Pubdate: Fri, 23 Jan 2004
Source: Drug War Chronicle (US Web)
Author: Phillip S. Smith, Editor
Daily Telegraph
The Independent
The Observer
Daily Telegraph
Peterborough Evening Telegraph
The Times
Daily Record
Daily Telegraph
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)


A full-blown outbreak of Reefer Madness has occurred in Great Britain in 
the last couple of weeks as segments of British society react hysterically 
to impending changes in that country's cannabis laws. Under an 
already-approved reclassification scheme that will go into effect January 
29, cannabis will be downgraded from a Class B to a Class C drug. Changes 
in daily practice are expected to be minimal, with the primary difference 
being that police will generally no longer make arrests for simple cannabis 
possession. They will instead issue tickets.

In some aggravated cases -- public disorder, smoking near schools or around 
kids, repeat offenders -- police will make arrests.

But to read the British tabloid press and the pronouncements of some 
"experts," one would be forgiven for mistakenly believing that the British 
government was about to embark on a program of mandatory daily cannabis 
injections for all citizens and the fate of civilization rested in the 
balance. In the past few days, the tabloids have been full of half-baked 
reports linking cannabis to madness and mayhem:

"Hedge-Feud Coroner Warns About Dangers of Cannabis" (Daily Telegraph, 
January 16). The warning came in the case of a pot-smoking man who killed 
his neighbor after a simmering, years-long feud boiled over. Coroner Roger 
Atkinson called it "undoubtedly the worst case I've come across of somebody 
under the influence of cannabis." He added: "I have stressed that cannabis 
is not a harmless drug, and this demonstrates, if nothing else, how 
devastating its effects can be."

"Hedge Fracas Death Fuelled by Cannabis" (The Independent, January 16). 
Same incident, additional quote.

Detective Inspector Peter Bray of Lincolnshire Police told reporters 
outside the court: "It does nobody any good to use cannabis and can lead to 
these sorts of things." The Independent article, however, contained 
critical information not apparent from the headline: The shooter was drunk.

"Why I Ditched My Liberal Views on Dope" (The Observer, January 18). Here 
essayist Sue Arnold, who credits cannabis with saving her eyesight, 
explains that she changed her view after her college-age son "had what 
psychiatrists call 'a psychotic episode,' triggered by cannabis." Arnold is 
unclear about whether the diagnosis was made by a Cuban psychiatrist (her 
son was in Cuba) or from afar. "To cut a long, long story short, my son 
came home heavily sedated, spent six months in hospital in an intermediate 
care unit (ICU). He was prescribed different drugs and, after a series of 
events which are too difficult and painful to describe, has just resumed 
his final year at university. He's still on medication and will probably 
have to take it for ever. It goes without saying that if he ever smokes 
another spliff he will have a relapse."

"Ban Tobacco, Legalize Cannabis -- Are We Barmy?" (Daily Telegraph, January 
19). Here the essayist, WF Deeves, explores the contradictions between the 
two policies, and even concedes that limited marijuana use isn't so bad. 
"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 then he goes on to note that cannabis 
is stronger now and reports ill-effects, the most serious of which he 
mentions is that "some of the girls we interviewed mentioned that relations 
with the boyfriend had become eerily estranged since he took it up." Eerie 
or barmy?

You decide.

"Cannabis Law is 'Threat to Health'" (Peterborough Evening Telegraph, 
January 20). Cannabis reclassification is a "mental health time bomb" 
waiting to go off, warned Verina McEwen, the Peterborough Drug Action Team 
coordinator, adding that pot-smoking was a factor in 80% of inner-city 
mental health cases. "My fear is young people will be confused about the 
health risks," she said. "We know cannabis can be linked to confusion, both 
short-term and long-term, depression, and trigger more serious problems, 
such as paranoia."

"Doctors Support Drive Against Cannabis" (Times of London, January 20). The 
Times is no tabloid, but here the British medical establishment contributes 
to the climate of fear. Dr. Peter Maguire, deputy chairman of the British 
Medical Association's board of science, said: "The public must be made 
aware of the harmful effects that we know result from smoking this drug. 
The BMA is extremely concerned that the public might think that 
reclassification equals 'safe.' It does not. We are very worried about the 
negative health effects of smoking cannabis and want the Government to fund 
more research on this issue."

But none of those stories, as frighteningly dramatic as they are designed 
to be, can hold a candle to one that hit the British press on Sunday. In a 
shocking coincidence, just days before cannabis reclassification is 
scheduled to go into effect in Britain, the first purported cannabis 
overdose fatality was reported -- in Britain, no less! "Man Killed By 
23,000 Spliffs!" roared the Daily Record. "Cannabis Blamed as Cause of 
Man's Death," chimed in the Daily Telegraph. A real shocker, if true.

