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July 19, 2007

Reclassifying Cannabis

Yes, we know, the whole debate over whether cannabis should be Class B or Class C is stupid: the only sensible question anyone should be asking is whether the corner shop can sell it in packs of five or ten.

However, the fools are indeed discussing it, the reasoning apparently being that some people go off their heads having smoked it: something of a replay of reefer madness I think.

The Telegraph tells us that mental hospital admissions are strongly up:

It is estimated that as many as 500,000 individuals in Britain may use the drug regularly. Some have developed schizophrenia-like symptoms and mental health hospital admissions due to cannabis have risen by 63 per cent in the past five years.

Half a million regular users looks very low to me: but what's the absolute number of those hospitalised? From the BBC:

In 1996-7, there were 510 admissions, rising to 946 in 2005-6, data obtained by shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley revealed.

Over the last five years alone there was a 65% rise, with experts saying the figures were "the tip of the iceberg".

The Beeb also tells us that there are 2 million users.

So, by the Telegraph's numbers, 0.2% of those using end up with a mental health problem. By the Beeb's, 0.05%.

No, I don't know what a realistic number of users is but somewhere around the back of my head I recall a 20% of the adult population number perhaps? 8 million or so people as occasional users? If true, that would mean something like 0.01% end up with serious problems as a result of smoking weed.

So, leaving aside all the civil liberties arguments, that consenting adults have a right to ingest what they please, Mill and slavery (if you don't own your own body you are indeed a slave) let's think of this like a liberal paternalist shall we?

We shall ban those things which cause people harm: but we do have to come up with some measure of "harm" which justifies the ban. We are, even if paternalists, still liberals, after all.

So, does 0.2% of users being harmed pass our test? 0.05%? 0.01%? Even at that higher number it's still vastly lower as a percentage than the numbers harmed by either tobacco or alcohol: and yet they are both legal. I'd wager very long odds that it's lower than the STD infection rate on one night stands: which are also legal. I'd even take an evens bet on whether it's less dangerous than playing golf in a thunderstorm which while stupid is also legal.

We can go further. Cannabis was a Class B drug until just a few short years ago. It being so classified did not in fact get rid of all of these supposedly gross harms. Cannabis was indeed still smoked and people were indeed suffering mental illnesses as a result. Let's be generous and say that 50% of the current rate of illness would be wiped out by the reclassification (65% rise, 50% drop, why not?).

Some 500 saved from psychosis: from 0.1% to 0.005% of those smoking pot.

And what will be the damage to wider society of increasing the criminal penalties on 500,000 to 8 million people? The tax burden of more jails? The costs of greater policing? Being a little Benthamite here, aren't we supposed to consider all of these things as we search for the greatest good of the greatest number?

I'm sure that others will differ but I really cannot see that this can be justified even on such grounds: that we should save people when on balance their activities cause harm. For on balance the harm caused by greater criminalisation seems greater than those (I agree, unfortunate) 500 who become mentally ill.

Just another example of bansturbation I'm afraid, this time it's the social authoritarians in the Tory Party getting their rocks off over the matter. Heaven forfend that the citizenry should actually be free to go to hell in their own preferred manner.

July 19, 2007 in Drugs | Permalink


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Tracked on Jul 23, 2007 11:21:40 AM



Posted by: john b | Jul 19, 2007 8:17:41 AM


Posted by: Justin | Jul 19, 2007 8:24:30 AM


Posted by: Tom | Jul 19, 2007 8:56:41 AM

We've banned smoking tobacco in public - Cannabis would be the same, if legalized. Its smoke (combined with tobacco or not) would be no more agreeable in a pub, after the novelty wore off. That's where alcohol wins. It has has huge variety, greater sense of wellbeing, no noxious fumes apart from what beer and whisky give off. You can dine with it - indeed, you should!

So it's a bit late in the day to legalise the weed. I shan't rush out to buy it, if it is. It's an inferior product.

Posted by: chrissy | Jul 19, 2007 9:01:58 AM

With cannabis being illegal, whether class B or C, and of course it's stigma of smoking it being 'doing drugs', surely the people who are going to smoke it don't give a monkeys about what class it is and will smoke it anyway.

If there is so much fuss about 500,000 people who smoke weed going nuts, why isn't there a call to ban booze that, turns millions of people into monsters everyweekend, rather than just bloody tax it more?

Posted by: sim-o | Jul 19, 2007 9:23:39 AM

Chrissy, firstly, the debate is about whether it should be legal, not where it should be legal, that follows after. Just the opposite of the cigarette smoking debate in which where it is legal is before debate of whether it should be legal.

Secondly, this isn't a drug competition. It isn't which is better: booze or weed. Let's face it, no drug is going to supplant alcohol as the nation's favourite.

Thirdly, cannabis "gives off no noxious fumes except what" the joint gives off. Amazing that. :D

Posted by: Philip Thomas | Jul 19, 2007 9:28:44 AM

Chrissy - It isn't an inferior product, it's just different, it's like comparing cars, a people carrier against a sports car.

