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Let’s hope Americans make the right choice tomorrow – by legalising cannabis

Tomorrow voters in three US states have the chance to help end failed war on drugs

By on Monday, 5 November 2012

Cannabis sativa, marihuana, hemp, plant

Something very important happens on Tuesday when America comes to vote – but the epoch-making decision isn’t Obama versus Romney. Rather it is happening in three states where people will get a chance to vote in a referendum to legalise marijuana. The states are Washington, Oregon and Colorado.

The Observer yesterday reported: 

If the measures are passed, adults over 21 would be able to possess, distribute and use small amounts. Cannabis for authorised medical use is already permitted and regulated by each state, even though it is against federal law.

Support is particularly strong in Washington and Colorado, but a “yes” vote in any of the states would be interpreted by the Department of Justice as an act of defiance against the federal government’s war on drugs – the national law enforcement programme that spends $44bn a year struggling to stem the tide of illegal drugs in the US.

In June 2011, however, the Global Commission on Drug Policy declared that the war on drugs had failed.

As a British subject resident over here, I do not get a vote, but if I did live in any of these states, my vote would certainly be for liberalisation. I have written on this before now, so it should not come as a suprise to anyone. (See here and here  and here)

I note from the report that several retired cops are in favour of legalisation, and the pros and antis do not divide along expected party lines. Like all reasonable people, I want to see drug use decline; I think that in the long term there is a fair chance of this happening if drugs are legalised. I am sure that there is no chance of this happening if the present situation is allowed to continue. As things stand at present, the drug suppliers, who are criminals, have a vested interest in encouraging drug use, and no qualms about doing so. In addition, illegality gives drugs an added undeserved glamour. Legalisation means taking the production, distribution and sale of these dangerous substances away from criminals, and placing them in responsible hands.

But what is absolutely certain is that the war on drugs, that has cost millions of dollars and millions of lives, and which has led to several countries teetering on the brink of failed statedom, has been a resounding failure. We might once have wished to prevent people who wanted drugs being able to obtain them, but we have failed to do so, resoundingly so. All we have done is created a vast and powerful international drugs industry, an industry that would, with legalisation, be put out of business.

The measures up for the vote on Tuesday are modest ones, but they represent a small but impornat step towards sanity.

  • Veuster

    Bravo, Father! The voice of common sense. Congratulations on having the courage to speak out.

  • Father Shelton

    Reduce the penalty to a misdemeanor, perhaps, but legalization would only lead to an unbearable increase in reggae music!

  • Gerald

    I don’t see how making drugs cheaper and easier to access will lead to a decrease in their consumption over time.

    The only way to do that is to dissuade people from ever taking them in the first place. And that is only achieved through the imposition of hard penalties for their possession and use. As has been written elsewhere, there should be:

    ‘A single category of illegal drug, with a crackdown on the possession of drugs, including a mandatory sentence of three months for a second offence, six months for a third offence, one year for a fourth offence, and so on…..’

    See also Peter Hitchens’ latest tome on the subject.

  • JFJ

    Father, I must respectfully, disagree and say with Gerald below, please see Peter Hitchens’ latest book and various posts on his blog. He is much more persuasive than am I and so, I leave you with his suggestions. I think he has it right.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Legalise Cannabis by all means, but be prepared for a considerable increase in its use.  Fr Lucie-Smith makes two assumptions - that ‘drug suppliers, who are criminals, have a vested interest in encouraging drug use, and no qualms about doing so’; and that ‘illegality gives drugs an added undeserved glamour’.

    Speaking from experience, drug suppliers are generally a fugitive bunch who have to be tracked down because their activities are illegal. Hence they are suspicious of all newcomers, unreliable and liable to disappear from the scene at the first sign of trouble.  Consequently, the illegality of drugs is a major pain in the neck to most users who would far rather be able to purchase their supplies in the nearest shop. 

    Where is all this evidence of drug dealers advertising and pushing their wares?  Please tell me.  I’d love to know. 

  • Matthew Hazell

    Father: does CCC 2291 not figure in your thinking? What about the document “The Church, Drugs and Narcotic Addiction” of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers? Or even several of Bl. John Paul II’s homilies and addresses on the subject of drugs and drug addiction?

    To write what you write above as (a) a doctor of moral theology and (b) an ordained minister of the Church is totally irresponsible.

  • Just_a_simpleton

    Agreed. Totally irresponsible.

