Sunday, March 20, 2016


Lee Harris is one of the nicest fellas you'll ever meet and a personal friend. He is currently running in the London Mayoral race as the candidate for the Cannabis is Safer Than Alcohol party (Cista). He's 79 now and The Generalist has known him since the early 1970's when he first established the still-running 'Alchemy' drug paraphernalia shop in Portobello Road in 1972. 
[Photo: Buzzfeed]

Later in that decade he also published  'Home Grown' magazine which I edited for two issues. The Guardian claims it was the UK's first ever drug culture mag.

Shocked to discover from the paper's same profile that Lee was the trigger that lead to the introduction of the Misuse of Drugs Act:

Originally from South Africa, Harris fled to the UK in 1956, aged 19, after his left-wing politics and anti-racist views made him a target of the apartheid regime. He trained for the theatre and acted with Orson Welles. But his early adventures in the UK club scene left him horrified.
“I discovered all these kids in the West End who were on purple hearts [amphetamine pills], 80 or 90 a weekend, and I became a moral crusader and I helped change the law,” he said.
Harris wrote to the Labour backbencher Ben Parkin, who asked questions in parliament and passed his number to Anne Sharpley, a reporter on the Evening Standard. He took her around the West End clubs and she began the press hysteria that was to lead to the Misuse of Drugs Act in 1964.
“It was quickly hurried in, amphetamines were banned, and personal possession was made a crime,” Harris said. “Personal possession has been a crime since then. It’s one thing I bitterly regret."
He himself was busted under that law for a tiny bit of dope in February 1967

This news was followed by the announcement that the Liberal Party had adopted a policy to support the legalisation of cannabis in the UK. Their party leader Tim Farron told the Independent on Sunday: "This is about being really grown up about a massive issue and looking at the evidence. It contributes hugely to a criminal network that thrives off the illegality of the substance."  They calculate this would raise £1bn in tax revenue. 

You can read and/or download the report:
A Framework for a Regulated Market for Cannabis in the UK

It pains me to say this but the now tiny Lib Dem party have a flea's chance in hell of progressing the ideas in this document. It will perhaps be seen as trying to win back the youth vote the Party lost through backing student tuition fees. It's good to see policemen, drug scientists and other prominent voices joining together to lay out a plan but this is a worthy but unexciting document, presented in a boring text-heavy way that will not communicate to the general public. 

More importantly and strategically, they have started off on the wrong foot. If cannabis is ever going to be legalised in our lifetimes it will be through the issue of medical marijuana. The evidence for this is obvious through what is happening very rapidly in America.

See Previous Post: Inside Dope: The Green Rush/ Marijuana in the US, UK & Europe

The section of the report on 'medical cannabis' reads: 
We have not made a detailed case for reform or offered substantiverecommendations regarding the regulation of cannabis or cannabis based products for medical uses. This was beyond the remit of the panel and its terms of reference.
We do, however, acknowledge the urgent importance of addressing this issue and encourage government to actively engage with, and move forward with, the relevant questions.
It is clear that there is considerable cross over between the issues of medical and non-medical cannabis regulation, both in terms of practicalities of different regulation models and how they would interact, and the intersection of the political debates, specifically how the politics around non-medical cannabis use has created barriers to research and access to medicines.
As a starting point, however, the panel would like to express support for theimmediate rescheduling of cannabis in the UK (and at international/UN level) to a schedule 2 substance (to facilitate the cannabis research agenda), and also endorse the campaign to “change the law to allow doctors to prescribe cannabis where they consider it would help their patients; and for patients to have their prescription honoured at the pharmacy.” 

Back in July 2015, a petition calling for the total legalisation of cannabis in the UK was  signed by more than 125,000 people in just four days. Shortly after there was an excellent piece in The Guardian: 'The burning conservative case for legalising cannabis' by Avinash Tharoor. This sparky pitch reads in part:

'There is a solid conservative case for legalising cannabis. If there is one non-pejorative word that can define the past five years of Tory rule, it’s cuts. The legalisation and regulation of the cannabis trade could justify considerable spending cuts, as the current black market trade is a huge drain on our resources.
The government spends upwards of £2bn a year fighting the war on drugs in England and Wales, and the cannabis trade is undoubtedly a huge reason for that, as cannabis is – by far – the preferred illegal drug in the country (approximately 29% of Brits have consumed it). 
The money and resources being allocated to police – for stopping, searching and arresting stoners – could essentially be scrapped overnight. Simultaneously the courtroom hours and prison cells assigned to cannabis farmers and sellers could be used far more appropriately and efficiently.
Before May’s election, Cameron promised that he would create 2m jobs by 2020 and legalisation could contribute significantly to this. The government could create a new regulated industry with a pre-existing customer base of over three million. Five percent of the nation are regularly consuming cannabis and the revenue is being diverted to criminal gangs rather than legitimate companies or state coffers.'

There are great opportunities at this time to move away from the stupid and moribund approach to drugs in Britain. It remains to be seen whether the mood swing towards legalisation can overcome the ill-informed media machine and the stultifying political inertia that insists on viewing drug taking as a moral sin.

This article on the Open Democracy website is worth reading: 'Decriminalising drugs is not just talk – meet the countries actually experimenting with it' by Miamh Eastwood and Edward Fox.

Just put INSIDE DOPE in the search box at top left to find 26 Previous Posts on drug news.

One of those is about the myth of extra-strong cannabis. The Guardian's major G2 story on the subject by Blake Morrison was rubbished. He had got the simple maths completely wrong. See:

No comments: