Freesteel Blog » The Cannabis papers

The Cannabis papers

Friday, November 6th, 2009 at 12:53 pm Written by:

As anyone following the news at the moment would know, there is a sh*tstorm about the sacking of Professor Nutt, formerly head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. He is now learning about the Misuse ofDrugs in Politics, since he has made the unadvised decision not to go quietly.

Let’s check the political record:

On 29 October 2003 MPs voted — in line with informed advice — to downgrade the classification of cannabis from a Class B to a Class C drug. That means it would be a lower priority in relation to actual harmful drugs (to which more resources could be diverted), as well as reducing the aggravation to a lot of non-criminal ordinary people who were showing no signs of changing their habits.

All Tories voted against downgrading it. Most Labour and Libdem MPs voted for it.

I don’t have records of the 2005 election campaign, but it’s likely it showed up in the literature.

On 12 November 2008 MPs voted — as instructed by the government — to reclassify cannabis back to a class B drug. We were very lucky to get a vote on this issue, because the decision was scheduled to be waved through. Once again, all Tories voted for higher criminal penalties, and Labour MPs voted for the same, while Libdems continued to vote with the evidence.

There was a debate in the House of Lords on their version of the vote, which explains that the move pre-empted an impending review by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

Indeed, from the Lords debate, we have this comment from Lord Mancroft:

The chronology is that the Prime Minister, who has never made a speech or written about drugs, or declared a particular interest in this area of policy — I have done some research — suddenly announced that he was reclassifying cannabis from C to B. Presumably somebody told him the rules and, about four days later, the Home Secretary said that she would be consulting the advisory council, so we have the council’s report. The Prime Minister made his decision without any evidence from the advisory council. I suspect that the only evidence that he had came from, say, the Daily Mail or from somebody who lived next door. I have no idea where it came from, but it certainly did not come from the advisory council. He got it wrong, so I suspect that to avoid judicial review of his decision he got the Home Secretary to put out a Statement and the advisory council to do its report, which turned the policy back the right way.

The reality is that this is the Prime Minister’s decision. We read it in the newspapers long before it came to your Lordships’ House from another place. If the Minister wants to satisfy the real concerns that have been raised in this debate, he needs to explain to this House exactly why the Government have overruled the advisory council’s strong evidence and exactly why the Prime Minister thinks that he knows more about cannabis, its strengths and medical consequences than all the experts who are paid to advise him and his Home Secretary. I do not think that this is the biggest deal in the world; I do not think that anybody cares much whether cannabis is classified C or B. However, on balance, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is right and the Government are wrong.

Okay, so it’s obviously a political decision — ie one that has to do with fantasy, lies, uninformed emotions, and the willful misuse of the power of ignorance thereof.

What does the Daily Mail say? search cannabis in the Daily Mail.

The most relevant article is Cannabis downgrade sees health toll double from 14 April 2009.

Daily Mail: The number of patients receiving Health Service treatment for cannabis misuse doubled in the three years after Labour relaxed laws against the drug.

Among children the number of cases leapt by a third.

It means that every day no fewer than 33 children and teenagers and 39 adults begin NHS treatment for the effects of cannabis on their mental health, or to help them beat their dependence.

Treatment can range from counselling or support classes through to intensive residential rehabilitation or treatment within secure units for drug-induced mental illness such as schizophrenia.

Critics blame the sharp rise on former home secretary David Blunkett’s controversial decision to reclassify cannabis from a class B to a class C drug in January 2004.

January 2004. That’s good. It means there will be a clean cutoff in annual statistics measures.

Further on down the article:

Daily Mail: The latest figures, revealed in a Parliamentary written answer, show the number of patients receiving treatment for cannabis-related conditions soared from 13,408 in 2004/05, the first year of the new regime, to 26,287 three years later.

Almost half of those patients were under 18. Between 2005 – the first year figures are available – and 2007 the figure for under-18s rose by a third from 9,043 to 12,021.

Here is said 1 April 2009 Parliamentary written answer:

Charles Walker (Conservative): To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many (a) teenagers and (b) people have been treated for addiction to cannabis in each of the last 15 years.

Dawn Primarolo (Minister of State (Public Health), Department of Health): The National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS), managed by the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA) since 2004-05, records data on people in drug treatment in England. Data on young people are only separately available from 2005-06 when the NDTMS started collecting data from all young people’s services in England.

Persons presenting for treatment with cannabis as primary substance misused

Young people (under 18 at triage) All persons (inc. under 18s at triage)
2004-05 n/a 13,408
2005-06 9,043 21,101
2006-07 10,824 24,669
2007-08 12,021 26,287

Right, so we don’t know how much treatment there was before 2004, or whether no one was giving any treatment anyway, regardless of the need.

