HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Ban Tobacco, Legalise Cannabis - Are We Barmy?
Pubdate: Mon, 19 Jan 2004
Source: Daily Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: 2004 Telegraph Group Limited
Author: W F Deedes


The law on cannabis is confusing, complains Sir John Stevens, London's 
Commissioner of Police. It's not just the law, Commissioner, it's the 
national state of mind on this subject that confuses. It strikes me as barmy.

We are agreed, are we not, that smoking cigarettes is bad for the nation's 
health. Everything is being done to discourage it. Those who persist in 
smoking are drummed out of railway carriages, public places, offices and an 
increasing number of restaurants.

Hand-in-hand with this health-conscious campaign goes a determined crusade 
to legalise the smoking of cannabis. It is grossly unfair, these crusaders 
declare, to license tobacco and alcohol yet deny pleasure to those who 
enjoy an occasional spliff.

In the days when I knew something about dangerous drugs, sat on government 
committees dealing with them and talked to schools about them, I learnt a 
bit about cannabis. In truth the occasional spliff does most people no more 
harm than the occasional cigarette or cigar.

But cannabis as a habit will affect different people in different ways, 
some of them harmfully. Most of the stuff on sale now is stronger than it 
was in the days I studied it, and some of the girls we interviewed 
mentioned that relations with the boyfriend had become eerily estranged 
since he took it up.

Bear in mind how long it has taken us to discover the alleged perils of 
tobacco. Fifty years ago, some of us smoked like chimneys, without a care 
in the world. There was a splendid padre in the First World War who won 
renown by distributing Woodbine cigarettes to the troops in the front line. 
Would he be getting a round of cheers today?

If the next generation chose to smoke cannabis, some of them excessively, 
we have no way of telling what the consequences might be for our national 
health. I think it unlikely that we would become a fitter nation.

The driving force behind legalising cannabis is threefold. It would ease 
life for those suffering certain brands of sickness. It would counter 
criminals engaged in selling the stuff. It would wave aloft the banner of 

Well, fine, but alongside a national effort, backed by ministers, to make 
smokers of tobacco feel ashamed of themselves for imperilling their own 
health and that of others and so running up bills on the National Health 
Service, it strikes me as a funny way to be going on. Yes, "barmy" is the 
word for it.

I strive to work up sympathy for the motorist who is going to pay a fiver 
more for speeding, but it's uphill work. Speed limits in this country are 
treated by so many motorists as guidelines. How far they choose to exceed 
them is left to their discretion.

I claim to have some insight into this because, years ago when I lived in 
my parliamentary constituency, I learnt on my agent's advice to observe 
speed limits in every village to avoid losing votes. After doing this for 
25 years, it became habit-forming, and I tend to go on driving through 
villages close to the 30mph mark.

What a dangerous indulgence this has become! Invariably there is someone 
behind me who wants to go at 35mph, 39mph, or even faster and brings this 
to my attention by driving a yard behind me. I would love to know how much 
insurance companies paid out last year on cars damaged by tailgating.

As George Trefgarne writes, there is talk by the Church of England of 
selling off some of the bishops' palaces. Why do we go on calling them 
"palaces"? Most of them are nothing of the kind and it puts the bishops in 
a false position.

In the 1930s, when I started to work in London, I was given space in my 
uncle's house in Bethnal Green at 17, Victoria Park Square, which once had 
been the Bishop of Stepney's palace. It was a lovely residence with a 
private chapel and a nice outlook, but it was no more a "palace" than the 
house I occupy now.
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