing philosophy in Holland that brought about these deeply disturbing consequences of liberalisation in his country. And, whilst you listen let me ask you to ponder the question about whether what he says has any parallels in the UK? "Generally speaking, Dutch society is highly hedonistic and individualistic. The gratification of the wants of the individual is central. The system of the free market is predominant, also in the realm of morality. What is lacking is a fundamental view on life and humankind. ‘Personal experience’ has become the standard for measuring reality and the starting point for our laws. Pragmatism reigns, principles are annoying. The Netherlands are a textbook example of a so called consensus democracy What used to be defined as ‘evil’ i.e. prostitution, now is legally settled. There is no ultimate truth. What feels good is good. And woe to that man who dares make a moral judgement In short, as Doestoevsky wrote in, ‘The Brothers Karamazov,’ "When there is no God, everything is permitted."" Frans goes on to say something which we do well to also ponder, "Those ‘namely Christians’ who differ from them on their dogmas (euthanasia, abortion, legalisation of drugs etc.) are regarded as inconvenient troublemakers. To put it bluntly; everybody is equal , so they think, and if you don’t want to be equal, we will make you equal." It’s important to say by the way that since Frans wrote those word in 2001 we have heard that 70% of Dutch citizens in a survey about their views on the status of cannabis laws stated that they wanted the law rescinded!
What troubles me about so much of the move towards legalisation (and in other areas too) is what seems to be an underlying philosophy of expendability. In other words there seems to be a view coming through that if some young became addicts because cannabis was made legal then it’s acceptable for the sake of the majority! I do not believe this is a Christian viewpoint – I certainly do not believe it is the message inherent in the Word of God. The fact is that people are made in the image of God and He wants them to experience life in ALL its fullness.
I have seen the results of addiction has caused not only in the lives of hundreds of highly intelligent men and women but also seen the absolute chaos and heartache in their families. Given that you haven’t had the privilege of knowing so many addicts as friends like I have I don’t expect many of you to understand why I feel so strongly about what will happen if we legalise cannabis. However I do believe we all have the responsibility of being very clear and objective about the implications of unleashing cannabis on a generation brought up on the philosophy, "If it feels good, do it!" It really will be the youngest and the most vulnerable who will be at the greatest risk of disease and even death as a result of using it. Those at greatest risk will be those who have the most desperate need for instant gratification which drugs promise and often provide. We must therefore ask the question therefore whether we, as a society, are prepared to go the way of other societies and civilisations where the well being of the weakest and most vulnerable were sacrificed on the altar of permissiveness and libertarianism.
Prevention is always, always, always better than cure. Instead of talking about legalising cannabis we should be having conferences and symposiums were we should be talking and praying about how we create a society in which the next generations are given the environment grow up with the strength of character, integrity and moral backbone to say, "No!" to anything which demeans them and cheats them their real potential.
Finally and given that this symposium under a Christian banner let me ask you what the role of the Church should be in this debate. Having seen the impact that evil has brought about in the lives of people I don’t believe we should quietly roll over and allow it to consume the next generations. Yes we need to act responsibly and politically. Yes we need to campaign to communicate truth to those who are driven, often by the overriding motive of self interest. But more than anything else we need to speak far more boldly and volubly of those things which we as Christians proclaim, normally from the security of out church buildings. I have seen evil defeated in the lives of hardened junkies who have been rejected by society. It is time that we started to communicate far more publicly that there is only answer to the state of society and those who would legalise cannabis. To communicate with our lives as well as our words about the redemptive, creative and supernatural grace. Love and power of God. Our call is not to tell people it’s OK to be stoned but to show them the resurrection life of Jesus.
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