Jacqui Smith, the serial offender, has hit the news once again. Smith's less than exemplary record is now notorious, and this latest diatribe may well be riding on the back of her ineffable past. There is one portion of her career that has not received the attention that it perhaps warrants.
In the last thrashes of Gordon Brown's Labour government, the Prime Minister and the consecutive Home Secretaries of Alan Johnson & Jacqui Smith once more took political umbrage with cannabis.
The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (MoDA) must reflect harms of the drugs that the act seeks to control. It is the mandate of both the MoDA and the ACMD (Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs) to be based on scientific evidence.
Within recent years, the government has asked the ACMD to review cannabis three times; the results were consistent; it was recommended that cannabis should not receive harsher penalties for possession. As we now know, the advice of the ACMD was consistently ignored and resignations from the scientific community peppered the desks of Whitehall.
In the online presentation: When We Grow, This Is What We Can Do - former head of the ACMD, Professor David Nutt, speaks of the darker side of cannabis reclassification. In 2004, around 85 000 people were subject to a criminal record due to cannabis possession. Under Jacqui Smith and Gordon Brown's harsher regime, they decided to increase police pressure to act as a deterrent; as a result, by 2007, we saw around 160 000 people receive a criminal record. What does this mean in real terms? 160 000 people are now less likely to be able to find employment or further education, and they are more likely to need state aid to financially survive. Or of course, the drugs trade will receive permanent recruits.
Despite a decrease in usage since class C status, Jacqui Smith and her colleagues' move seemingly happened for no good reason, many argued that reclassification from class C to B would be detrimental in stemming the flow of the black market. It now seems more likely that the law serves to perpetually promote drugs in an unintentional government advertising campaign. Cannabis was no longer the buzzword, the rebrand of 'skunk' was flagged as the reason for harsher criminal sanctions. So, what is skunk?
We are informed that skunk is a super strength cousin to cannabis and is "lethal" - Gordon Brown's words. There are a few problems with this premise. Firstly, cannabis - whether it's skunk or plain old cannabis - can never be described as lethal. Lethal means deadly, and cannabis is a not a deadly drug; you cannot fatally overdose. But secondly, there is the worrying aspect of skunk and its super potency.
We have based our entire position on Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith's rhetoric of cannabis strength, but figures do not back up claims. THC, the main measurable chemical in cannabis, has not increased as we're led to believe. In his book, Bad Science, Dr Ben Goldacre made a sealed case to show that cannabis has not become a super strength monster of its former self. Dr Goldacre has long battled any pseudoscience, and his work on cannabis is pretty well documented, but his defence of Professor Nutt and the bullying he faced from Jacqui Smith didn't receive much attention.
Addressing the skunk claims at government level, in a written answers and statement - 4th April 2011 - Charles Walker MP submitted a query on the THC levels of skunk. It may be surprising to learn:
"Information on average THC levels of cannabis prior to 1995 is not available."
So, despite the rash claims of a new breed of cannabis, we have no actual evidence prior to 1995. As ever with drug policy, our laws are made up of nothing more than politicians' opinion and moralising that's passed off as fact. Jacqui Smith pandered to the notion of super skunk in her personal hour of need, and that of her government's last days. It is just as speculative to suggest that skunk was vain attempt to garner the infamous 'tough on drugs' vote with a general election looming, and there is little logic to be found elsewhere with the cannabis reclassification.
Jacqui Smith is also firmly in the 'do as I say not as I do' faction of parliament - and as documented in the Mark Reckons blogpost on Louise Mensch's comments - there is an infamous quote from David Cameron of an "entitlement to a private life before politics". Those in the halls of power that have taken controlled substances have not had their lives hindered by a criminal record, but the flavour seems to be that they will make sure that others will not receive the same leniency. Jacqui Smith put this sentiment bluntly in her interview with BBC Five Live, (May 2008) speaking as the then Home Secretary, she dismissed her own criminality of using cannabis a "few times" and said: "...it's against the law, don't do it."
Unfortunately, the law seems to have failed in to deter Jacqui Smith's actions on a 'few' occasions.