Tuesday, December 1, 2020
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Peter Stoker: We need agreed facts not personal insults in the drugs debate

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Mulling over the 15th July TCW article by Kathy Gyngell (‘Tim Farron has one thing in common with Obama. He is soft on drugs.’) together with the many comments it generated, I was prompted to take the whole thing off the stove and wait for the heat to dissipate, in the hope it might then taste better.

No such luck, it still left a bitter taste in the mouth. Too many contributions were loaded with personal attack or crude dismissals, with the most virulent of comments reserved for the author, Ms Gyngell. Whilst I used to be obliged by my parents to savour tripe, I lost the taste for it long ago, so the repeated reference to it here didn’t taste too good either. There was also a depressing habit of demanding evidence from an opponent but declining to include any in one’s own input.

In sum, this could scarcely be called a ‘debate’ – it was instead an artillery exchange from opposing trenches, with a disproportionate amount of fire from what could loosely be called the ‘pro-drug’ side. As a simple measure, the featured comment section contained nearly 100 column inches from the pro-drug trenches, compared with only 15 column inches from the anti-drug trenches. Amount of input is no indicator of greater validity, and vice versa, as has been graphically shown by the rows around Wikipedia, which gets hammered regularly for just this matter. Wikipedian ‘philosophy is said to entertain that all words are the truth, therefore everything written on every subject is true by nature of it having been published in Wikipedia.

As well as launching a tsunami of comments at the anti-drug trench, the pro-drug side regularly deploy seminal words – for example calling themselves ‘reformers’ in a bid for the moral high ground, or using memes such as ‘soft’ – for drugs thereby deemed to not be ‘hard’ and thus worthy of a softer appraisal by the public in general, and lawmakers in particular. Nowhere is the term ‘soft’ applied more than with cannabis, and the steady receipt of factual research testifying to cannabis harms has so far done little to persuade the pro-drug fraternity to stop using it.

Stopping for a moment at one outburst from Jonathan Leibling. Jonathan must be credited for some detailed exploring of multiple aspects of the ‘debate’ – but he loses his cool with David Raynes when the latter asks if mingling arguments for ‘recreational’ use of cannabis with potential medical use is ‘just potheads exploiting ill people’. Leibling calls foul, accusing Raynes of being ‘bigoted, offensive and stupid’. If one has followed the pro-cannabis campaign for the nigh-on four decades it has been around, one will indeed find of this tactic of mingling the two.  As long ago as 1979, NORML (National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) Director Keith Stroup, in a debate at Emory University, was moved to reveal their strategy: ‘We will use the medical marijuana argument as a red herring to give pot a good name’. Whilst the current strategy in America may seem to be a whole lot more sophisticated than in the 1970s, not least because of the multi-million dollar funding by George Soros, it is clear that the red herring is still alive, and claiming medical use is the thin end of the legalisation wedge being driven into the legislation of several states.

Of course, people who are ill, and those that care for them, should be heard and should be free to press for scientific assessment of potential medical use of cannabis. But the body of evidence so far highlights several serious findings – cannabis has contra-indications which make its use doubtful; medical application should not be by raw (whole) cannabis; it should not be in a form which produces a ‘high’, and should it certainly not be smoked.  The line of research and application by GW Pharmaceuticals follows this sensible approach. You will find some fans of smoking, such as Andrew Weil, but he is a lone voice on this one, and with good reason.

In conclusion, by all means let’s have heated debates, but let’s confine the heat to the principles, philosophy and data involved, rather than stooping to unworthy personal defamation. And why not take a leaf out of public enquiry procedure and list ‘Agreed Facts’, which don’t need to be chewed over relentlessly, again and again? If nothing else, such an approach should help persuade the many uncommitted readers that all of us – irrespective of which side of the argument we inhabit – are worthy of at least a modicum of respect.

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Peter Stoker
Peter Stoker is Director of the National Drug Prevention Alliance

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