It is high time we revisited our attitude in relation to cannabis

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THERE was something inherently comical about the attempted theft of one of the inert, perfectly legal plants from Jersey’s hemp farm the other day.

It was so incompetent as to be almost endearing – bungling stoners of the Jeff Lebowski school, alive and well in our parishes.

But compare that to the altogether more disturbing reports that filter through from time to time of Islanders who would be made into criminals if they tried to acquire the cannabis that could alleviate symptoms of chronic illness, and you begin to get a sense of how the debate on this issue lurches between the absurd and the upsetting.

At the one extreme, ineffectual potheads; at the other, ‘ordinary’ people compelled by extraordinary circumstances.

But what of the middle ground? What of the rationalists who want to see this subject exposed to serious public and political debate, whose personal stake is nothing more than a commitment to frank, open discussion and fair-minded policy-making? I’m sure they are out there too. In fact, I know they are, because I am one of them.

It’s a ticklish subject, which lies across a deep fault line of conservatism in this Island, but that shouldn’t prevent us from being able to talk about it in a grown-up, intelligent way. Both sides need to resist the temptation to strawman the opposition and cast the whole discussion in the tiresome light of ‘free spirits versus The Man’.

That time has been and gone – the world has changed, and the pool of research in neuroscience, public health and criminal justice has grown, and is still growing, to a point where ignoring it is beginning to require an almost heroic commitment to wilful ignorance.

I have no intention of launching into some apologia for the ‘cannabis culture’, talking about its community-meshing power and all that hippy stuff – like I said, that argument has had its day (and as with the aforementioned Lebowski, as well-intentioned and ultimately benign as it was, it lacked persuasive force). What does hold sway, though, is the more objective view of the situation as it now stands, in 2018, and from what I see around me in Jersey, these arguments (particularly from the societal and healthcare viewpoints) have yet to be given an informed and honest hearing at a local level.

Here, then, are a couple of the big ones as I see them.

The first is absurdly easy to summarise. In a sentence, the idea that cannabis (with no lethal dose, many medical applications and no physically addictive qualities) should be trumped in legal usage by alcohol (whose socially and physically destructive legacy is everywhere around us) is almost insulting to medical, societal and governmental logic.

Think of it this way: would you rather spend a night in the moronic Gomorrah of Magaluf or in a convivial, weed-friendly café in Lisbon or Amsterdam (or California or Colorado, for that matter)? Even if the answer is ‘Neither, thanks – I’d rather be at home watching “Corrie” with a nice cup of tea’, you presumably still take the point.

Catastrophic choices and sunburnt violence versus forgetful, probably quite peckish hipsters. I know which I’d choose as a prevailing norm. And I reckon a lot of coppers – who are the ones who actually have to deal with the fallout from it all – would privately agree.

The second major point is the blanket assertion that cannabis is a ‘gateway drug’ – what I tend to think of as the ‘reefer madness’ argument. It has been my experience that those who apply this label to cannabis do so with no personal experience of using it themselves.

In terms of evidence, academic and scientific opinions remain divided, with many pointing to the illicit status of the drug as the key driver.

Clearly, though, there are mental health concerns for heavy, prolonged use of cannabis, just as there are with the similar misuse of alcohol. And I dare say that most of us probably know, or know of, someone who has been caught up in the wildfire of alcoholism and its various life-deranging consequences. But does that mean the substance itself ought to be proscribed by law, for everyone?

Of course it doesn’t. These are subtle social, economic and psychological problems, and they need subtle solutions.

Obviously, I’m not saying that we should legalise cannabis in Jersey, right now, today – far from it. We’re not even close to being there yet. But what I am saying is that we could at least have a proper conversation about it. A conversation in which people aren’t shaking their heads and rolling their eyes while the other lot are talking.

I just want to be reassured that if the idea is rejected out of hand, then it has been dismissed on the grounds of reason, and not through some blind reflex of moral panic.

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