  • Charles Martel

    Daft and irresponsible

  • LocutusOP

    You’d better get used to it – it’s a regular pet project of the good priest.

  • Cora


    I could be wrong about what Surrey is like these days but I assume it’s not like where I live now, where skunked-up youths – and older men, come to that – cause no end of problems. I’ve also had the misfortune to share a house (some time ago) with someone who developed cannabis psychosis – for whom no help was available. And so I had to move. Quickly,

    Weed is de facto legalised – no-one cares.

  • Jeannine

    Father, the marijuana of yesteryear is not the same as today; it’s more addictive.  People don’t seem to realize that it leads teenagers to the hard stuff such as cocaine. I certainly do not have a problem with lessening the penalties but I do have a problem with the government saying it’s OK.

  • Charles

    As an American, I believe the cause of our immense number of drug users is high levels of unhappiness with our materialistic and workaholic culture. In America we have two main life choices; to be a hippie type drop out, which no one respects, or to dedicate your life, health, and freedom to an all time consuming career. Both our dominant options are out of balance; the human is body, mind, and soul and each must be taken care of. The dropout lives without dignity because he doesn’t develop his God given potential; the workaholic lives without dignity because he has no time for spirituality, family, or health. We need to restore balance in our society.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    To insist on carrying on with the failed war on drugs and pretend this is a solution when it has clearly failed is, to my mind, totally irresponsible.

  • Francis

    Do you not appreciate the distinction between believing that something is wrong/immoral and preaching against it and legislating against it?  Would you say that anyone who didn’t advocate criminalising adultery was somehow ‘irresponsible’ because the Church teaches against it?  

  • Peter Reynolds

    Congratulations Father.  It is prohibition that is immoral.  Mankind has been using cannabis for more than 5.000 years and there is good evidence that the “kaneh bosum” used in annointing oils by Christ was cannabis. Its almost miraculous healing properties are now understood by science and tehre can be no doubt that it was and still is widely used as medicine in the Holy Land.

    Faux morality against cannabis is based on prejudice and ignorance. Those criticising you need to wake up to te fact that teh propaganda against cannabis is mainly funded by the alcohol industry which is terrified of a safer and healthier alternative to its poisonous products.

  • Peter Reynolds

    Peter Hitchens is a propagandist and a denier of science

  • Peter Reynolds

    The evidence is that wherever cannabis is legally regulated (USA, Portugal, Holland,Czech Republic,Italy,Spain, Israel) social and health harms are reduced, consumption by children is reduced and age at first use is higher.

  • Nbooks

    What “war on drugs” exactly?  Such a war only exists in your mind.  Remember that the next time you see George Michael or any of the other self-confessed potheads whom the State has zero interest in prosecuting..

  • Nbooks

    Again, there never has been a “war on drugs”, alas.  It’s a convenient fiction for the pro-stupefying lobby.

  • Peter Reynolds

    Absolute rubbish.  All the scientific evidence is that cannabis is about as addictive as coffee and the “gateway theory” is dismissed as baseless even by the government.  Try reading some science instead of the Daily Mail.

  • Fred

    What about the thousands of drug users convicted and imprisoned, made unemployable by the State’s drug policy? Does the State have “zero interest in prosecuting” them? The ‘war on drugs’ has had an impact on many many lives around the world. To deny this is delusionary; what’s more, this is not the point. The question is, are your tax dollars being spent in a vastly inefficient way to promote an agenda laid out by business interests and propagandists, with the help of bad science? I’m not going to answer it ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but perhaps you should think about it.

  • tony

    a) no. you have provided no basis for this, probably because it is not true. b) perhaps. Go ahead and fight for the expulsion of the sane from the Catholic church if you want; the rest of us can accommodate the odd idiosyncrasy in our priests’ opinions.

  • kentgeordie

    So you think that drug use will decline if drugs are more easily available? And that the criminals put out of business by legalisation will give up their wicked ways?

  • Peter Reynolds

    All the experts now agree that it is only children who are in any significant
    danger from cannabis use. We must grasp this nettle, take responsibility and
    regulate the supply of cannabis properly. There is an historical precedent. This is a lesson that we
    should have already learned. In 1920/30s America one of the disastrous effects
    of alcohol prohibition was the involvement of children with the trade, so much
    so that slogans used to campaign against it included “Save our children” and
    “Protect our youth, stamp out prohibition”.