Interestingly, the said National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse boasts that they have achieved their targets to:

  • double the number of people in treatment between 1998 and 2008
  • increase the percentage of those successfully completing or appropriately continuing treatment year on year.

It’s what was supposed to happen! An increase in treatment, and a decrease in criminalization. Proven to have better results — if it’s results you want.

Next paragraph in the Daily Mail article:

Daily Mail: A separate Parliamentary answer reveals that every day two people are admitted to psychiatric units for mental health problems associated with cannabis.

In 2007/08, 579 people entered wards for this reason, 99 of them teenagers – up from 417 adults and 74 teenagers in the year Labour came to power.

Question from Charles Walker again, answered:

Count of finished admission episodes with a primary diagnosis of mental and behavioural disorders due to use of cannabinoids and where consultant main specialty was a mental health specialty: activity in national health service hospitals and NHS commissioned activity in the independent sector
Age Group
Aged 12-19 Aged 20 and over Age not known All ages
1995-96 66 419 4 489
1996-97 58 380 3 441
1997-98 74 342 1 417
1998-99 86 448 1 535
1999-2000 89 423 512
2000-01 87 407 494
2001-02 111 472 583
2002-03 103 515 618
2003-04 148 614 762
2004-05 133 619 752
2005-06 122 663 1 786
2006-07 97 505 14 616
2007-08 99 480 579

What was it that the Daily Mail printed again?

In 2007/08, 579 people entered wards for this reason, 99 of them teenagers – up from 417 adults and 74 teenagers in the year Labour came to power.

Good lord!


Final kick in the teeth from Daily Mail:

Daily Mail: Mary Brett of Europe Against Drugs said: ‘To see treatment numbers doubling in such a short time is dreadful, but sadly not surprising. When you relax penal policy against a drug like this, levels of use increase. It’s not complicated.

It certainly is complicated enough to make it necessary to play loose with the figures to this extent in order to gin up the story you’ve been told to write, Mr Matthew Hickley who now moves to PR company that has contracts with the government and has absorbed people from Gordon Brown’s failing PR cabinet.

He’ll be happy there.

Meanwhile, in the real world, you can learn about the potential long term damage to society caused by harmful legislation by reading about the Rockefeller Drug Laws. That’s where this all leads.

When you look at it, this Daily Mail reporting is so bad it’s feeding some political purpose. You can imagine a conscious tactical decision being made in the Tory Party office that Labour is weak on the drugs issue, and we’re going to get them at it.

By “weak” we mean that they have their name on a policy which it is easy to turn voters of a certain essential demographics against using the tools available.

In politics, it does not matter whether the policy is for or against the national interest.

It also does not matter if it requires lies or truth to have the effect — particularly if the tools available are characters such as Matthew Hickley and an organ such as the Daily Mail.

And the weakness is because the people on the evidence/public interest side of the argument lack the imagination to fight back at the source of the problem.

The Labour party, knowing its weakness, simply abandoned the policy on drugs, and in the process had to abandoned the policy on evidence-based policy-making. Following the noise made by Professor Nutt, they can’t pretend to have done otherwise.

In my ideal world, a good use of newspaper archives to attack reporters like Matthew Hickley who have misrepresented published information to this extent would be applied to people on the other side of the argument. I mean, it’s got to be wrong. Printing lies like this for public consumption has got to have consequences. Because if it doesn’t, what do we expect to happen?

Unfortunately, if all the PR advice comes from the same cadre of individuals who have made a living authoring such lies, no such tactic will be adopted.

It seems to be okay for press reporters to lie through their teeth, but not so okay for government to lie openly. The government lies all the time too, but it takes more discretion and sometimes comes at a cost.

The possibility of a systematic method of counter-attack using documented in print lies isn’t even be researched into, developed, studied, or tried out. If we don’t even make a start of any kind on this idea, the goal will always remain hopeless.

I mean, a place to start would be the journalisted system, wouldn’t it?

From this, you can find Matthew Hickley’s latest blatantly MoD placed fluffy puff-piece:

The RAF has released previously classified video footage from a Harrier strike jet over Afghanistan, showing the pilot ‘steering’ a laser-guided bomb in mid-flight away from a crowd of villagers who suddenly appear next to his target.

The pilot had dropped the 1,000lb Paveway IV bomb from thousands of feet above Helmand Province, and was tracking the aiming point to follow a moving car which contained a ‘high value’ Taliban leader.

But with the bomb plunging towards the ground and set to hit the car in less than 20 seconds, the pilot watched in horror as his thermal-imaging targeting screen showed the vehicle driving into a village and stopping next to a cluster of local civilians – who show up clearly as small white ‘hot’ shapes – seemingly to ask directions.

You can’t make stories like this up.

It takes a professional.


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