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Thursday, 20 January, 2000, 15:15 GMT
Cannabis - Should you come clean?

Politicians, pop stars or parents - any one of them could have dabbled with cannabis at some time or other. But does it really matter?

Mo Mowlam, the UK cabinet minister responsible for the Government's anti-drug strategy, has admitted experimenting with the drug during her heady student days.

Ms Mowlam made the admission after revelations from a student colleague. Should we expect other politicians to be so candid?

And what if you are a parent, laying down the law on the perils of drugs? Should you admit past misdemeanours or leave it all buried in the past? HAVE YOUR SAY

Due to certain cultural and historical factors, alcohol and tobacco are legal, while most drugs are not. This in itself does not mean that one is worse than the other.
Svend Davanger, Norway

Once people really look at the facts then they might see Cannabis in a different way. I have been using Pot, grass, weed, whatever you want to call it for nearly 6 years now. I have tried to find out as much as I can from my experiences so that I can form a rational debate in my mind. From my experience, unlike other legal substances, pot still allows you to control yourself when your under the influence of it. Whereas with alcohol if you have to much you will lose all control of your will, your body, your mind and your memory if you have too much.
John S, UK

Why all the fuss? So what if Mo Mowlam smoked a bit of dope in the 60's, do we really care? This is just another case of a relatively uninteresting story being sensationalised by a desperate British press simply because it involves an illegal drug. Decriminalisation is the way forward, not legalisation.
B.Maskell, UK

Like many areas in life, changes are taking place (some good some bad), for instance the promotion of homosexuality as being 'normal'. Ms Mowlam being a politician used this statement to try and show that she is no different from the rest of us. Well I think she like most MP's is a hypocrite. She is simply using the de-facto acceptance of Cannabis smokers to make political gains.
Z, England

Take a lesson from the US, the war on drugs is a failure. The US has more people in prison then any other country in the world (mostly for non-violent drug offences). I wish politicians and bureaucrats on both sides of the Atlantic will stop being hypocrites about this. Legalise Cannabis now!
Sean P. Porter, USA

For me, the bottom line is: cannabis is not dangerous from a quantitative standpoint. All statistics I've ever seen (and I've seen quite a few) have shown that the slippery-slope hypothesis cannot be representative. Cannabis is as addictive as chocolate. The number of malicious acts of violence linked directly to marijuana is negligible when compared to those linked to alcohol and other "hard drugs."
Jeremy, USA

I find the "debate" on the medical use of cannabis misleading. Approving its use for medical situations (MS/palliative care) is NOT akin to legalising the drug. These are two separate arguments. Firstly, if cannabis can be shown to have a clinical benefit in relieving pain for some patients it should be available for prescription - in its most effective form. Other "illicit" drugs are used in hospitals every day - morphine, diazepam, even cocaine was used as a local anaesthetic. This seems to be a simple argument that should be applied to any chemical of perceived benefit. The other argument is messier, however it seems that now is the time to tackle it. The "its not as bad as tobacco and alcohol" argument is weak, because if we were starting from scratch they probably wouldn't be legal either. There are stronger arguments for decriminalisation (and lets face it, the fact you are doing something vaguely illegal is half the fun!) This is the best course of action - relegate personal cannabis use to the criminal level of a parking ticket.
David, Scotland

Is it not about time the debate on cannabis is finally sorted out. There is a clear case that alcohol is more harmful than cannabis. When would a Dr prescribe someone alcohol for a medical complaint. I'm surprised the government isn't ecstatic about the potential tax revenue.
Chris, UK

So, the comments make it at least 80% in favour of decriminalising it. If you legalised it Tony, you could instantly improve your popularity, get all the youth vote at the next election, and make billions out of heavy taxing...
Alex Banks, Wales

Is it not about time the debate on cannabis is finally sorted out. There is a clear case that alcohol is more harmful than cannabis. When would a Dr prescribe someone alcohol for a medical complaint. I'm surprised the government aren't ecstatic about the potential tax revenue.
Chris, U.K

Being a Londoner, and a cannabis smoker, I've been aware of the general trend towards "decriminalisation" of pot. Comments from senior police officers stating that they wouldn't prosecute people for simple possession, friends caught with a small quantity simply let off with the pot confiscated, and blatant joint smoking in events such as the Notting Hill Carnival, all point to more relaxed attitudes. However, this isn't law or official policy, and it seems due to international pressure serious debate and research isn't being entered into. This is a shame. In comparison to alcohol, violent crime and anti-social behaviour due to it's use it pretty much unheard of. But everyone has seen or been involved in violent clashes in pubs/ clubs etc where a few too many beers have been downed. I'd really like to see an official line of decriminalisation brought in for what is in my opinion, a very social, pleasant, creative form of intoxication.
Luke, UK

