The legalisation of cannabis is again in the news. This because of a plea from Billy Caldwell’s mum that he be allowed to use oil abstracted from cannabis to help with his epilepsy.
Happily, the Home Secretary agreed to help them.
Of course the two matters can be separated into legalising the use of cannabis for medicine and making it legal to use it merely for recreational purposes - but in our usual way we are mixing the two in the media right now.
I want to contribute my experience of policing in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s in London to this debate, because it is still relevant today.
It was alcohol that was the major problem for police then and now - not cannabis.
Alcohol leads to casual violence in the streets at night, sometimes leading to serious injury or death. It leads to anti-social and threatening behaviour between drunken people, making some streets in our cities an unpleasant place to be on Fridays and Saturdays.
Alcohol often made domestic arguments and disputes more likely to turn into domestic violence, again leading to injury and sometimes death. It added to the misery felt by by both the adults and children because it got in the way of reason when reason and compromise was needed most
Of course there are violent people who would do bad things without alcohol - but it certainly made the worst behaviour and anger more likely - because booze is the enemy of reason and compromise.
Alcohol was increasing violence in the home and on the streets. It was also slowly killing addicts who often came to the notice of police as they got drunk in public places everyday.
Drinking and driving causes injury and death and gets people disqualified and some lose their jobs and it was another thing for police to deal with - and quite rightly so.
Less of a problem now than in the 1980s but still a challenge for police.
On the other hand, laws on the use and possession of ordinary cannabis meant arresting people for possession or for producing or growing it in the loft or spare bedroom.
But as far as I recall it never caused street violence or made for more domestic violence or made our streets feel unsafe.
The argument that cannabis, especially in its stronger forms, can cause mental health issues is worthy of research and debate but it is the use of legal booze that keeps police in business.
So if cannabis were made legal there would be less for police to do.
They would have a bit more time to deal with the more serious problems. Ordinary cannabis is only a problem for police because its possession and use is illegal - while legal alcohol is a massive problem for police and society because of its effect on behaviour.
By the way I don’t actually think we should make alcohol illegal, since most people use it peacefully and don’t fight and can still solve their domestic issues.
Some of us will live a little less long because of it but that’s not a policing problem.
All I am saying is that we shouldn’t think cannabis causes anything near the problems that booze causes in our streets and homes. Not from my experience.
If anything it is the Daily Mail effect that stops many politicians from getting rid of many of the laws on cannabis, the moral panic that we would be forcing our children into hippy lifestyles or onto hard drugs.
Again, that’s all open to proper debate and research but it is the fear of criticism by popular newspapers and the blue rinse brigade of middle England that rules on this matter, and I think dealing with cannabis wastes police time in most cases.
Police budgets are still being slashed by this government and there are only so many things they can deal with.