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Friday, 24 September 2010

Angels and Demons

Outlook and mindset is key to any pastime in life.  Whether it is martial arts or boxing, or even computer games, whatever the comparison, an individual is reliant on their own inner compass.  One person’s release is another’s problematic obsession.  One person’s sanctuary is another’s nightmare.  With each activity or crutch, the social sway of individualism will dictate perspective.  For me, having been trained in martial arts from a young age, I took discipline on the chin and have never used what I learnt for violence or retribution.  Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for others who saw Karate as a literal licence to bully.  Such is life, you can install the best teachings in the world, but some will rebel and some will use for good; humanistic trait of uniqueness.

So, when I watch the latest documentary on cannabis, browse internet forums and blogs, engage in online debate, it has become a tiresome point that the inevitable good vs. bad of the cannabis argument becomes a contested issue.  This debate has raged since the reefer madness days of the 30’s (a propaganda film that is now a cult classic for the intellectually astute) and will continue unabated until some sense of perspective is reached.

The Sky documentary “Stoned in Suburbia”  is perhaps a good and succinct example of the point in hand; whilst speaking of her teenager’s son demise with cannabis, a middle class mum sat dumbfounded at how on one hand it caused her young offspring issues after his profuse use broke down his personality.  And yet, the mother had also just witnessed the antipode of cannabis’ traits as the plant unequivocally saw her friend through hell as she saw out her days in a hospice.  “It’s the angel and devil rolled into one” the lady proclaimed with a look of perplexed bewilderment.

It was not long after the watching of this programme that I stumbled across a long blog that also damned cannabis for the fallout of two of his friends when they were kids.  The blog pertained to the infamous “gateway theory”.

So, the devil exists, the (dare I say it) “pro” cannabis lobby are unlikely to subscribe to the denial that cannabis does not have a down side.  But, comparative harms and perspective is what is needed in this debate.  It’s perhaps ironic that people such as myself are the main perpetrators of wannabe harm reduction with extremist prohibitionists still wishing for hard line actions that are counterproductive to progression and leaves the young stripped of help and solace.  With each new story of abuse and the demise of another youngster that so readily hits the headlines, it sets the case for cannabis as an angel back tenfold.  Medical users suffer the sway of tarnishing with one giant brush.  So why does a plant have such extremes of viewpoint?

It’s a simple answer, and one in which the shrewd can work out for themselves.

To a medical user, respect is an emotive an intrinsic part of cannabis, a pedestal is easily created for this natural and non-toxic plant that is- to the individual- termed a miracle in the truest sense.  There is no such thing as a guilt free painkiller, but cannabis is the closest you can get to this "dream".  A medical user does not want to get complacent with cannabis, we wish it to be a light at the end of an arduous tunnel.  Flippancy will not become an issue all the while you respect the plant.  Or indeed, the recreational user who bears in mind the simple logic of “Cannabis is a reward to being productive”.  There are millions in the UK that have a healthy and responsible outlook of cannabis, these people blend into the fabric of community.  It is the minority devil that grabs attention and headlines, it is a sad fact that I’ve come to learn from a personal point of view that the damning stance of cannabis is preferred over the copious amounts of positive effects.  Mainstream media laps up the negative gleefully and has no agenda to put forth the flip side of the issue.

Why has the devil had such an healthy outing with cannabis over the last few decades?  A few reasons perhaps.  Firstly, the feral industry that has been created with cannabis lends itself to abuse.  No product quality control, no age check systems, no real education on the substance other than:“marijuana is bad mmmkay?” and certainly no responsibly within the user; all seems to have been absolved.  If there is one thing that all cases of cannabis fallout have in common is the, to speak churlishly, “badge of honour” effect.  Cannabis amongst the young is a hook for rebellion and a distinct lack of respect will be evident from this outlook.  I have yet to read or hear of a case of detrimental cannabis use that doesn’t have the tantamount words of “We started using cannabis when we were 14 and….”  or “We were heavy users of cannabis and…” and at no point is the connection made; substitute the word cannabis for alcohol and a comparative perspective can easily be reached.  If alcohol becomes the contested subject, instantaneously the onus is placed on the individual user almost entirely.  If such proclamations of heavy use and youngster's abuse was to be linked with drink, then we as society look to blame irresponsible use and treat the symptoms of this.  So why does cannabis have a differing pretence of social harms?  Cannabis as a substance receives nearly full blame for any fallout, and when looking at the comparative harms, it defies both logic and belief.  We have found ourselves in an obtuse place of reference; comparatively speaking, the logic of the prohibition of cannabis is similar to the banning of bicycles due to the harms that come with motorbikes, senseless.

So, my angel, in the form of cannabis, becomes sullied due to misuse and abuse, and it is for me and the responsible users to suffer the consequence of these ethics in the form of prohibition?  Once more, if society were to abide by its own flimsy rules, then prohibition of alcohol is once more needed (or even necessity) as recompense for the harms; or shall we still assign appropriate responsibility to the individual user as we always have with alcohol?  Now there’s a thought.

With each teenage case of cannabis abuse that will sadly become inevitable under the prohibition model, and more prevalent to boot, I will sink my shoulders and heavily sigh “Yes, of course we will have cases of abuse, and it will get worse”.  Current law is making the job of parenting hard to do, honesty and frank discussion is hard to achieve when cloaked under social taboos, we’ve learnt this the hard way with sex education, and we are learning it again with cannabis.  Prohibitionists make the case for cannabis and the current law by stating that "children as young as ten are involved in this trade and substance."  Once more I look for rationality.  Surely we are to know by now that if you push a lucrative industry underground, then a literal dark age becomes the result.  We have no way of ensuring safety with cannabis and children, this is the cause and effect of prohibition and the failure of current policy… so why is the argument of "think of the children" used to keep the broken status quo afloat when the children are the very reason we need legitimacy in this enlightened age?

I ask concisely, can we please move on and end the damning of what is largely a benign substance to the majority of adults and focus on the symptoms of abuse and how to stem this, especially amongst the young where most of the problems occur.  I can except that some detrimental effects come from cannabis when misused, and it is for compassionate community to realise the trauma that comes from current law to the millions of responsible adults, especially the morally questionable position of the medicinal users in the UK and the law.  Disproportionate blame is perhaps the most dangerous part of this debate, and one in which serves only to muddy the waters of discussion and halt progressive ways ahead of harm reduction; a true political weapon of stalemate.

Perhaps the most heartening part of this is that now the question has been changed, the answers have also altered.  As this recent survey from Ewan Hoyle shown here at Transforms' site shows, the nub of prohibition's consequence over regulation seems to be seeping into mainstream thinking.  Society is now grasping that the etymology of “legal vs. illegal” (and the seeming condonable message and that comes with this) is now a redundant part of the debate when faced with the very real and stark consequence of prohibition vs. regulation.

I do hope we can lay the demons to rest, and I will then no longer have to preach of angels.

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