Hugo Rifkind

Within ten years, you’ll be buying cannabis at your off-licence

24 November 2012

The first time I came across skunk cannabis was in an underground out-of-hours bar in Nottingham in 1997. I think I’ll leave that as ‘came across’, if it’s all the same to you. I might want to be prime minister one day, and it’s important to have my tenuous denials lined up in advance. More expensive than your regular cannabis, I remember, uh, people saying, with a stronger smell and a far -stronger effect. Which I noticed, obviously, from the behaviour of other people. As I studied them with clear, unreddened eyes, like an anthropologist. Yes.

From then on, until I stopped moving in such circles, skunk was all there was. In my Scottish teens, the druggy kids — no, -officer, I didn’t get their names — smoked hashish, presumably brought in with the heroin through the docks at Leith. At university it was mainly marijuana. In my twenties, though, dope meant skunk. And throughout that time, whenever ageing commentators remarked, reasonably, that the stuff kids were now smoking was much stronger, nastier and generally worse for you than the stuff they’d been smoking 30 years earlier, it always bothered me that none of them ever seemed to wonder why. Or, indeed, whether the kids would rather have been smoking something else.

This is one of the points that I gather Professor David Nutt makes (or, depending upon when you read this, has made) in an interview this week on BBC Radio 5 Live, with Jacqui Smith. When drugs are illegal, he says, the incentive is for them to become stronger. Consider American bootleggers in the 1920s, and their disdain for beer. Risk and economics all point in one direction. Folk want more bang for their illegal buck.

Nutt, you might remember, was a government adviser on drugs, famed for getting sacked for suggesting that taking ecstasy was no more dangerous than riding a horse. Beforehand, he had been critical of the upgrading of cannabis from a Class C drug to a Class B, which he had advised against. Smith was the Home Secretary who ignored this advice. Now she says she wishes she hadn’t.


Something is changing, here. On dope, we are getting less dopey. When Nutt was fired (by Smith’s successor, Alan Johnson) there was a predictable and proper hullabaloo about the farce of an adviser being fired on the basis of his advice. But the wider philosophy — the idea that all drug laws were worth defending in and of themselves — didn’t really take much of a battering. Everybody knew there were attendant problems which emerge off the back of illegal drugs, from inner city gangs and entire narco-states to swelling jails and the inevitable risks when consumption and sale happen only in the dark. And everybody knew that these costs were more worth it with some drugs than with others. All of this, everybody knew. But nobody said.

Now, suddenly, people do say. And the impetus, this time, isn’t weird old hippies who want the pigs to, like, chill. It’s American democracy. Earlier this month, in the states of Colorado and Washington, electorates voted for the legalisation of marijuana for recreational use. This is not your mealy-mouthed Dutch or Portuguese decriminalisation business, nor the convenient hypocrisies of the ‘medical marijuana’ they smoke in California and elsewhere. This is making pot legal so that people can legally smoke it for fun.

It’s a biggie. But it is not yet, to use the vernacular, in the baggie. The federal government remains opposed, and federal will, in the US, reigns supreme. But state-level devolution, on such matters, is surely the future. Why shouldn’t it be? And the real change here won’t be for the user, because the user tends to get away with it, anyway. The real change will be supply side. Shops, instead of dealers. Trade routes instead of smuggling routes. Farmers, instead of cartels. Indeed, why would the cartels bother? The only thing that makes marijuana a commodity profitable enough for criminals to bother with is its illegality. Knock that out and it becomes like gang warfare over basil.

I give it ten years. I really do. It’ll happen over there, and it’ll happen over here. Maybe not with the other, bigger drugs — cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and all the rest — because the health implications are more complex and the hypocrisies of enforcement, as a result, less hypocritical. But with dope? You’ll be buying it in your off-licence. ‘Why couldn’t we always do this?’ you’ll wonder. ‘What was the world on?’

Monday lunchtime. I’m on a walkabout in Crouch End, trying to find somewhere to sit down with my laptop and finish an article (not this article) after the walls at home started to close in. We’re big on cafés in Crouch End; it’s all we’re good for. So I check out a few. Costa: almost full. New independent one next to Tesco: full. Italian place next to bus stop: full. Starbucks: empty.

‘Oh good,’ I think, and I approach. Then I stop. For the last week, Starbucks, Amazon and others have been being pilloried for their tax arrangements, which can basically be summarised as ‘arrange things so as not to pay tax’. I disapprove of that, in a vague and woolly way. So I go to Costa instead, and start worrying where I’m going to buy my Christmas presents.

I’m aware of the North London Fallacy; the mistaken belief of columnists from postcodes with N at the start that theirs is a world representative of anything other than themselves. But in Britain, Starbucks is the North London Fallacy, so I’ve a sneaking feeling the one cancels out the other. Empty. In Crouch End. At lunchtime. This is big.

Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.

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  • Craig King

    Good article. Thanks for going to the trouble to think it through.

  • Peter Reynolds

    Good stuff, Both the article and the very fine quality cannabis soon to be available from licensed outlets in Britain.

    The one thing that makes me positively psychotic is that yesterday the Spectator gave Theresa May an award for being minister of the year! How about worst Home Secretary since Alan Johnson instead?

    After all Theresa May, James Brokenshire, Alan Johnson and Jacqui Smith bear personal responsibility for the fact that in Britain we have more 12 year olds smoking cannabis than anywhere else in the world.

    Tax and regulate to protect children, provide safe and effective medicine, undermine organised crime and boost the UK economy by up to £9.3 billion pa.


    • James Anderwald

      search for and read the cannabis culture article “Ganja Mothers, Ganja Babies” THEN tell me it’s actually bad for children. Oh or how bout look up WHO Cash Hyde WAS, and why he died. the only thing we need to protect our children from is our own perverted beliefs and predators, be them human or otherwise. Beliefs because when used and held onto like a “true belief”, a person will do ANYTHING to refuse to acknowledge the truth. i used to think that maybe anglo’s can fix things themselves, when i turned 7 reality hit me and now i know better. most humans will hold on to a belief longer and harder then any thought, and definitely more then any facts or logic. like the entire invasion of the americas. yeah. tell me how in the world that invasion was made possible? well im not going to wait for a reply on that and tell you first. a little thing called the doctrine of discovery. oh and westward expansion on the america’s continent? MANIFEST DESTINY. NOT ONE THING about either of those documents is logical. in EVERY society of the “old world” there are laws against stealing from other people. its rude. but what? 600 years ago was a hiccup? and such a large one that the continued desecration and destruction of the subsequent entire planet was supposed to what? go by un noticed? or are you not understanding that the things RELIGIOUS ADULTS believe are the things they hold true, and then just defend their position while either attacking or nagging, the whole time playing the hypocritical game. your from england yes? tell me, what part of the fact of saying your a subject isn’t abhorred to you?

      subject of course, means:

      Definition of SUBJECT
      : one that is placed under authority or control: as a : vassal b (1) : one subject to a monarch and governed by the monarch’s law (2) : one who lives in the territory of, enjoys the protection of, and owes allegiance to a sovereign power or state
      so from my understanding you believe that you are being protected by england? thats why the usa had to stop germany from decimating the entire island? oh…no wait, that was because america couldn’t have another nation pulling what it did 600 years prior. MORE native americans died from the Anglo Invasion then died in ANY OTHER WAR EVENT IN HISTORY, especially the “holocaust”, which has laughable numbers compared to the amount of indigenous americans that died from the before mentioned invasion.

      THE good part about the invasion is the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. evil may use the truth to further its agenda, but it still is truthful. like that all (hu)man’s created equally, with 3 inalienable rights, it also, hahaha, starts out with : When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people
      to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,
      and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal
      station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a
      decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should
      declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

      This is important, mainly because if it was true THEN, it will also be true now, before then, and forever after. which translates into: ALL (wo)/MEN are created equally, and that when HUMAN events require (which is all events related to us ALL) it, all things but being human needs to be let go of because when the fit hits the shan, and it comes down to it, we are all just human. we need not look anywhere but at this fact to know it is true. your not a english human. your a 100% full blooded HUMAN.

      Do you understand what a Human Being is? do you understand above all else that every sub race of the human race will always be at war amongst itself as long as it acknowledges that people are “african american” or “english” or “dutch”‘ or “christian” or “muslim” or “jew” OR “male” or “female” before the base fact that we are all human first. we were all conceived (or nowadays invitro’d) and we all start out as a HUMAN FETUS. there is NO racial or sexual profile for a fetus, nor is there any profile except “human” attached to a human fetus. (aside the always impressive and hypocritical “abomination”) so when as a whole we all hold that above everything else, we will all stop holding beliefs before fact, or logic.

      because logically, ask yourself: WHY are human’s the only things that Pay to live on this planet?

      then ask yourself, is giving up your personal responsiblity and right to keep and bare arms worth the protection all the people that died during the bombing of england by germany back in the day? were you alive back then? do you know anyone that was? if not and if so, then ask them about it. ask them how they felt as they watched helplessly as their family’s and friends ran for cover while the town was exploding around them.

      or come and visit america and ask yourself while your waiting to clear the TSA checkpoint “is this a pose of a free person” because american’s sure are not free. they are so afraid of their government that they will censor themselves.

      the golden rule implemented with the knowledge gained herein and the understanding or responsibility and understanding of why protecting yourself is important by all the people of the world would serve us much better then giving invariable “ultimate power” to few individuals so they in turn can create things that will utterly destroy this planet. H bombs, A bombs….YOU do realize that just because the minutes to midnight clock is in the usa that it doesn’t apply to the entire world? HOW long as a whole did it take the human population of earth to get to the point that they are always close to “doomsday”, and by CHOICE!!!!!

      we choose to neglect our own self reliance and responsibility to delegate tasks to others, for protection from outward threats????? what kind of logic is that when we all know that that has served only one portion of the population, and it IS NOT The portion that is comprised of the poor “subjects” is it? rich get richer and poor stay poor or get more poor. that isn’t logical protection. thats you just give up your right to be free to do whatever you want to do in exchange for some easy living. when all us poor folk are gone, enslaved, or in prison, REMIND me how well not protecting yourself served the rest of mankind, cause i only use love, logic and humor to make points. maybe don’t use love @ anyone but my family, but logic and humor i use everywhere and for everyone.

      so by using only logic and humor we can all get along. it isn’t hard, you can tell from my non existent actual enemy list. (oh aside the haters that are on the wrong side of my view, since they would lose all they hold dear in exchange for a chance to be truly human.)

  • martinde

    “The only thing that makes marijuana a commodity profitable enough for
    criminals to bother with is its illegality. Knock that out and it
    becomes like gang warfare over basil.” Any thoughts about what the criminals might then do – switch to street crime? Burglary? Maybe raid those off-licences? It’s unlikely they’ll go straight. It sometimes seems as though drug dealing is a sort of black economy, similar to prostitution: half tolerated by the police who have enough to occupy their time and realise it will never be eliminated, and a source of income for elements within society unable or unwilling to find more conventional employment. And, of course, while the sons of Cabinet ministers regard drugs as part of the “fun” to which they are entitled their suppliers will carry on.

    • Hugo Rifkind

      Um . . . what? You seem to be arguing that we need to keep some things illegal so that criminals don’t fall idle. Dread to think what your dad did.

      • martinde

        Dad worked from 12 to 65 in various factories, except for 1941-45 when he was conscripted into the navy, so no need for any dread. I expect he would be, like I am, bemused that better educated and more intelligent people advocate state regulation and taxation of cannabis (and possibly other now illegal drugs). Legalisation seems likely to legitimise cannabis use, as well, as currently with cigarettes, leading to 18-year olds buying on behalf of those younger, and taking a cut. The present situation appears to be neither satisfactory nor easily soluble. I wish, no doubt vainly, drug users would simply give up the habit. That would also lead to to low grade criminals, as Sour Alien terms them, looking for alternative income. I doubt many would seek and, if they did, find more conventional work, But they would not “fall idle” – more likely they’d move into the sort of activities I mentioned.

    • Sour Alien

      Sooo a safer society has criminals in control of the cannabis market? As opposed to one that has decided to legally regulate it and do things properly? Why would criminals, automatically switch to street crime and burglary if cannabis was legally regulated? I dont get your logic. A drugs policy is about harm reduction, not gifting control to criminals. No one is saying legal regulation is a magic wand, but it will reduce harm and associated crime, as we see in countries that have taken control of the cannabis market instead of sweeping the issue under the carpet, gifting control to low grade criminals

  • Alex Mannion

    Being 16, I’d say that’s perfect timing! Thanks for the article!

  • Sour Alien

    Nice article, but you mention ‘skunk-cannabis’

    Skunk is just the name of a very specific strain bred by the Dutch years and years ago, known as Skunk#1. Many different strains have been bred. Skunk is just the name, like ‘White Widow’, Or ‘Purple Haze’. Names usually relate to genetics, taste or location of plant. People who use the term skunk to describe strong strains of cannabis are misinformed. Its like calling all strong alcohol JackDaniels. It doesnt make sense. Further more, the Skunk strain isnt exactly known for strength, but more attitude of growth. So to recap, skunk isnt slang for strong strains of weed. But prohibitionists and misinformed people will use that term to further the demonization.

    Skunk is slang for something though, its slang for a process that has gone on for thousands of years. Separating males from females to produce seedless flower buds. So i guess you could argue ‘Skunk’, is slang for ‘Sensimillia’ Which means Seedless. ‘Highgrade’ is also another slang term for non pollinated cannabis. This doesn’t mean stronger cannabis, that’s down to the specific genetics and cannabinoid profile.

    The golden rule for any dealer, is to sell the strongest strains. Its not that cannabis has necessarily got stronger, but you havent a choice for Low THC or CBD rich strains.

  • Alan Hobday

    I reckon it will be a lot sooner than ten years. A change in the law is long overdue.

  • No 7

    I’ve had some great times smoking pot, in the past. The main problem is the smoking, rather than the pot. If the government was really worried about the people, they’d investigate a better way of taking it, for fun. Smoking causes cancer.

    • Sour Alien

      Smoking tobacco causes cancer. Smoking cannabis (with no tobacco) is not associated with head/neck/lung cancer or COPD. I suggest you google the study conducted by Pulmonary researcher Donald Tashkin, its the biggest study done of its kind.

      Smoking is harmful, full-stop. But Cannabis smoke contains cannabinoids which have anti carcinogenic properties and protects one from the dangers of smoking. Adding tobacco will give the cannabinoids a bigger job to do, smoking anything without cannabinoids, like cigarettes reduces lung capacity by 10 fold with each pack. Amazingly smoking pure cannabis increases lung capacity by 1 fold. Not a lot, but an increase science recognises.

      But i agree, if the government really cared, they wouldn’t be trying to scare us using the BLF as a megaphone for misinformation. They would suggest Toking Pure, or even better, not smoking at all, but vaporizing, eating or drinking it. Those are the best way to consume cannabis, the worst way is mixing it with tobacco in paper bleached white.

      • Dec

        smoking weed is still associated with emphysema, and is much worse than tobacco smoke in that regard. however there are many different ways of taking it other than smoking it.

        • Peter Reynolds

          Not true Dec, Tashkin 2006 and a 20 year study published in the AMA journal this January shows no link between cannabis and COPD

        • Sour Alien

          You say all this with out any info to back it up, no evidence nor study agrees with you. Like i said, seek Tashkins research.

      • Krymsun

        “Amazingly smoking pure cannabis increases lung capacity by 1 fold. Not a lot, but an increase science recognizes.” Uhmm, wouldn’t one-fold be no increase at all? a 2-fold increase would be 100% more; a 1-fold increase would be 0% more. Indeed, ‘not a lot’. Sorry to nit-pick, I agree with the rest of your reply, but that one phrase discomfitted me.

        • Sour Alien

          Umm, sorry i would rather take the word of Pulmonary researcher Donald Tashkin than yours, but hey, dont take my word for it, seek Tashkins research

    • Wayne Phillips

      Vaporizers eliminates the smoking aspect entirely and as an added bonus it adds a whole other realm to the taste aspect. The only downside is good vaporizers are costly. There are however some some very reasonable ones that are available.

      • jim dandy

        i agree about vaporizers ,but weed used to taste real good than they started put fertilzers and chemicals in it. you never lived till you tasted Columbian Gold

  • Maharg Smith

    The current sad state of affairs in which the current bunch of Westminister incumbents are faced with personifies the rift between myself,(Joe Public) and their exalted selves.Cannabis personifies this.
    I am told by my local mp Alistair Burt,when I petitioned his views on the subject of cannabis, that “400,000 benefits claimants are drug users”.No mention of alcohol.He then went on to say that “If “THESE PEOPLE” (?) could be helped to become more productive members of society a great deal of money could be saved or better spent.
    I and most of my family enjoy smoking or eating cannabis.Cannabis has sustained us as a family through times of trouble and grief and now I am infirm it is a constant source of comfort and pain relief.None of us has come to any harm due to our consumption of cannabis.
    Who do you believe me or Mr Burt

  • Knives_and_Faux

    I smoke a little to ease lifelong back pain and it’s far better than any prescription drug that has been pushed onto me by a doctor. Couldn’t care less what the legal status is, the pinch faced prohibitionists don’t dictate to me what I choose to take. As long as the police have enough resources to batter down the door of a pensioner with an ounce then the police cuts have not gone far enough.

    • VacantPossession

      I can see that; Makes sense to me. I don’t like regulation however I really didn’t want my child receiving an early induction. I’d have like him to have had a childhood. Unfortunately I can’t see how protecting adult rights and those of minors can be reconciled.

      • downbutnotout

        Through legalisation… Just as in most cases an off license owner won’t sell to those underage wanting alcohol, neither would they with cannabis. Under the current rules this decision is left to a street corner drug dealer… Which would you expect to make the right choice?

  • VacantPossession

    My comments to this are my observations as a parent.

    I watched my son smoke his way to oblivion with cannabis from the age of about 14 onwards. We knew immediately from his paranoid behaviour and sallow blank expression when he’d had a spliff or two; He was rude, confrontational, selfish, violent and lazy. My son became known to the police. Keeping him at school was a Herculean task and his execrable results in the most important GCSE’s will remain with him. The one saving grace has been keeping him on his mechanics course; We almost lived at the college persuading the college not to expel him. He now has a job and he recognises the life sapping effects it had on him, his aspirations and on those that are still deluding themselves as they smoke their way to an ambitionless life of state dependence, petty crime and bitterness about their lot.

    It really didn’t matter what barriers we put in his way, he believed in his pushers and what he perceived as his gangster life more than he did in his family.

    I can see that legalising cannabis might remove the clandestine excitement for youth to see cannabis as something exciting and mature, however don’t let anyone tell you that smoking cannabis is a habit that doesn’t affect anyone else and has no lasting effect on an individual. We are still living with the fallout.

    • Dec

      i smoke nearly everyday, i hold down a great job, that has me running all over the country, with lots of responsibility. weed can have that effect on people, but only if the individual lets that happen.

      • VacantPossession

        I don’t think it’s appropriate for children; You are an adult and as far as I am concerned you can smoke or even burst into flames if you so choose. You are equipped to self-examine and hopefully listen to your freends and loved ones.

        My own personal experiences lead me to believe that most think they have it under control (like other drugs) but in fact are the slave and not the master.

        • flux5000

          As a father of four boys I would welcome full regulation/legalisation. This is would be a better way to ensure more thorough controls, instead of the dealer that only wants money and couldn’t care less about age, mental state or anything else for that matter.
          If it was regulated we could then have proper public health campaigns, such as we have had with Tobacco, to great effect I might add.
          I do agree with you that it should not be available to the youth, or anyone under the age of 18.

          • VacantPossession

            The dealers are often other children, perhaps slightly older. Nice. In my many conversations with the college tutors, they could tell who had had a spliff – my son used to forget everything and be absolutely useless academically and that seemed to be a useful symptom and indicator of usage (apart from the grinder, scales, rizla and ‘behavioural indicators’).

            If you want to stamp out drugs for minors then the best place to start is the playground and school. The schools know and so do the other pupils.

          • my_pet_dog

            “If you want to stamp out drugs for minors then the best place to start is the playground and school. The schools know and so do the other pupils.”

            No, the best way to start is to stop making criminals out of people who wont to use pot. It should be on the same par as alcohol, schools and such should not tolerate either for people under 18 yrs. Why make some one a criminal for having some pot? It’s just a plant ya know? Pretty easy to grow.

            And alot of outdoor pot can be very strong too, like any vegetable or fruit which is grown inside under lights, or outdoors under the sun, fertilisers and nutrients can be in anything.

    • Peter Reynolds

      Michael Phelps, Steve Jobs, Bill Hewlett, Dave Packard, Anthony Joshua, Richard Branson, just about every millionaire British musician since the 1960s, Carl Sagan, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Aniston, me – “an ambitionless life of state dependence, petty crime and bitterness”??

      I think you’re a touch confused old chap, vacant even?

      • VacantPossession

        I don’t feel children are equipped to deal with it; Mine weren’t. I clearly stated my observations were as a parent and I really have no wish or interest in what you do as an adult. Perhaps the confusion is all yours, old chap.

        • Sketel

          Children are ill-equipped because there’s so much nonsense surrounding the drug that they stop trusting us grown-ups. Yes, drugs can be harmful, but current drug education is unrealistic, exaggerated, and simply says ‘drugs are bad’ and kids can see right through that. If we could educate kids in having a safe, responsible attitude to drugs rather than trying to just scare them out of it, perhaps we’d have less problems. Maybe if we were honest about illegal drugs (although I’d advocate them not being illegal), they’d trust us more concerning the legal ones (alcohol) too.