  • polycarped

    Agree. Fr Lucie-Smith has obviously never had the misfortune to live with or close to someone addicted to Cannabis. There must be a deterrent at least as a prevention (from starting) mechanism. The problem in the UK is that the deterrent is not used in practice. If the law came down on users of cannabis like a ton of bricks, many (no, not all) would stay away from it and many of us would have happier lives as a result.

  • Sour Alien

    Portugal decriminalized all drugs, 10 years later a 50% drop in drug use. Holland tolerates cannabis sold in coffeeshops to adults, less people use cannabis in Holland. Less young people use it and age of first use is much higher. Associated crime is non existent and only became noticeable when they tried to tighten laws regarding cannabis. So it would seem prohibition does the opposite of what it is meant to, instead of reducing harm, its causing it. 

    ”you think that drug use will decline if drugs are more easily available”

    We are talking about cannabis, cannabis is not drugs, its a plant less toxic than aspirin and less addictive than coffee. Cannainboids in the resin may be known as drugs, although they simply are chemicals identical to the ones we produce naturally inside us. Cannabis is already easily available, its easier for a kid to obtain cannabis than alcohol and tobacco, even with those legal drugs so poorly regulated. So yes, as we see in countries that regulate, cannabis use declines, mostly because children find it harder to obtain.

    ”criminals put out of business by legalisation will give up their wicked ways”

    Well, we dont see criminals selling a 20 bag of tobacco like we do with cannabis ( and don’t talk about bootleggers, there are hardly any in comparison)
    We dont see criminal gangs brewing alcohol and selling it on street corners. Why? because we regulate and tax them. Same goes for cannabis. The whole reason they re legalized alcohol in the 1930′s was because of all the blood shed and corruption. Did re legalizing stop 100% of criminals selling it? No, but it was no where near the scale it once was. Its the same with cannabis now, if users had  a choice, they would rather buy from a licensed outlet, not a dodgy dealer. I thought a drugs policy was about harm reduction? Gifting the control to criminals by disallowing regulation, and jailing harmless gardeners, depriving people of this medicine blighting them with criminal records when caught, (to save them from themselves) is not reducing harm, again, its creating it. Prohibition is the danger, not cannabis or the users. 

  • kentgeordie

    Many thanks to Sour Alien for this persuasive reply, and thanks for its courteous tone.

    Part of the reason I resist your logic is that I feel that those who make the case for legalisation are happy about lots of people are taking lots of drugs. I on the other hand hate drug use, and am therefore prepared to pay quite a high price to limit it.

    If ever I was convinced that the argument for liberalisation was coming from someone who hated drugs as much as I do, maybe I would be convinced.

  • JabbaPapa

    Coffee is extremely addictive.

  • JabbaPapa

    What “war on drugs” exactly?

    Probably, the one that has led to thousands and thousands of violent deaths worldwide.

  • Almundoman

     Drugs and addictions come in all shapes and sizes, not just the obvious illicit kinds. To brand a naturally occuring plant ‘illegal’ goes against nature and in fact God. Individual living souls should be able to live freely and responsibly, without any let or hindrance.

  • Cwmoran05

    Why is a catholic priest weighing in on legalizing drugs – in an election where religious freedom is at stake? With all due respect Fr., why are you concerned with the freedom to get high, when the freedom of religion, which is our first freedom, is at stake. The outright assault on the Catholic Church in America is… maybe just a liiiiiittle bit more important than the right to smoke dope.

  • Sour Alien

    ”Part of the reason I resist your logic is that I feel that those who make the case for legalisation are happy about lots of people are taking lots of drugs.”
    I am not happy about anyone taking drugs, especially children. But thats the nature of an unregulated market. Its out of control, people will take drugs regardless. But drugs aside, lets talk about cannabis. Humans have been using it for over 10,000 years. Telling the people ‘its illegal’ will not make a damn difference unfortunately. Its simply an irresponsible move and a way of sweeping the problem under the carpet. People such as yourself see legalization as some kind of free for all, when that is what we have now. Prohibition offers no protection to anyone, the only people who support prohibition knowing its a dangerous economic fail are Drug dealers, alcohol companies and the cowardly politicians they pressurize. Cannabis being illegal, has absolutely nothing to do with harm reduction.

    You keep saying you hate drugs, So i assume you never have or will drink alcohol, smoke tobacco, drink caffeine or take aspirin? All of which are much more deadly and addictive than cannabis. I assume every time you walk past a pub or bar, you are filled with hate, or every time you talk past a star bucks, you are feel hatred? You must hate pharmacies, they sell nothing but drugs.

