Pubdate: Sat, 01 Aug 2015
Source: Daily Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: 2015 Telegraph Media Group Limited
Note: The author has asked to remain anonymous


As thousands urge decriminalisation of the drug, the mother of one 
former addict recalls the trauma her family went through

'If you think your children will be safe from drugs outside the state 
system, think again' 'We began to sleep with our cash under our 
pillows and locked away anything that could be sold'

Ihave spent more time arguing about the legalisation of cannabis than 
most; more than anyone would ever want to. It seems I have to 
continue. Last Saturday, a petition to legalise cannabis amassed the 
100,000 signatures it needs to ensure the Government consider it for 
a parliamentary debate. Since then, numbers have climbed 
further  past 150,000. In the same week, Dorset, Derbyshire and 
Surrey police have signalled they plan to follow Durham's lead in 
turning a blind eye to smallscale cannabis farmers and smokers.

All the indications are that, sooner or later, smoking a joint will 
be seen as no worse than downing a glass of Pinot Grigio at the end of the day.

I'd make an educated guess and say that many pushing for 
decriminalisation know very little about the drug itself, and are 
certainly not the parents of children who suffer from an addiction to 
it. Otherwise they would see this hopelessly naive step for what it 
is: a harmful experiment that will play with the lives of an entire generation.

Legalise cannabis and you remove one of the few tools left in the 
armoury of parents struggling to extricate their child from its 
addictive clutch  that the law is on their side.

My son began smoking skunk cannabis (a potent form) when he was 13, 
and  after three-and-a-half nightmare years  stopped when he was 17. 
Throughout this time, we were able to argue with him that his actions 
were wrong; that he was using a drug that had been declared illegal 
for good reasons.

"If you get a criminal record for drug possession or dealing, you 
will never be able to visit the United States," we'd say. True or 
not, you would be surprised how much this threat resonated with a 
teenager obsessed with American culture, films and music.

But threats did not always work. Sometimes we were so frightened of 
our son's violent behaviour, brought on by skunk, that we called the 
police; on another occasion, when he was 14, he was arrested for 
possession. He was lucky not to get a criminal record.

In those moments, you take stock as parents. It feels unbelievable, 
surreal. Officers are standing in your lovely home, the place where 
you reared your babies, where you took their photograph wearing their 
first school uniform, the place that is the font of all your 
ambitions for them. This is the moment those dreams collapse and turn 
to rank fear  fear that your child has become a monster.

Both my husband and I work in the media, and have reasonable, though 
not huge, incomes. Our son and daughter attended private schools with 
Ben (not his real name), the eldest, passing easily into an all-boys 
day school.

Here, I caution you oh-so-liberal parents: if you think your kids 
will be safe from drugs and other temptations if you avoid the state 
system, think again  my son scored his first cannabis from the 
captain of the rugby team in his private school.

When it all began, in his third year of secondary school, we were not 
immediately suspicious; more concerned about him generally. We knew 
something was very wrong, but it was hard to pinpoint what, because 
the problems were so numerous. He was failing at school, and even 
began to lose interest in sport  his passion. He was disorganised, 
confrontational and furious. He hung out with friends who seemed to 
do little more than maraud about parks. If we tried to control him, 
by removing his phone or Oyster card, it caused terrifying rows.

We knew  we could smell  that he was smoking cigarettes, but it was 
my husband who first caught him with a joint, smoking it with friends 
in the garden. He was just 13. That day, the fight began  between us, 
him and the drug.

Skunk is not the same stuff as people smoked 20 years ago. The 
chemical components that produce a "high" can be up to 30 times stronger.

Skunk stinks. The fermented, heavy oily smell is one you tune into 
quickly, as a parent. It is a sign of danger. I still pass people in 
the street, catch a whiff of it on their clothing and feel 
distressed. When you suspect your child has been smoking, you check 
the signs eyes almost vibrating and matt; the stoned, unfocused 
smirk. You ask where they have been, and they lie. You confront them, 
and the arguing begins. Having read pro-cannabis articles on the 
internet, they argue the case for getting stoned.

Ben's sole focus became getting hold of skunk. Money began 
disappearing. I would wake up in the night to find our son rifling 
through his father's trouser pockets, looking for cash. Later, he 
told me that he needed UKP200 a week to fund his habit: "Every smoker 
was a dealer, Mum."

He'd buy skunk on hock, selling some of it on to his friends to fund 
his own supply. We began to sleep with our money under our pillows 
and locked away anything that could be sold, from phones to jewellery.

Supporters of decriminalisation believe that if you remove dealing 
gangs from the equation, cannabis will become like fine wine 
something to be enjoyed in civilised surroundings. If Britain went 
the way of Colorado, for example, such suppliers would have to grow 
their own, which would have to be priced (and taxed) around UKP200 
for an ounce.

It's laughable, really. The addict, unable to function in a job to 
fund their habit, will still have to steal to obtain it. The child 
addict, also. We will be back at square one, with pushers targeting children.

Most of our arguments with our son about cannabis centred on such 
facts. We railed with him about the dangers of cannabis psychosis, 
telling him that the secure units of mental-health institutions were 
full of people suffering paranoid schizophrenia induced by smoking 
skunk cannabis. We showed him evidence about the effects on young, 
developing brains; we dragged him to a drugs worker, where he sat in 
a chair, rolling his eyes to heaven, laughing.

Often, we told him we loved him. "That's why we care so much," we'd 
say. After three years, we were exhausted. I was beginning to accept 
that my child might actually be lost to us, could even die.

We got tough, threw him out of the house twice - once to a grotty 
bedsit, once to a rented cottage in the countryside. We were trying 
to rescue one child while protecting the other - this was the 
greatest nightmare.

One evening in spring 2013, he went "out to see a friend". He came 
back later, looking shaken. The following day he told us he would not 
smoke any more - and he didn't.

Much later on, he told me that he had knocked on his friend's door 
without warning. When the door opened, he looked past his friend to 
see two other men, seated. There was a gun on the coffee table. Ben 
smoked a joint and left quickly, deciding he wanted out. He came 
back, in the truest sense of that phrase.

Two years later, we are as proud of him as we were photographing him 
aged five, in his first school uniform. He has a good job, plenty of 
interests, reads a book a week to make up for his lost education 
(having dropped out of school before his A-levels) and has made good friends.

We are lucky. I have met many parents who have lost their children to 
this drug.

Decriminalising it will not protect vulnerable children. The UKP500 
million it costs to police cannabis will just be sucked into 
institutions where the addicts will reside, perhaps for the rest of 
their lives; the damaged children of devastated parents.

The situation we have now is the least worst, but it allows parents 
to say "no". Saying "yes" is not a risk you want to take, trust me.




High-strength skunk had a hold over my life for just under four 
years, when I smoked on average UKP40-UKP60 worth a day. It led to 
violence, criminality and general alienation from all my true friends 
and family. But I have been clean for nearly two-and-a-half years 
now. I am one of the lucky ones.

Condoning cannabis use in our society would be so detrimental to the 
younger generation that I can scarcely comprehend the suggestion that 
laws should be loosened  and not, in fact, made significantly tougher.

One of the most dangerous effects of skunk cannabis addiction, yet 
also one of the most difficult to ascertain, is its gradual 
annihilation of the functionality of your brain.

I was left with next to no short-term memory and a complete lack of 
motivation; I withdrew from any pleasure that didn't involve more 
cannabis consumption.

The idea that decriminalisation and regulation would solve this issue 
is a delusion.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom