I AGREE with William Hague. There is no justifiable reason why cannabis should not be regulated for strictly-controlled medical use. After all, prescription painkillers such as codeine are made from opiates, which is where heroin – the most potent illegal drug of all – also comes from.
However, this is where me and the former leader of the Conservative party must part company. Legalising medicinal cannabis is one thing. Decriminalising this Class B drug so that it can be sold openly in designated retail outlets is quite another.
It is unfortunate that this respected Rotherham-born politician has put forward cases for both medicinal and recreational use in the same newspaper article, prompted by the case of a 12-year-old epileptic boy, Billy Caldwell, whose medicinal cannabis oil was confiscated by officials at Heathrow Airport.
Lord Hague only has to return to the former mining communities of his youth, visit the pubs where he drank his first pints and talk to the people he went to school with to understand a hard-line stance like mine.
Here he will find families devastated by drug abuse. In so many of these towns and villages the dark shadow of addiction and its attendant demons – theft, burglary, violent crime, children taken into care, poverty and dereliction – casts its malignant shade over every effort at regeneration and economic investment.
I am, frankly, aghast that a politician of Lord Hague’s calibre cannot see this. Addiction is addiction, whether it’s to cannabis or crack cocaine. Yes, I know there are people who justify their cannabis use with words such as “it’s just one joint a night” or “I have it instead of gin”. In fact, some of these people are my friends. I’m sure it’s all very civilised, but I abstain. It’s unfashionable, but there you go. I also have friends whose children have tried one joint, liked it, and swiftly moved on to other, more dangerous, substances. That’s why cannabis is called the “gateway drug”.
Some of these friends have lost those children to substance abuse, or face a formidable battle to help them stay clean. Ask a mother who must hide her purse and wedding ring every time her son calls round if she wants cannabis to be legalised.
Ask a grandmother who has custody of her daughter’s children because their own home is littered with needles, if she wants any illegal drug to be legalised. This is what can happen. Why legislate for it?
What’s even more disturbing is that Lord Hague is not the only deluded one. Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Nick Clegg, whose constituency was in Sheffield Hallam, has also called for the decriminalisation of cannabis. So has former Labour leader Ed Miliband in Doncaster North, who lent his support this week.
Do these astute politicians not see the damage that illegal drugs – any and all drugs – do to people already without hope? Or are they just looking at the potential revenue which could be gained for the Government through backing licensed sellers?
Earlier this month, a report from international development organisation Health Poverty Action suggested that introducing a legal cannabis market to the UK could earn the Treasury between £1bn and £3.5b. I’ve even heard some pro-legalisers add that this putative funding stream could be re-diverted into the NHS. What, like the Brexit savings which have so far failed to materialise?
I’ve heard all the arguments in favour. The main one is that prohibition has failed, so why not make pot-smoking legal? This line of reasoning is usually backed up by yet more spurious statistics relating to how much money police forces could save if officers didn’t have to caution or charge anyone found in possession or with intent to supply.
Look. I can walk past certain houses in my village and the smell of ‘weed’ is so strong even my mother would recognise it. You’re not telling me that police forces don’t already operate a generally laissez-faire attitude. They haven’t got the time or resources to deal with cannabis.
Taking cannabis supply out of the hands of the “criminal gangs” would supposedly make it safer for people to buy it. I suggest those in favour of setting up cannabis shops and cafes should stop looking at Amsterdam, which enjoys a long tradition of legalised marijuana and start looking closer to home.
As these outlets would be government-approved, they would require complex legislation and regulation. Does Lord Hague really think that the supply of legal shops and cafes would meet demand, given the cost of business rates and the controls set down by local councils? The criminal gangs would still exist, and they certainly wouldn’t like anyone else encroaching on their turf. There would be intimidation and violence.
As anyone unfortunate to already have a so-called legal high shop in their community will tell you, it’s hardly good for other businesses, or the public health that William Hague seems so concerned about. Opening a cannabis shop is not like opening a tea-room. Lord Hague would do well to remember this.