The story, however, appears to be a combination of a coroner's stab in the 
dark and the tabloids' insatiable appetite for titillation. Lee John 
Maisey, 36, died in August of unknown causes.

Those causes are still unknown, despite the coroner's verdict that "cause 
of death was probable cannabis toxicity." That verdict appears to be based 
solely on the fact that he had cannabinoids in his system and the coroner 
could find no other cause.

According to the Pembrokeshire Coroner's Office: "An inquest was held on 
18th December 2003 into the death of Lee John Maisey, who had died on 24th 
August 2003. A full autopsy had been carried out which had failed to reveal 
a cause of death.

A histological examination also failed to establish a cause of death and, 
in consequence, a toxicological examination on blood samples obtained was 
carried out by Forensic Alliance. The samples showed a high concentration 
of Carboxy-THC, consistent with heavy cannabis usage. There were also 
traces of cannabidiol, indicating that cannabis and/or cannabis resin was 
used within a few hours of death.

In the view of the pathologist, and in the absence of any other significant 
abnormality in spite of exhaustive investigation, it was likely that death 
occurred as a manifestation of cannabis toxicity.

The coroner recorded a verdict of death by misadventure and that the cause 
of death was probable cannabis toxicity.

"They've proven nothing. We're still at zero fatalities," said a leading 
marijuana researcher who asked to remain unidentified for employment 
reasons. "They have no more proved he died from cannabis toxicity than he 
died from Mad Cow Disease from drinking orange juice," he said. "If you 
read carefully, you see it wasn't even a firm diagnosis. This does not 
constitute proof, either medical or legal." When asked for an alternative 
explanation, he pointed to heart disease. "Most often, when someone of that 
age dies suddenly, it is from cardiac arrhythmia," he speculated. "This is 

Of course, such considerations did not stop a steady stream of British 
"drug experts" from confirming the fatal danger of cannabis.

Nor did it stop the Daily Telegraph from printing those ill-informed 
pronouncements. "This type of death is extremely rare," said Prof. John 
Henry, a toxicologist at Imperial College, London. "I have not seen 
anything like this before. It corrects the argument that cannabis cannot 
kill anybody."

Dr Philip Guy, a lecturer in addictions at the University of Hull, said: 
"Cannabis is not the nice hippy drug it used to be. It has been 
experimented with to produce stronger varieties." Guy guessed that Maisey 
had eaten himself to death on pot brownies. "I would not be surprised if in 
this case the deceased had ingested a fatal amount of cannabis."

And Tory shadow home secretary David Davis was all aflutter, using the 
alleged news to jab at the Labor government. "This highlights what we have 
been saying about the effects of cannabis all along. When will people wake 
up to the fact that cannabis can be a harmful drug? By reclassifying the 
drug David Blunkett has shown he has lost the war on drugs. In my eyes, 
it's nothing more than an admission of failure."

So did Tristan Millington-Drake, the chief executive of the Chemical 
Dependency Centre. "We have always taken the view that cannabis is an 
addictive drug, unlike the pedlars who try to persuade us that it is 
harmless," he said. "The government's decision to reclassify cannabis is a 

"All this was to be expected, the backlash is always waiting to pounce," 
said Danny Kushlick of the Transform Drug Policy Institute 
( As for the amazing coincidence related to the 
alleged cannabis fatality, Kushlick pronounced himself boggled. "That's 
quite something, isn't it?" he laughed wearily. "They've done the same 
thing with this mental health stuff. They find some sort of correlation, 
but the causality gets very spurious when you look at it closely, and the 
correlation turns out to be extremely tiny."

"We are witnessing the dying gasp of prohibition there" said the anonymous 
marijuana expert. "Now we see a whole spate of articles about 
schizophrenia. That argument has been around forever; it's been studied for 
115 years, ever since the Indian Hemp Commission in 1894, and the answer is 
always the same. The fact is, yeah, some people smoke and seem to go nuts 
for awhile, but it is self-limiting, and there is no evidence whatsoever 
that you can create schizophrenia with cannabis. People who are susceptible 
to schizophrenia could have problems, but at the same time, there are many 
schizophrenics who find it helps their symptomology."

And all of this over a simple rescheduling of cannabis. "The change is 
really minimal," said Kushlick. "For the police, they have to rely on their 
arrest guidelines, not the reclassification, to get that presumption 
against arrest. Ultimately, this should lead to fewer arrests for 
possession. The fact is, for the amount of furor around this, the 
government could have made a much bolder move."

To read the coroner's report in the "marijuana overdose death," visit online. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake