British newspapers are overpriced and lacking in serious content. Why spend almost two pounds on the so-called “quality” press when you can buy a slimmed down version of the Independent – the “I” newspaper – for just 40p?

Another problem with the British papers are their opinions. I don’t mind the opinions expressed in the “I” newspaper but last Monday I objected to a full page article which argued for the decriminalisation of cannabis – a drug which poses a serious risk to public health.

I called up the “I” newspaper, got hold of a charming “comment” editor, asked if I could write a response, she agreed and I sent it in within 90 minutes. The next day she replied to say “it’s not for us” and didn’t reply to further emails. I presume my article was rejected as I don’t agree with them about cannabis. Below, you can see what I sent to them (plus a few minor edits).

My (Rejected) Article to the “I” Newspaper:

Ian Birrell is right to castigate Britain’s leaders for hypocrisy about the drugs debate but he seems unaware of the terrible risks from smoking too much cannabis.

“The stench of hypocricy has long hung over the drugs debate,” writes Birrell in yesterday’s edition of “I”. “Politicians joke about their own use, then talk tough about the dangers and the need to crack down on criminals.”

But isn’t hypocrisy a label we can apply to most politicians? Didn’t Cameron promise to defend the environment? (Not to mention the NHS). What about Nick Clegg and tuition fees? And don’t get me started on the Labour Party or the SNP.

Birrell uses highly inflammatory words from the pro-cannabis lobby groups that are inaccurate and misleading. To say that cannabis smoking is a “prohibition” is absurd. You could say that the legal status of cannabis in UK is a confusing mess, left to the discretion of the different police forces, but to compare it to prohibition – a nationwide ban of alcohol in the USA between 1920 and 1933 – is wildly inaccurate. As this article points out, cannabis smoking is more or less legal in the UK.

And the term “war on drugs” makes no sense at all. Surely the western world is retreating from any kind of offensive measures against cannabis. This term was coined by Nixon in the 1970s and could be connected to American attacks on Columbian coca producers or Mexico’s war with their drug barons. But in the UK, the police ignore pot smokers (as long as they’re white) and they certainly don’t shoot at them.

Ian Birrell says “the war on drug has been a dismal failure,” but what is “the war on drugs”? Who is the enemy? Who are the allies? The troops? The leaders? What is the strategy? Name one political leader who has promoted the term “war on drugs” in the last 10 years?

He also says that “harm reduction is the answer”, in other words handing out opioids like methadone. But isn’t that just replacing one addiction with another? I know that dispensing hundreds of thousands of methadone doses every day is good business for Big Pharma but is it ethical?

Talking of big business, if we legalise cannabis and get the trade out of the hands of the criminals who would be the main beneficiary? The big tobacco companies of course. I was informed by an Anglo-American therapist that the tobacco companies “can’t wait” until the drug is legalised as they will ride this wave of pro-cannabis propaganda and flood the market with it. She told me that all the street names for cannabis have already been registered for future marketing purposes.

Cannabis – the Health Risks

I was particularly disappointed that Mr Birrell made no mention of the health risks of cannabis – the main reason why it must remain illegal.

I was told by a psychiatrist that smoking the odd joint now and again “probably does no harm” just as the odd glass of wine might actually do you some good. The problem is that when cannabis (or alcohol) are consumed on a daily basis the inevitable result is dependence, leading to a collapse of the user’s social, psychological and economic life.

There is a lot of serious evidence suggesting that cannabis abuse can result in paranoia, a loss of motivation and even psychosis. Another report I saw showed that cannabis smokers’ lungs get ten times more damaged than cigarette smokers, because joints are unfiltered and users hold the smoke in for longer. When I raised these concerns with the pro-cannabis lobby they attacked me as a paid stooge of the rehab industry.

For many years I did work for a rehab clinic and it was there that I learned that cannabis is addictive. Like our hapless political leaders, I indulged in cannabis smoking when I was a student and believed what I was told: “it’s not addictive…it opens your mind.” While I smoked it I was convinced it could do me no harm and it was only when I had an attack of paranoia when travelling through Eastern Europe that I gave the stuff up.

The most striking thing about the pro-cannabis lobby is that they unwilling to admit that cannabis has any negative side effects at all. I will happily admit that cannabis is a good painkiller, but most people know that painkillers are highly addictive. And if smoking cigarettes is bad for you why isn’t smoking a joint?

The best argument I came across against legalising cannabis is that it sends out a message that the health authorities consider it risky – and illegal. I can think of many people who would sneer at this warning but it does have a positive effect on the majority who are, than God, quite sensible. When I last checked, less than 10% of the UK population use cannabis. That may seem like a lot but not when you compare it to how many smoke tobacco – over 20%.

Post Script

I am grateful to Mr Birrell for raising a serious problem about cannabis: the way that the law is enforced by the British police. This devastating analysis by Ian Dunt (“Britain secretly decriminalised cannabis – and it’s a disaster”) explains the scandalous way the police use the flexible law against cannabis possession to discriminate against ethnic minorities, while tolerating its use among the white middle classes.  Talk about hypocrisy!

Another issue that came up was the titles that “I” newspaper used for this scurrilous article. The title on the print version dated Monday 27th July is “The new assault on prohibition” – a title that doesn’t make any sense (what new assault?) Perhaps the “I” editor blew a fuse when he/she saw it and ordered them to put something more coherent on the web edition, which is: Slowly but surely, the Western world is coming down from the hallucinatory war on drugs

My personal conclusion to all this is that I’m not going to waste any more money on buying British newspapers any more. Private Eye is right – they’re nothing more than a collection of rags. The sad thing about this is that almost every British journalist I know would agree with this outrageous slur on their profession.

Photo source: Wikipedia (graffiti in the Netherlands)

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