YWN Article: Cannabis row leaves us all in a blur

7 December 2009 — 4 Comments

ywn-logoThe following is a short article I wrote that was published in Youth Work Now Magazine (A supplement of Children & Young People Now) last week. In addition to the print copy, it can be found on the CYPNow website here.

Cannabis row leaves us all in a blur
Back at the end of October, Professor David Nutt, chair of the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), was sacked after criticising policy on cannabis classification.
While there have been many different explanations for his dismissal, the sacking came immediately after Nutt published a paper in which he claimed that cannabis was less harmful than alcohol and tobacco. In February he published a report that stated that taking ecstasy was no more dangerous than riding a horse.

Personally, I’ve been interested in the lively debate surrounding these comments as they have a direct relevance to my work with young people and how they perceive drug taking.

When I first heard the news on the radio and they quoted Nutt saying that cannabis was not as harmful as tobacco, my immediate reaction was that it was a stupid thing to say. My main concern was that it made drug use acceptable by dismissing the risks involved.

There is already a great deal of confusion among many young people over the legal status of cannabis. Much of this has to do with the reclassification of the drug over the past five years.

Cannabis has been illegal in the UK since 1928, but was classified as a Class B drug in the Misuse of Drugs Act in 1971. In 2004, the government reclassified the drug as the lesser Class C, which also carried lighter penalties for those found with it in their possession. This was based on the recommendation of the ACMD.

Then earlier this year, it was reverted back to a Class B again against the advice of the ACMD, partly due to research suggesting cannabis use can be linked to mental health issues. Professor Nutt’s comments regarding the relative low harm of the drug only serve to deepen that confusion by sending a mixed message.

However, as is usually the case, that is not exactly what was said. In fact, in the disputed publication Professor Nutt makes clear that cannabis is “a harmful drug” and argues for a “concerted public health response to drastically reduce its use”. His point was to show that the UK has a much bigger problem with alcohol and tobacco than with weed. Apparently, alcohol ranks as the fifth most harmful drug after heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and methadone. Tobacco ranks at number nine, while cannabis is at number 11.

Put into this context, I think he’s got a good point. Many of us know and work with young people who use cannabis. However, I’d wager that nearly all readers of this magazine have contact with young people who use alcohol in a risky way.

While Nutt may have made some controversial headlines before his departure from the ACMD, we’re left with the reality that when it comes to the risks involved in different kinds of drug use, he is probably right.

You can view all my Youth Work Now articles here.

Jon

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I am a qualified youth worker, writer and consultant based in Littlehampton, UK. I've worked in the voluntary youth sector for over 12 years, am married to Kirsty and we have two daughters named Hope and Eloise. Check out 'Journeying Together: Growing Youth Work and Youth Workers in Local Communities' and read my opening chapter.

4 responses to YWN Article: Cannabis row leaves us all in a blur

  1. Hi Jon!
    I find this discussion a little dangerous. I find it dangerous to say one drug is less harmful than the other. All drugs are evil, coming from the devil, with the intention to destroy God´s loved creature.
    There are so many things in the world leading to addiction (everyone is addicted to something) and they all have one aim: Pulling us away from God…So, I think, the point is to figure out what is my addiction and to pray for healing. In the total we, as human beings, are helpless, that´s what we have to admit…
    Take care everybody!
    GBU
    Ralf

  2. Hi Ralf, thanks for your comment. I agree that illegal (and some legal) drugs are damaging and dangerous. However there is a lot of conflicting evidence about the effects and addictive properties of cannabis.
    This article was simply a comment on how we in England demonise one drug, but ignore and endorse another one! It was also published in a non-Christian magazine, so any faith perspective was left out.
    I hope you are well!

  3. Hi Ralf, thanks for your comment. I agree that illegal (and some legal) drugs are damaging and dangerous. However there is a lot of conflicting evidence about the effects and addictive properties of cannabis.
    This article was simply a comment on how we in England demonise one drug, but ignore and endorse another one! It was also published in a non-Christian magazine, so any faith perspective was left out.
    I hope you are well!

  4. Hi Jon,
    Enjoyed reading this. For me it raises very much again the question of not how dangerous is the drug, but why is it popular in the first place? It seems to me that one of the biggest problems in government when it comes to dealing with many things, such as the new policies suggested for dealing with binge drinking, is that it doesn't deal with the reason as to why people are in that lifestyle anyway. I think for us as Christian youth workers, there is an even deeper challenge here, particularly when trying to values with things like alcohol and a healthy respect for the drink. Many of the Christian young people I've worked with in the past (and even myself at one stage) are in a state of not actually understanding why drinking lots (for example) isn't healthy, not just physically but also spiritaully, and it's a lesson that I still haven't figured out the best way to handle. We've all probably had the odd time of drinking, but particularly in todays culture it seems it's even more of a youth think, drinking at an earlier age, even though the law is tougher. Thoughts?

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