From all the hysteria in the media this last few days, calling for Billy Caldwell’s cannabis oil to be returned to him and/or legalised, you would be forgiven for believing it was a tested, proven and safe medical treatment being discussed. It came to a crescendo on yesterday’s Today programme with an over-emotional John Humphrys berating Jeremy Hunt over the government’s cruelty in denying Billy this life-saving drug – something that even his mother does not claim it will do.
If you listened to Nick Clegg later in the same programme using the Caldwell case to argue for the legalisation of cannabis generally, confidently reassuring the listener that the THC component of this street drug was really nothing to worry about, you’d be forgiven for believing it was entirely benign, and government entirely irrational.
This is what libertarians have been weighing in with a vengeance to tell us, on the back of poor Billy Caldwell and his mum. It was no surprise to find Simon Jenkins, a long-term legalisation champion, confusing and conflating the specific issues of the medicinal properties of the cannabis plant (in respect of which years of pharmaceutical testing has delivered little proof) with recreational use.
But to see William Hague use this sad case to climb aboard the legalisers’ bandwagon was surprising and not a little disappointing. Adopting the legalisers’ favoured contention, he’s opined that the war on cannabis is lost. Quite what ‘war’ he is referring to? The question, as pertinent today as it was 2009 when I concluded it was a phoney war, was one he chose not to address.
I’d have hoped a former leader of the Conservative Party would have a better understanding of conservatism: that as well as the market and free trade it is also about the philosophy of attachment – to things we love, that are valuable and to the freedom we have learnt to take for granted. Narcotics, as writers as disparate as Clive James and Theodore Dalrymple have explained, threaten all that. They are no ordinary transactional commodity, and far from conserving, they are more likely to enslave or destroy.
Quite how destructive cannabis can be was explained in another context last week. The findings of the University of York’s Ian Hamilton about cannabis addiction were the subject of discussion on Woman’s Hour. Hamilton’s research has revealed a massive rise in cannabis addiction amongst the middle-aged and particularly amongst women, often mothers. Some were heard describing their addiction, their inability to care for their children and to function at all as the drug took over. It was disturbing indeed – not least their quest for treatment from NHS drug workers who typically but mistakenly have treated cannabis as a benign drug. It is not, Hamilton explained, and although drugs treatment services were waking up to treatment need, only one in ten adult cannabis addicts was accessing it. Nor, he went on, was there much expertise in dealing with it, in the absence of any prescribed substitute.
Just how addictive and damaging cannabis can be is the subject of a meeting organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cannabis: Harmful Effects on Developing Brains to be held in the House of Commons on June 26 at 7.30pm, at which two distinguished American professors will be speaking on cannabis and addiction.
It would be wonderful if Simon Jenkins, William Hague and John Humphrys, before they jump to their quick conclusions, would come and listen. They have an open invitation. It’s their chance to put their layman opinions to two men who’ve devoted their professional lifetimes to the study of addiction.
Professor Keith Humphreys of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University will be addressing the very topical question: ‘Will addiction prevalence and treatment-seeking be affected by expanded recreational and medical cannabis?’
Professor John Kelly, president of the American Psychological Association Society of Addiction Psychology, will be taking on that other highly relevant question: ‘How does resolving cannabis problems differ from problems with alcohol or other drugs?’
If you would like to attend this meeting please e-mail Lucy:firstname.lastname@example.org for further details while there are still some spaces left.