          I’m very sorry to hear about your son’s problems with cannabis. However, I am skeptical about the ‘rude, confrontational, and violent’ part — these are not common side effects of cannabis, which is usually associated with being relaxed, easygoing and passive. Are you sure he hadn’t also been drinking, or if something else was bothering him at the time?

          • VacantPossession

            He’s all right now, thanks; In fact I am very proud of him. There is no difference in the procurement of sinsemilla or the weakest part of an ordinary plant, the difference between a shandy and JD. All I can say is what we experienced with an inexperienced growing mind & whatever he was smoking was dysfunctional in the extreme. He’s made his own mind up now.

        • my_pet_dog

          It is not supposed to be available to children. Children should be under the guard of parents as much as possible. It is the same with any drugs, alcohol and tobacco included. Keeping it illegal and underground then of course it will always be easy for kids to get it, take it to the shops to sell and they will ask for id and have limits on how much can be bought at once, and anyone providing to a minor faces getting in trouble.

          Parents have to be close to their kids if they can and try and teach them about life and be good parents (rather than them getting whatever info from same age friends etc), its hard sometimes, and some kids will never listen, but some will. Education. Just because some kids abuse it and go mental does not mean the rest of society (18+) shouldn’t have the right or choice to buy it and use it if the wont to.

      • jim dandy

        no reason to be mean old crap

    • Hugo Rifkind

      This is a point worth making. I am, obviously, strongly in favour of legalising cannabis, but that doesn’t mean I’m strongly in favour of cannabis itself. Many adults I know no longer touch the stuff, and I don’t know anybody – including me – who’d be thrilled at the thought of their children developing a passion for it. The same is true, obviously, of vodka, but it would be dishonest not to acknowledge that when cannabis does real harm, it does so particularly to the young.

      However, I’d suggest that your own unhappy tale – or rather, that of your son – is an argument for legalisation, rather than against. Or, to put it another way, it is a fine example of why the current arrangement doesn’t work, and the costs that it has. Illegality clearly functioned as no barrier to your son getting hold of his stash. But, it did make him a figure on the margins of society, perhaps associating with bad and dangerous company, rather than one simply regarded as somebody with a health problem. You say you are still living with the fallout, but those issues, presumably, are not all mental health ones. They are also behavioural, and to do with an adolescence spent in conflict with everything.

      The question we have to ask ourselves is whether legalisation would lead to more stories like this, or fewer. I can only believe the latter. For one thing, there’s the normalisation argument, as above – stories like this occur with alcohol, sure, but they follow an altogether more manageable pattern. For another, as I started this piece by saying, the economics of illegality have led to the dope trade becoming the skunk trade, and it’s precisely such lab-grown artificial constructs which so bugger up young minds. If the only food available was chocolate, similarly, you’d get pretty fat.

      • VacantPossession

        You are right about illegality being no barrier to procurement; I don’t like legislation preferring people to manage their own affairs responsibly. I know cannabis has useful medicinal purposes and I can’t see why people can’t have it for their own enjoyment although I don’t want to be passively subjected to it. My son is doing very well now and the outcome is the best possible; He has made up his own mind.

        I suspect he still has the occasional spliff but he is now a young man and a much changed one at that, with a job, aspirations and a future. The legacy I spoke of is of a wasted education which will continue to affect him unless he chooses to address it. The behavioural difficulties have receded with reduced usage and he is becoming the fantastic young man I always knew he was; Nevertheless I’d be surprised if I was the only one who has had experiences like this. Thank you for taking the trouble to respond.

        • observant llama

          your son’s experience sounds very similar to my own experience when i was smoking cannabis.

          I started smoking cannabis at age 11 and it had very negative effects on my education. I decided to skive school from year 10 so i could chill with my mates and smoke weed. I ruined my education and had to rectify that by doing courses after school. I Had anger issues before i started smoking due to certain reasons and the cannabis was the only thing that calmed me down hence why i relied on it so much, In fact i relied on it so much that when i didn’t have it i was a horrible person towards the people i loved.

          I don’t blame Cannabis for my short fall in school entirely, in fact i think that it was a collective of home life, rubbish schooling, bad circle of friends and cannabis.

          I think the whole education system needs reworking so that drug education is better then what it is and is informative and not just a pile of propaganda, also i think that drug education should be taught by people who have had first hand experience with drugs, not just what they have read in 1-20 year old reference books.

          all in all cannabis should be fully legalised for recreational use as it would fuel the economy, take billions of pounds out of the hands of career criminals that use that money to fund other crimes, and make it easier to regulate and control so children like me couldn’t get it so easily whenever we wanted.

          Cannabis is amazing for medical use and is good when used for recreation purposes but it, like all drugs should not be abused or underestimated.

          • VacantPossession

            It all sounds familiar and I wish you well. Apart from the Netherlands I am not aware of where else it is legalised and what effect its legalisation has had, I am very happy to learn from examples set by others; Because of what I have seen, I am cautious on the subject.

          • my_pet_dog
        • my_pet_dog

          “I suspect he still has the occasional spliff but he is now a young man and a much changed one at that”

          Exactly, he is not 14 anymore. Glad to hear he is doing well. Kids abuse all sorts of stuff growing up, lucky he didnt get into heroin or ghb and die of an OD. Pot doesn’t kill anyone.

    • G Mercier

      I’m sorry to hear this happened to your son. I don’t think cannabis is a good habit to have for a minor. That being said, I don’t believe that drinking alcohol is any better for a minor to consume. The reason teenagers smoke cannabis instead of drink alcohol is because it’s much easier to find cannabis than alcohol. Off licences ask for ID, cannabis sellers don’t. I believe the best way to prevent minors from consuming cannabis is to regulate cannabis like alcohol and control who can buy it with an 18+ age restriction like with alcohol.

      • VacantPossession

        Me neither. I can see the advantages of legalising/regulating however looking at alcohol as an example I am not encouraged.

        For me as a youth, having a pint in a pub was usually an environment where you would be left to your own devices for a pint & chat with friends; The landlord would evict troublemakers. With the rampant decline in the numbers of pubs which provide a managed adult social experience where the majority would rather not end their evening in fisticuffs, there has been the corresponding increase in unsupervised under age drinking in public places like town squares.

        Off licences introduced at least the concept of a barrier to sale to minors even if it wasn’t 100% effective, discount alcohol on sale in supermarkets has revolutionised the ability of minors to easily get hold of alcohol – and drink it ‘with bravado’ without supervision in public places.

        My point is I don’t want regulation but I do want responsibility; I cannot envisage a legislative (or not) environment that offers both freedom to responsible and hopefully considerate adults and protection for minors. In my opinion minors *do* need protection.

        Unfortunately the threat to minors seems to come from directions which are very difficult to manage/control; School, for instance. Once my kids go off to school I’d like to think they are safe but in reality there is a whole new nightmare world waiting to ensnare the vulnerable when they enter those gates.

    • jim dandy

      that can happen. that is why kids should’nt take drugs or own guns or drive cars. it was your job not to let him take drugs

    • my_pet_dog

      At 14? Well yes that IS too young to start smoking pot of course, the idea is for it to become available legally for people OVER 18 years of age. Education is the key here. People need to know it’s not going to do any good for anyones life to be smoking lots of high grade pot at under 18 yrs of age. Same with drinking lots of alcohol or any drugs really.

    • CR

      i no this may not change your mind, but just think about this idea, your son started smoking at 14, i think thats the problem as well as me i’ve seen my friends that started smoking at that age basically drop out. I think 14 year olds smoking is ridiculous.
      However with legalisation or regulation your son wouldn’t have been able to get it until he was 18. Example I’m sure you don’t see your son drinking or if he is not getting it from an off license.
      I started smoking when i was 18 (last year) and i believe the reason me and other of my friends havnt dropped out because our brain is a lot more developed. I have motivation and still no my limits of what o smoke and also appropriate times to smoke it i.e. not during exams

      Hope that helped made you think about the idea

  • G Mercier

    I disagree with Amazon not paying taxes, and the same with the sale of cannabis. The UK needs to regulate cannabis like alcohol and tax it.

    And you’re right about the illegality of cannabis causing its potency to increase. The very high potency of skunk is not the effect that many cannabis users are looking for, yet it has become the easiest cannabis to get hold of unfortunately.

    • anonabob

      quote… and you’re right about the illegality of cannabis causing its potency to increase. The very high potency of skunk is not the effect that many cannabis users are looking for, yet it has become the easiest cannabis to get hold of unfortunately.

      People who use strong Cannabis have released that if they put LESS in, they can make a cigarette or cake about the strength same as the weak stuff.

      • Sour Alien

        Skunk is not strong cannabis. Skunk is the name of a very specific strain of cannabis bred by the Dutch years ago. Not exactly known for strength. The term skunk-cannabis is a term used by prohibitionists to further the demonization.

        But your 100% right, no one drinks a pint of vodka, and stronger cannabis strains are not treated as the same as weaker strains or ones rich in CBD.

        • anonabob

          quote ‘Skunk is not strong cannabis….’

          Oh I wouldn’t say that. [;-)

          I hear nice tobacco free doobie made with….
          Seedsman -Skunk Haze
          Genetics: Skunk No. 1 x Original Haze
          Variety: Mostly Sativa (87.5%)
          Type: F1 Hybrid
          Harvest Date: November (oh yes)
          Flowering Period: 11 weeks
          THC Content: 20%-22%
          Characteristics: Excellent high and taste

          Knocks the hat of that seedy tied to a stick rubbish that’s round town

  • honeynutcornflakes

    you shouldn’t have clumped ecstasy along with cocaine and heroin; makes you sound like you don’t actually know what you’re talking about. bar this minor piece of ignorance, let’s hope cannabis is regulated properly soon. and ecstasy for that matter as this is another extremely soft drug and relatively one of the least harmful out there (despite it’s deceptive ‘class A’ status which is downright offensive to those who know better).

    • Hugo Rifkind

      Sorry – that was my poor phrasing. Obviously it doesn’t belong with heroin and cocaine. I’m not convinced it belongs with cannabis either, though. Smoking a joint, after all, is far safer that riding a horse…

      • modeluprightcitizen

        But perhaps not if you’re doing both at the same time!

  • jway

    We keep hearing about “legalizing marijuana for recreational use”, but it really appears to be an attempt to legalize marijuana as a far safer alternative to alcohol.

    According to the CDC, alcohol kills 80,000 people every year in the U.S. while marijuana kills none, and marijuana’s addiction potential is about on par with coffee.

    Since marijuana is far safer and far less addictive than alcohol, we could GREATLY reduce the amount of harm and addiction in society by giving people the right to switch from the more harmful drug, alcohol, to the less harmful drug, marijuana.

  • HoneybunchKominsky

    Governments need drugs to be illegal because it does put the price up and some of that money filters into their own pockets. remember the opium wars and our financial interests in Hong Kong. As you rightly say legalisation is the only way to screw the mafias up . I am sorry to say this but when the Taliban were in Afghanistan they almost eliminated the poppy, since we have been in charge the the tonnage per annum has increased tenfold. Like Bill Clinton I never inhaled and managed to remain sane, i am still eagerly awaiting the flashbacks i was promised !!
    As for Starbucks Coffee is more dangerous than E

  • Kenneth Eckersley

    Interesting that our erstwhile reporter “came across skunk” in a bar, confirming the intimate relationship between alcohol and cannabis (of all strengths) which statistics constantly reveal.

    Three-quarters of those who tried cannabis for the first time, did so during a drinking session, having previously – when sober – refused.

    But our laws, which permit children to practice getting used to alcohol for 13 years from 5 to 17 years play a huge part in having created today’s binge drinking PLUS the huge number of 0.5 to 27 percent THC cannabis users.

    Hugo Rifkind’s headline seems to forecast of an even closer relationship between booze and cannabis. I feel sure however, that he does not want to see the freedom for our kids to use alcohol at home from 5 years up, to be extended to cannabis.

    Kenneth Eckersley,
    CEO Addiction Recovery Training Services (ARTS),
    a not-for-profit community support operation established in 1975.

    • modeluprightcitizen

      You peddle the notion Mr Eckersley (presumably because you’re the very well-paid CEO of a US-right wing religious fundamentalist-founded company that contributed to Breakdown Britain (2006), by Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice), that abstinence-based approaches to drug addiction are far better than harm reduction policies, despite there being a much larger body of collated evidence which shows the opposite. The reality is that abstinence (putting aside the simple economic comparison) isn’t particularly successful at all when judged on its own terms (relapse), with roughly 75-80% relapse for alcoholics, and 60% for heroin addicts, despite your ‘customers’ having up to a year of intensive residential and outpatient counselling programmes (needless to say very, very expensive – but hey ho, you’re not in it for a profit let alone the money, so that doesn’t really matter). Presumably the convincing evidence you gave IDS was the kind a generalised fantasy statistics you present about the ‘intimate relationships’ between alcohol and cannabis use above (in 75% of cases – a little bit over-generalised that one I think), and the slippery slope of being drunk rather than sober eliding into problematic cannabis use (weak weed or strong skunk, it’s all equally addicting as far as you’re concerned), presumably empirical ‘information’ derived from the ‘addicts’ that you enrol on your programmes (not very representative of the vast majority of alcohol and cannabis users – who are casual users and aren’t addicts of booze or cannabis at all of course, but we mustn’t let a few minor corrective details get in the way of your wider polemic). And it’s all rooted in access to booze as a child and if only we didn’t get access to booze so young we all wouldn’t be here now as crazed cannabis addicts arguing for legalization. These substances of abuse are all bad, especially that booze stuff, but cannabis follows, then smack and crack, just like night follows day. They all take us down that slippery slope that ends in your addiction clinic, but, hey presto, we can end up leaving as fresh as babies again as long as we all follow your guidance and live pure and upright model citizen lives.

      You’re grossly oversimplifying highly complex processes leading to addiction, and then you expect us to take what you say seriously? If I was an addict I don’t think I’d take advice from you for one moment. And for someone who’s an addiction counsellor you should perhaps be concerned about that.

      What Hugo Rifkind says in his article (about first encountering skunk in bars, and buying it from the local off-license) is all proof positive for you that booze and cannabis and all the rest are all equally as bad and they all lead you to the same place. And of course Hugo Rifkind’s not really arguing for the legalization of cannabis for adults at all, but for access to cannabis by 5-17 year olds – just like the demon booze, because of its widespread availability and outdated and arcane age laws. But no he wouldn’t really want that would he?

      Get real! There’s no one suggesting anything like that other than you. You’re just playing on the ‘but what about the kiddies’ issues. Legal access to booze for children is clearly a problem and should be addressed, but we don’t have to have the self-same legal problems with cannabis, so its disingenuous to even suggest that. We could legalize and regulate cannabis in such a way that many of the problems associated with booze (like age restrictions, advertising, licensing hours, general availability), can be much more tightly controlled and policed than they are now.

      Even your coalition cronies have dropped (or maybe just forgotten) your abstinence-only approach now its come to having to pay the cost, because they’ve finally realised the price of your method is too high and the success isn’ all it’s cracked up to be. Addiction’s for life. You should know that better than anyone. Not just during a trial period. But you’ll only get paid for by results you’ll say? Only after a year, and only if it works? That’s what it says on your website. What do you want to be paid for if it’s not for profit – oh, I forgot, it’s very expensive to run, with all those well-paid mates (sorry professional associates) whose expenses need to be covered. On one level you’re touting for more business for your addiction clinic, but on another you’re pursuing an essentially moral agenda dressed up as social concern for addicts in general, and for the kiddies in particular.

      Well your approach might well work for some addicts, but not for all. You people (your organisation and supporters) make out it’s the way for everyone, but it’s not. Some people need different kinds of support, medicinal or otherwise. You just make out your approach is the best because essentially you’re a moralist who doesn’t want anyone to take drugs. Until you come absolutely clean about that, then no one will take you seriously. You disapprove of all forms of pleasure if it doesn’t meet with your rigid Christian orthodox worldview. Drugs is your big bogeyman, as well as your big bucks business. It’s a right-wing, religious fundamantalist ideology you’re really pursuing, but you don’t have the neck to admit it. You don’t like people taking drugs, either casually or problematically, because you simply disapprove of drugs period. You purport to expound deep social concern (helping those poor addicts and expressing worries about the kids), but it’s really just a way of justifying your own moral imperatives and making a nice bundle in the process.

      • valedictorian16

        yeah, yeah whatever,- but aren’t you doing the same thing with moral imperatives, as Mr Eckersley: just different ones.

        I think most of the problems people have with drugs and alcohol would disappear, if underlying social problems in society were addressed, making the whole legalization argument just an interesting side dish, not the main course.
        Just being right or wrong about the side dish, won’t fix anything.
        If it is legalized, I’d like to see the new nirvana industry cough up money towards a new social initiative to help people with addiction problems, to harder drugs, but imagine it will be just like St*arbucks, they’ll just find new ways to circumvent doing any such thing.

  • SChorley

    10 years more hate a resentment….I think not 10 months more like.

    • Peter Reynolds

      I hope you’re right. The present situation makes me really sick at the dishonesty, prejudice and hypocrisy. It makes me want to vomit – violently!

      • flux5000

        The way you block people on your website for expressing their views makes a lot of people want to vomit too….

        • Peter Reynolds

          Undertake to stop your use of foul language, personal attacks and trolling by emailing and our admin team will consider unblocking you.

          • Craig

            The world convention on global drugs policy is to be held in 2016. With the changes in America and elsewhere I hope to see cannabis removed from the list. This will at least remove one of the arguments often used for not reassessing the situation. It as I understand was only added at Egypts request at the 11th hour of the meeting due to problems they had with separatist groups in northeastern Egypt.

  • Cannabis For Autism

    Cannabis is medicine for autism, prohibiting cannabis is sheer cruelty.

    • jim dandy

      how bout cancer thats a death sentence without cannabis

      • Cannabis For Autism

        Yes, evidence is mounting so we can almost say that prohibition of cannabis is genocide, and those responsible will soon stand trial to answer that charge.

  • Jack stokes

    The tobacco trade love this, have you all gone nuts, cough your lungs up then.

  • my_pet_dog

    I hope it becomes legal to buy in Australia sooner than 10 years time!

  • William Blakes Ghost

    Legalising cannabis will only make things worse. It is not a case of cornering the market but more a case of opening a gateway to so much more.

    It will become an addition to the legal nicotine and alcohol binge many indulge in on a weekend. People will then demand something else (no doubt illicit) to give them the ‘thrill’ of being rebellious against the state and to provide that extra kick that constant cannabis taking no longer provides.

    Criminals will of course be happy to supply them new products given the gap in their business cannabis legalisation would have caused. No doubt the alternatives will be stronger (and if criminals get their way more addictive as well) and have more severe health effects.

    The Health and Criminal Justice systems will then come under further pressure and more people will have their lives ruined by yet another legalised substance (which of course will have its very own bureacracy in Westminster to administer it that will at some point fail utterly) The government will parasite themselves off it via duties levies and VAT whilst condemning it as bad for society at the same time.

    A faction of the electorate will scream blue murder everytime the Chancellor raises the cannabis duty in the budget and all we will get is more intellectually damaged junkies at the end of it and bigger health and criminal justice bills.

    Not to mention in the interimwe will see 1001 stories of how drug taking has been connected to dementia and loss of mental faculties (whether true or not) and another 1001 stories of employment discrimination as a result of cannabis usage. Their will be the incessant debate over the differences or lack of them of smoking cannabis and nicotine and how the rights of one should or shouldn’t apply to the other.

    Quite frankly I really think we can all do without seeing a rerun of this most predictable of failed social policy dramas (legalise, tax it, attempt to control it, lose control of it, demonise it and if push comes to shove ban it (publicly if not totally)). We really cannot afford the distraction of it let alone the extra costs in the short to mid-term and probably can’t afford it in the long-term either and on top of that I really cannot bare to watch the overbearing sanctimonious hypocritical government posturing once they decide to demonise it as they would one day and as they have done with nicotine and alcohol.

    The answer to legalising Cannabis is simple. JUST DON’T.

    • Earthdog

      Um – just need to point out that alcohol is a narcotic…. a drug… so what’s your point love

  • Steven Efstathiou

    Hugo makes an excellent point about the toxicity or strength of cannabis rising because of its illegality. However, even if the drug were to be legalised, where would the supplies come from? There’s no incentive for growers, either here or in the Netherlands, to go back to basics and produce the herb in its natural state, and it’s too costly to import weed from Africa, Asia or the Middle East.

    In an ideal world, cannabis, opium and coca leaves would be produced at source, legally exported and used for remedies and recreational purposes alike. All that stands in the way is the voracious demands of the alcohol, pharmaceutical and beverage industries.

  • William Blakes Ghost

    Actually if it is legalised the most interesting thing will be to observe will be the politics of where people stand outside the pub. Will the smokers and junkies mix or will their be a level of apartheid. Which will be perceived by ‘healthy society’ as the most “unclean”?

  • jeffrey davies

    dont tell cameroooon he start taxing it when and if

  • English Fuhrer

    Legalise it now.

  • Earthdog

    Fabulous article and I do hope you’re right. As a cannabis user for some 30 years I can tell you that the educated of us are happliy growing our own personally selected strain in a small and perfectly designed tent in our bedroom. Don’t care whether they legalise it or not. I’m sorted thanks.

  • David Lindsay

    You and I were born in the same year, and, although I have taken any illegal drug, this article certainly took me back. However, working as I do with undergraduates, I am afraid that you are simply out of date. Among the younger generation now, a very few people take a large amount of drugs, but everyone else never touches them. The people who might occasionally have a spliff or two at parties no longer exist. Illegal drug use is now a small and declining minority interest.

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