Posted by: sim-o | Jul 19, 2007 9:44:21 AM

Not doubting your mojo, Worstall (força al canut etc.), but side-by-side comparison of the percentages for tobacco and alcohol would strengthen your argument.

Either way, of course, it is a bit like rearranging the deckchairs on The Crystal Ship.

Posted by: Small Beds | Jul 19, 2007 9:59:45 AM

I am a 58 year old family man (2 daughters - 2 grandchildren) and the owner/MD of a business employing 70 people. I've smoked pot off and on since my early 20's. Experience has taught me that the most dangerous thing about it - bar none - is it's illegality. Most of the supposedly informed comment I hear and read on the subject is, in my humble opinion, ill-informed emotive rubbish.

The problem is that I (and others like me) can't come out into the open and say so because I'd be putting myself, my family, and my business at considerable risk in doing so. I do not advocate pot-smoking as some kind of panacea - It just happens to be my preferred recreational tipple, that's all. It is a sad indictment of a society claiming freedom and tolerance among its primary virtues (ha ha ha) that I have to constantly risk being branded a criminal for doing what over 35 years experience has taught me is little different in its other effects from drinking a few pints of beer every week.

The wider and far more pertinent question is: To what extent is it a legitimate function of government to save (nanny) people from the consequences of their own stupidity?

Posted by: Anon | Jul 19, 2007 10:02:56 AM

Chrissy - ...but then, alcohol might not give off fumes that gets an innocent bystander drunk, as a spliff might over the course of an evening get a non smoker in the same room stoned, but a stoned person is less likely to push (and then twist) a pint glass in your face.

Posted by: sim-o | Jul 19, 2007 10:04:36 AM

I think the amount of people who are at risk from a nut allergy is far too great, I think Peanut butter should be banned.

You'll thank us in the end.

Posted by: sim-o | Jul 19, 2007 10:07:58 AM

Excellent statistics.

Apparently (and this was a doctor writing in the Telegraph a couple of years back) half a million "young people" were taking Ecstasy tablets fairly regularly, with about 5 hospitalisations and one or deaths per year. He reckoned they might as well legalise it.

Besides, cause/effect, does cannabis cause mental illness or do people who are a bit mad tend to smoke it more than others?

Posted by: Mark Wadsworth | Jul 19, 2007 11:13:07 AM

As a toker, amongst other things, rather than a scientist or someone with lots of stats to hand, there is a cause and effect.
From my observations, and I have seen all sorts of people using hash long term from what would now be called chavs to concert pianists to scientists, the effect differ depending on the person and how it is ingested.
One friend used to smoke a lot with no adverse affect at all, but when eating hash cakes lost the plot for two days.
Any mind bending substance will have an effect, even alcohol. I don't beleive that hash is anymore dangerous than booze.
Who hasn't had a 2 day hangover?

Posted by: sim-o | Jul 19, 2007 12:12:01 PM

Mark - from what I can remember, again without stats, people are likly to die fro dehydration or drinking too much water (which dilutes all your essential salts) trying not to get dehydrated than from (proper) ecstasy.

It was to do surrounding Leah Betts that really demonised xtc.

Posted by: sim-o | Jul 19, 2007 12:16:36 PM

Out of all the things people could protest about in the world - poverty, torture, climate change, it really bugs me some people think the most important thing is their right to get stoned and crap on their own bodies.

Look after your body and make the world a better place. Do something worthwhile, for heaven's sake. And if you're going to protest, protest about something that will help others or make the world a better place.

Posted by: Andrew Thomas | Jul 19, 2007 1:37:28 PM

Ahh but we are all considering the immidiate and long term effects weed has upon adults. What about teenagers, i know that cannabis has a much worse effect on currently developing minds.
Does anyone know the statistics for this?

And there will be people saying, ahh but canabis will have a age limit just like alchohol and tabbaco, but im 14 and i drink every weekend and could easily smoke if i wanted to, wich i dont.

Anyone else share me thoughts?

Posted by: Will barker | Jul 19, 2007 1:38:18 PM

Andrew - This is isn't just about being able to take drugs and get fucked up.

It's about personal liberty and freedom, and just because some voices have been raised about this subject doesn't mean that I or anybody else thinks it is their number one priority. People can object to several things at once, you know. At the moment...

Will - I have grown up smoking hash along with friends, since the age of 13, there were some effects, especially during later teenage years with heavy usage, lazyness, hunger, some loss of confidence, as mentioned before, confusion about stuff (the more serious episodes but also lots of support from friends when it happened).
We have all reduced/stopped our intake and no lasting effects at all.

Do you think alcohol has any less of a serious effect on your liver than hash on your brain?

Posted by: sim-o | Jul 19, 2007 2:07:21 PM

Andrew, one of the most important components of society is the rule of law. The rule of law is only established when people have respect for both the law and those that establish it. Since politicians, the police and the courts seem to be doing their damnedest for us to lose confidence in them, the only thing we are left to respect is the actual text. And when that text states that the joint I rolled and smoked last night is so heinous a crime as to see me worthy of jail time, then respect crumbles still further.

