NewsBriefs BUTTONS

British Newspaper, the Independent on Sunday, Calls for Marijuana Decriminalization


September-October 1997

On September 28, the Independent on Sunday, a major newspaper in London that serves most of the United Kingdom, called for the decriminalization of cannabis, and said it will continue its campaign "until the law is changed and possession of marijuana for personal use is no longer an offence" (Editorial, "The time is right to decriminalize cannabis," Independent on Sunday, September 28, 1997, sec. 1, p. 1; Rosie Boycott, Editor, "Why we believe it is time to decriminalise cannabis," Independent on Sunday, sec. 2, p. 1).

The Independent on Sunday was the first British newspaper to advocate the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes. It takes its position as the British government prepares to appoint its first U.S.-style "drugs tsar." According to Labour MP for Newport East, Paul Flynn, a supporter of cannabis legalization, 50% of young women and 70% of young men in the United Kingdom have used illegal drugs. Flynn claims that drug laws are unenforceable, and that the U.S.'s 20-year "war on drugs" has failed, citing the high drug-related crime and drug use rates in the United States.

The paper stated: "The irony, of course, is that one of the world's most dangerous drugs, the one responsible for more crime, more lost hours at work, more broken families, more violence, more ghastly heartbreak, is freely available in every supermarket and cornerstore in the land. If alcohol is a tiger, then cannabis is merely a mouse." The paper also addresses the issue of the gateway theory, saying, "Cannabis might lead a person to hard drugs - yes, but mainly because the same person selling you the one - cannabis - will also offer the other - heroin or cocaine. There is no physical evidence that says smoking cannabis creates the desire for 'harder' drugs." The illegality of cannabis criminalizes a part of society that would not necessarily be connected to the underworld, the paper said.

The paper has garnered, and promised to continue to seek, the backing of prominent citizens, including law enforcement officials, for its decriminalization position. Retired Detective Chief Inspector Ron Clarke, who was in the front line of Britain's anti-drug effort for twenty years, spoke out in support of the paper's advocacy. "I was convinced that this was a law and order issue ... [but] toward the end of my service I saw that this was a medicinal issue," said Clarke. He believes that legalizing cannabis is the first step in reforming the approach to the drug problem; it will free a lot of police time, and money that could be used for health and education programs. He advocates an international approach arguing that developed countries need to push third world countries toward a market of lucrative food crops, instead of opium poppies and cannabis plants.

According to Phillip Robson, MD, a consultant psychiatrist and senior clinical lecturer at Chilton Clinic, Warneford Hospital at Oxford, "Cannabis is the focus of more than 85 percent of all drug seizures, and its users account for more than 80 percent of people charged with drug offenses (40,000 in 1991)." Robson, a backer of the Independent on Sunday campaign, argues, "Internal restraints reinforced by family, peers, and cultural pressures ... are far more powerful than the external, legal restraints."

Labour MP Paul Flynn and his colleagues will ask the all-party Drugs Misuse Group at Westminster when it meets on November 5 to back new research to establish the risks and benefits of cannabis use with the goal of directing Parliamentary opinion in favor of reform.