    Your hatred is misguided im afraid and probably the result of a 40+ year propaganda campaign with intentions to brainwash well meaning people and scare countless parents. Not all laws are there to protect or help us. Many reasons why cannabis was prohibited. Mostly vested interested and the fear of hemp production for logging companies in America, and Cotton farmers in Egypt. A lot of why it was outlawed had a lot to do with control, prejudice and racism. It had nothing at all to do with the effect from smoking cannabis. Alcohol prohibition had built an infrastructure, so when prohibition came to an end, many people including Harry Anslinger where going to be out of work. So working together with William Randolf Hearst, (a racist, owner of a huge chain of newspapers and had invested heavily in the timber industry to support his newspaper chain and didnt want to see the development of hemp paper in competition) they started the ‘reefer-madness’ campaign.

    Many people who are anti cannabis, support legal regulation. Many. They understand the danger, dismiss the prejudice and focuson fact and study. I hope you will one day as well.

    “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”Benjamin Franklin“Leaving the drugs market in the hands of criminals causes huge and unnecessary harms to individuals, communities and entire countries, with the poor the hardest hit. We spend billions of pounds without preventing the wide availability of drugs. It is time to replace our failed war on drugs with a strict system of legal regulation, to make the world a safer, healthier place, especially for our children.” – Bob AinsworthMember of UK Parliament & Former Secretary of State for Defence

  • Gerald

    Who is talking about cannabis being a ‘gateway’ drug? It doesn’t need to be. It’s damaging enough on its own.

    And if you’re arguing that cannabis isn’t addictive, then I can only conclude that you are trolling us here!

  • a quiet man

    this is the same kind of comment that i have heard when people deny the holocaust. “never been a war on drugs” idiot if there was never any war what was it that nixon declared and what is the money being spent on ? what has caused all those deaths in mexico ? Nbooks can sit in a nice ivory tower and pretend its not happening but it is all around in many different guises from the mexican drug lord to the R.A.A.D paramilitary killing people in Derry . but defenders of the present prohibition are only supporting the criminal black market for that there is no defense  and they must be held to account for their support . ignorance is no excuse   

  • Sour Alien

    Lets not talk about religion and its freedoms, when most evil and war has come as a direct result from religion. This is a lot more than the freedom to smoke cannabis, this is about taking control away from criminals. Its about not wasting billions on a war designed to be unbeatable. Its about education and prevention, not incarceration and systematic bullying.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Why not legalise heroin, cocaine, ecstasy etc?

  • a quiet man

     Those that want to protect the interests of the criminal black market are running with any old idea and the latest is to deny there ever was a war on drugs so we dont need to change what we are doing. I wonder what drugs these people are taking to believe that they could pretend that there is no drug war. they are only defending the status quo and that makes them worse than any crack dealer in my book

  • Sour Alien

    ”It’s damaging enough on its own.”

    In what context? Or is this your opinion which undermines every credible scientific study done regarding the dangers of cannabis?

    Trolling? I think your misinformed, and using the term ‘troll’ WAY too freely. Cannabis is less toxic, less harmful and addictive than coffee and aspirin. No matter what your opinion is, the science shows cannabis is the safest drug and medicine that works on this planet. 

    ”im fairly confident that cannabis is safe for over-18 brains, but risky for under-18 brains” – Professor Terrie Moffitt, Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, 2012

  • Sour Alien

    Completely wrong. Cannabis is not the gateway to harder drugs, the dealers are.

  • awkwardcustomer

    The experts don’t agree anything of the sort.  If the effects of prohibition are the problem then all drugs should be made legal.  But don’t try and pretend that cannabis is non-addictive and does not cause harm to a significant number who use it.  Admit that to be the case and then a sensible discussion about legalising drugs can be had.  It just doesn’t make sense to claim that a powerful, mood altering substance like Cannabis is harmless.  Yes there are people who can use the stuff and not suffer any adverse consequences, just as many people can drink alcohol moderately or take cocaine and heroin moderately. 

    Cannabis is an insidious, soul destroying drug for a significant number of users.  It must be the only mood altering substance there is that has everyone claiming that it’s harmless.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Cannabis is far more addictive than coffee and far more harmful.

  • awkwardcustomer

    When you start producing evidence for your assertions, I will.