As Tim points out there are a potential 8 million users out there, each of them making a mockery of the law with each toke. You can be certain that has far-reaching consequences because it drives home to each of them how detached the rules are from reality.

Posted by: Philip Thomas | Jul 19, 2007 3:47:47 PM

some stats on toxicity for you

alcohol -- 10 times the amount that gets you drunk to kill you

cannabis -- 40000 times the amount that gets you stoned to kill you , or to put that in perspective, smoke a joint get high .. smoke another 39998 and get the munchies talk BS for a few hours and pass out smiling ....

why if i can buy a pint that is 4000 times more toxic than cannabis legally , can i not buy a joint or some weed .. when people are drinking several pints a night everynight they are causing serious damage to their bodies and very quickly will need to have alcohol everyday ... addiction ...

smoke several spliffs a night everynight and maybe just maybe if you fit the right gene type and have a predisposition to mental illness , you may develop a mental illness ... but stop smoking and ... OH wait no withdrawl cos no addiction ...

its hypocracy to think that 8 million pot smokers are criminals for doing something that harms no one ... doesn;t turn our city centers into a battlefield on a friday and saturday night and doesn't cost the NHS millions year in treatment for alcohol fueled violence/accidents/over indulgence.

HmGov is stupid to the point of idiocy for not realising the potential of this plant. im sure most of you are not even aware than your paper money is made from cannabis or that it has 50000 other uses from foods to fuels to building materials to almost anything you can think of , its enviromentally friendly would help massively in cleaning up the UKs Carbon emmissions and thats before you even get to smoking it to get a hit .. the hypocracy must end , the dutch experiement proves that decriminalisation leads to less people taking cannabis and other drugs , the average age of heroin users in holland goes up one year every year , get your act together HmGov and finally do something useful practical and sensible.

Posted by: HydroponeeK | Jul 19, 2007 3:50:43 PM

Andrew - Out of all the things I would like to see the government do something about - poverty, torture, climate change, it REALLY bugs me that some people think the most important thing is to remove my freedom to get stoned and have somewhere I can go to socialise, drink, smoke and generally unwind.

You want me to 'look after my body', but do you really believe it's my body, or does it belong to the state? And I'm a bit stumped as to what you think I ought to be protesting about 'to make the world a better place'. 2 million of us trekked down to London to try to stop an insane war, what a waste of time that was. Just reminded me there's no point protesting any more in our post-democratic society.

Philip's spot on with the flaw in the prohibitionists' plan. What you are dealing with here is a total lack of respect for the law. Reclassify all you like, I have a good network of contacts now so my supply is in no danger. Come to think of it, some of those guys can get me a gun as well...and the way things are going in this country I really feel like using one right now. So much for your 'social cohesion'...don't expect me to give a damn about 'making the world a better place' when you treat me like this.

Posted by: Mark | Jul 19, 2007 7:29:01 PM

Cannabis is one of the hemp plant family. It has some very useful attributes, medically speaking, for those who suffer from MS, migraine and the diabetic retinopathies. It could have a warning not to drive or operate machinery on the box. No doubt suitable penalties could be devised for breaching this advice.

If pre-teen and teenagers use it it can cause lasting brain damage and predisposes the user to move on to stronger mood altering drugs.
Although it has probably fewer anti-social side effects than alcohol or tobacco, this is not the point. Banning cannabis now is really a sop to the morality of the current government. What would make sense would be to turn it into a drug available only on prescription for helping to control chronic pain, along with the other medical conditions mentioned above. Incidently, if you try planting other forms of hemp, you can extrude hemp oil, make baskets, chairs and hats and rather fine cloth for your sheets, They will do absolutely nothing for your psyche save the warm fuzzies that you have used a crop that is easy to grow and is virtuous in all its applications.

Posted by: rataplan | Jul 19, 2007 11:39:13 PM

"Come to think of it, some of those guys can get me a gun as well..."

Legalise it, control it like beer or fags and you will remove the vast majority of users from this criminal element (just like there is a black market in fags and booze there will also be a black market in hash) and so remove the access to 'harder' drugs.

Posted by: sim-o | Jul 20, 2007 10:21:30 AM

The figs are all very good, but I have a deep suspicion that the figures simply represent those who have a mental problem and have indulged in the weed at some point and any nuttiness may be simply coincidence.

There is also the possibility that cannabis like alcohol is more likely to be resorted to by those having difficulty coping.

Even the nominally ‘normal’ use nicotine caffeine and alcohol and probably cannabis to help manage stress.

I'll take the figures with a pinch of salt thank you...

Posted by: Phil A | Jul 20, 2007 10:43:34 AM

Would just like to say to Tim, I'm in shock that you think pot can only be smoked.

Tim adds: No, I certainly don't think that. If you look around there's the odd joke or two about hash brownies on the site. (For example, one about the Alice B. Toklas Breakfast: I ask whether hash brownies were served.)

Posted by: dizzy | Jul 24, 2007 8:10:57 AM

Ooops.. I meant to say Chrissy and for some reason read the comment above it by Tom and translated that into Tim.

Posted by: dizzy | Jul 24, 2007 8:34:30 AM