Some see it as a convention-busting buccaneer offering intoxicating hedonistic release, others claim it as a palliative from painful medical ailments, while the collective wisdom denounces it for its addictive properties, presaging the first steps on the slippery slope to addiction, crime and oblivion.
Certainly its recent history is patchy, wafting between extremes of pleasure and pain. An obligatory accompaniment to the heady atmosphere-inhaling days when there was more than blue grass blowing in the winds of Woodstock, it has also led to the criminalisation of experimenting students or terrorising unsuspecting elderly amateur gardeners, before infesting darkened tenements under artificial lamplight, cultivated by the unscrupulous for the naïve.
In the latest instalment of an inglorious saga, it features along with cell-mates LSD and ecstasy in the unseemly barrage of invective over their relative potency, between the Home Secretary and the chairman of the independent scientific Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.
Arguably, you could accuse the now dismissed Professor Nutt of political naivety for publicising his professionally held opinions instead of keeping them to himself when his political masters have for long demonstrated the skill of asking for advice and then ignoring it if the message is not to their liking – and, moreover, rounding on the messenger.
Statistically, it may well be true that more people in the UK become casualties from falling off horses than from taking ecstasy. Again, purely statistically, more people are likely to have died from alcohol- and tobacco-induced illnesses than from cannabis.
Furthermore, some with their own agendas have rushed to put words into the mouth of the good ‘Nutty professor’. Yet he was neither campaigning against the government’s right to take political decisions on the issue, nor was he suggesting that there is no harm associated with taking cannabis.
But that’s not the point. Such pantomime-style ‘oh yes it is , oh no it isn’t’ baying serves only to take the collective eye off the message that drug abuse and overdose is harmful and removes not only the dignity of life, but ultimately, life itself.
Proscribed drugs have been sliding up and down the government’s classification scales with the alacrity of snakes and ladders, more to suit political agendas rather than to reflect scientific or medical criteria. It’s not surprising really, because drugs and their accompanying criminal connections provide a convenient rallying bogeyman for politicians to take the spotlight away from other failings, particularly on the crime front.
Ever since the ACMD was set up in 1971, there has been a revulsion against the taking and particularly the importing or trafficking in Class A hard drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine. But public opinion has been more lenient towards LSD and cannabis – not the least because it is not unrealistic to suggest than many may have indulged in the latter.
Nevertheless, when in 2003 the ACMD recommended the reclassification of cannabis down from B to C, the then Home Secretary, David Blunket, jumped on the bandwagon. His beleaguered successor, the discredited Jackie Smith, ignored its advice in 2006 and bowed to media pressure by seizing the opportunity to reclassify it to B.
For the media, drugs are a universal evil, although they are happy to up circulations with snatched photographs of grubby ‘celebs’ sniffing up a line of white powder, or follow the lurid trial details of the despicable purveyors, such as recently put this Island once more in the forefront of crime reporting. At least this time it was to relate the successful operation to close down one evil avenue.
But like the movies, most are more hooked on the ‘glamour’ of the crime than the relentless, often thankless efforts to suppress it.
The last annual performance review of the States police showed a recorded increase of 24 per cent in drugs offences in 2008 after an operation to target dealers on the streets which netted £1 million worth of their substances. Whether this shows the police being more efficient or dealers increasingly careless, it certainly proves that the activities of the suppliers and the taste of the users has far from diminished. Indeed, this year’s record seizures of the arch-villain – cocaine – prove that the appetite is increasing out of all proportion.
Just as worrying is its marriage of convenience with other noxious substances including ketamine, which is used in the veterinary profession to tranquillise horses, BZP, which is already on the restricted list, and even – would you believe – brick dust, to spawn an evil family of cocktails of dubious purity which can cause irreparable damage to health.
No surprise, then, that the head of our local Alcohol and Drugs Service (surprisingly, tobacco fails to appear in his title) is calling for a campaign to raise awareness of a potential blight which has the power to destroy the fabric of society and promote crime to fund its habit.
The days when narcotic addiction was discreet, low-level and confined to those with the means to hide it behind some Edwardian artifice or affectation are well past. Today’s crusade is against a global traffic in mass misery for personal gain where the rewards are so great that purveyors are prepared to risk all in its pursuit.
Two weekends ago this newspaper carried the headline ‘Cocaine use is widespread’ following a secret survey in the Island. A couple of weeks earlier, UK newspapers were reporting a nationwide study which suggested that half of Britain’s blokes ‘do drugs’.
But three-quarters of British males also drive cars. How scary is that?