  • Just_a_simpleton

    Francis: 1) I appreciate the distinction. 2) There is also a distinction between “criminalising” something (as would be the case if one were to make adultery illegal when it currently is not) and “decriminalising” something (as would be the case if one were to make it legal to take cannabis when it currently is not).

    There are enough questions of a spiritual and moral nature (some of which are of particular relevance to these US elections), which are specifically within the competence of priests, that Fr Alexander could have helpfully addressed.  For him – as a priest – to promote a specific and highly contestable political remedy to a problem that has a range of legitimate solutions,and with respect to which he has no particular competence, is totally irresponsible.

  • Sour Alien

    What experts? You mean the economists, scientists and professors? Who all are in agreement that cannabis should be legally regulated and prohibition is the real danger? Those experts? Dont use religion to prove your point when science has gone against everything you have just said.

  • Peter Reynolds

    Cannabis is the least damaging therapeutically active substance known to science.  It is, in fact, a health giving substance when used in moderation acting as a supplement to the body’s endocannabinoid system.

    I am providing you with scientific evidence whereas you are making baseless assertions and personal attacks.

    The scientific evidence about cannabis and mental health is:

    1. Hickman et al, 2009. A review of all published research so, by definition­, not cherry picked. It shows that the risk of lifetime cannabis use correlating with a single diagnosis of psychosis is at worst 0.013% and probably less than 0.003%.

    2. Hospital Episode Statistics. Count of finished admission episodes (FAE) with a primary diagnosis of mental and behavioural disorders due to use of cannabinoids (ICD10 code F12) and alcohol (ICD10 code F10)

    Cannabinoids (F12)

    2009-10 713
    2010-11 799

    Alcohol (F10)

    2009-10 47,402
    2010-11 47,287

    Source: Hospital Episode Statistics (HES), The NHS Information Centre for health and social care.

    There are three million regular users of cannabis (Atha et al 2011) and 31 million regular users of alcohol (NHS Information Centre 2009). Therefore alcohol use is six times more likely to result in admission for mental and behavioural disorders.

    3. Frisher et al 2009. The ACMD commissioned a study by Keele University into the trends in schizophrenia specifically to test the claims in the media of a link between it and cannabis. It looked at almost 600,000 patients and concluded that “..the incidence and prevalence of schizophrenia and psychoses were either stable or declining” despite alleged increased use of allegedly more potent cannabis.

  • awkwardcustomer

    ‘Marijuana Is Addictive, Destructive And Dangerous’.

    That’s according to Charles V. Giannasio, Physician (Addiction Psychiatry,
    Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis), Founding member of the American Academy of Addiction
    Psychiatry and Fellow of the College of Physicians, Philadelphia.

    He also says: ‘An estimated 9% of those who use cannabis will become addicted to it.’

    This was the result of a very quick search.  I can supply much more of this kind of opinion.

  • Gerald

    ‘In what context?’

    For a start, it’s 20 times more cancinogenic than tobacco. I thought we were trying to stop people getting cancer, not legalizing more deadly pathways to acquiring it. I must have missed the memo that said encouraging people to kill themselves was suddenly in vogue…..

    …..though what with the culture of death our bishops are speaking out against, this might not be so strange after all!

  • Peter Reynolds

    It would make much more sense to make the most dangerous drugs legally available under strict conditions than to create a criminal market that deals in adulterated and even more dangerous products.

    If addicts had legal access to the substance they have a medical need for then crime would fall as would all health and social harms.  This is the intelligent way forward as demonstrated and proven over 10 years by Portugal.

    No one is suggesting a free for all. In fact a properly regulated system would control drugs much more effectively than does the dumb and self-defeating policy of prohibition.

  • Sour Alien

    opinion is the word

  • Sour Alien

    Why is cannabis still illegal today, even though we should have learnt our lesson from alcohol prohibition?

    Vested Interest, Corrupt/Cowardly politicians, Propaganda and misinformation, The pressure from the alcohol lobby, GWpharma (who grow cannabis in Kent), the people getting paid thanks to prohibition (Alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceutical companies, drug testing companies, i could go on…) and of course, personal prejudices. Im not saying cannabis is harmless, but compared to aspirin, its MUCH safer. Its a medicine, and has been considered a medicine a lot longer than its been considered a street drug. No one would consider any psychoactive substance ‘safe’, but compared to alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceuticals, its so much safer for responsible adults to use.