Why is everyone here in favour of smoking pot ?Is it because they believe it is harmless ? The UK politicians many of whom seem to have a prohibitionist mentality (and who often seem to criminalise their own lifestyles) really ought to consider the views of most of the people on this issue. The evidence is here in this forum! If it ain't harmful, it shouldn't be banned and the onus should be on the prohibitionists to prove their case for restricting peoples freedoms. Draconian restriction of peoples freedom without justification is quite wrong, repressive, insulting, and a likely violation of human rights!
Shaun Hollingworth, UK

We have two opposing camps of propagandists: the prohibitionists and the legalisers. We must find the middle ground.
Peter Robinson, Hong Kong
I'm a retired chief inspector of police and I enjoy a nice bowl of grass or hash at the weekend. It helps me to relax, puts me in good humour and makes me more sensitive and expressive. The continuing War on Drugs is corrupt and cynical and causes far more harm than good. It is time people recognised there can be such a thing as responsible drug use. What is lacking is the proper education. All we have now is two opposing camps of propagandists: the prohibitionists and the legalisers. We must find the middle ground.
Peter Robinson, Hong Kong

As all drug-taking is illegal we may not know the real percentage of people who move on from soft to hard drugs. A personal survey of my friends puts it low, of the 100's of people I know around the world who smoke dope a handful have tried something harder. Can we learn more from Holland's experiences to see if dope smoking alone causes people to become heroin and crack addicts or how much can be attributed to other factors i.e. unemployment, social problems etc.? Perhaps Mo Mowlam's "revelations" may give more impetus to a balanced discussion on the topic. Today's wine and beer drinkers are not necessarily seen to be the meths swillers of tomorrow.
Judd , Italy

They play political games with a very serious issue, and in doing so they make the "problem" a hundred times worse, as there is no-one able to actually be objective about drugs in the UK. I have smoked cannabis for at least 20 years. I very occasionally use LSD. I used to take a lot of coke when I was in the music industry (surprise, surprise!), and found MDMA an incredible personal experience. Does this make me a criminal? I really think not. It makes me a million times better qualified to speak on the matter that Keith Halliwell, who has a personal mandate never ever ever to think reaslistically about decriminalising cannabis to free up the resources of Customs and Excise and the Police so they can be concentrated on stopping the heroin. And of course the hopeless social envoironments which creates armies of teeny smack-addicts/criminals will cost a huge fortune to repair, as it will involve (in part) reinstating Income Support for young unemployed school-leavers to stop them resorting to criminality to pay for something to make their crap lives feel less painful for a few hours... but no-one's got the guts to do it. Marijuana does not kill. Alcohol kills. Tobacco kills. Adulterated drugs kill.
Pete, UK

In order to tackle the problem of illegal drug use and effectively debate the issue of the possible legalisation of cannabis, the drug situation in Britain needs to be fairly described. If politicians or other public figures can use their own experiences in order to contribute to painting a clear picture of the level of drug use in Britain they should be able to do so without criticism as long as they are not openly advocating the use of illegal drugs. Their own memories could also be valuable in deciding on the best way to tackle the problem be it increased education or law enforcement.
Catherine Daunt, England

The war against drugs is over and the prohibitionists have lost. It's about time Government, the Media and Society generally faced up to that fact.
Alan Tyne, UK

We appear to have one MP out of 650-odd who admits to having smoked dope. Out of the remaining 649, I bet few could honestly say they have never tried it. With Ms Mowlam's honest admission, I hope the drug debate can now move on. The issue of preventing people smoking dope for medicinal purposes needs to be addressed immediately.
Ed Bayley, USA (English)

All the respondents so far are more or less pro-legalisation. The Economist, the Independent and even the Daily Telegraph say we should think about legalisation. Why are politicians so scared of putting their heads above the parapet on this issue?
Dave HJ, UK

I think that if legalization/decriminalization is to occur, it will have to be attacked as illegal restraint of free trade. The entire "dangerous drug" propaganda mechanism is designed to keep our attention away from the fact that hemp was seen (in the 1930's) to be becoming industrially competitive with cotton, petroleum and woodpulp. An entire suite of industrial feedstocks was eliminated in one swell foop!, just by calling the plant a "drug" and declaring it illegal! The law was sneaky and underhanded as it was written, and it should never have been allowed to happen in the first place. Social recognition of that fact would allow us to repeal the original laws.
Bruce Ward, Sebastopol, CA. USA

I did a bit of shoplifting when I was a kid - does that mean I'm precluded from saying that stealing is wrong? Of course not. So why should Mo having smoked dope as a student preclude her from saying it's wrong if she believes that to be the case. We all learn as we get older.
Andy Rooney, UK

I do not propose legalising cannabis but de-criminalising users would be a positive first step.
Here we go with another hysterical round of tabloid media frenzy about drugs. No sensible debate, no rational discussion (this site the exception) in the media. This is so hypocritical of the media. Knowing several journalists, I have never met a harder drinking, toking and snorting group of individuals with the exception of people in marketing! I smoke dope regularly for recreational purposes, have a serious professional job and have never turned into the crazed heroin using habitual thief' that the right wing press in this country seem to believe is inevitable. When is the voice of reason going to be heard in the political arena away from the bleating of the Tories et al. I accept that not all recreational drug users are well balanced individuals and hard drugs should remain illegal, but seeing as alcohol and tobacco are legal it does seem very hypocritical that cannabis users are still criminalised for their drug choice when that drug is softer than legal ones. I do not propose legalising cannabis but de criminalising users would be a positive first step.
Neil, UK

Why do we always have the most close minded people telling us that they can't legalise something whose benefits they can clearly see, but choose to ignore. Rather than thinking of the people whose lives they could be benefiting they choose always to look at the negatives, blowing them completely out of proportion. Something has to be done soon, surely the government wouldn't turn down all the revenue it would make from legalising and then taxing the industry as with tobacco and alcohol, two far more dangerous drugs, but at the same time 100% legal!

I can't see how Mo Mowlam saying that she has smoked a spliff once and didn't like it makes her more suitable for her job. It is widely accepted by the general public, the scientific community and even the World Health Organisation that Marijuana isn't really in the same "league" as other drugs that she is looking into. Perhaps if she was a reformed smack addict then she could make such claims.
Pete, Oxford

How can the government claim that it is of no consequence that the head of their anti-drugs campaign has admitted that she has used cannabis yet, continue to make criminals of millions of people in this country who choose to do the same? Surely this just further highlights the glaring inconsistencies in the government's 'war on drugs'.
Gareth, UK

This whole slippery slope argument for keeping cannabis illegal is ridiculous
Tristan O'Dwyer,UK
I'm a student. I smoke dope. I'm on a good industrial placement, and can see myself getting a good career. Many of my friends who also smoke dope have never tried anything harder, and wouldn't want to. This whole "slippery slope" argument for keeping cannabis illegal is ridiculous. In fact, if you were to take away the contact that stoners have with drug dealers (who sell hard drugs as well as pot) by legalising it, and making it available in a regulated way, then I think the number of dope smokers, who do move onto hard drugs, would go down dramatically.
Tristan O'Dwyer, England

I often wonder how much less work the Police would have to do in the UK pubs and clubs on a Friday/Saturday night if people were indulging in cannabis instead of the poison we refer to as alcohol. If anything should be illegal it should be alcohol which has various negative aspects associated with it. How many lives have been ruined because of this poison. Anyone know of a life that's been ruined because of cannabis ? Anyone know of someone who "cannot handle their cannabis" ? It's about time Government hypocricy and paranoia came to an end.
Jeff Nagle, UK

The war on Drugs has been LOST! Spend the money for this WAR to educate and inform people not scare them with jail sentences.
Tjaart W, South Africa

There's nothing wrong with anyone smoking cannabis. People are free to do whatever they want as long as they don't hurt anyone else in the process.
Luke T, USA

I think that it's about time that the press stopped reporting on trivia and started reporting the News that they are paid to report on. I would say that 90% of people have smoked a joint at some point in their lives so where's the problem - Maybe the press should all start their day with a joint then they could learn to chill out a bit!
Simone Sparrow, UK

New Zealand has recently elected a Green Party MP who openly admits smoking cannabis and intends to continue doing so. I think all politicians should try a joint or two - maybe then we would get some original policies and less back-stabbing.
Stu, New Zealand

Perhaps if Tony's cronies all smoked a joint before their Cabinet meetings, they might start making sensible decisions about running the country.

More tabloid junk. I suspect that the tabloid journalists are jealous. It takes a bit of co-ordination between hand, mouth and brain to smoke a joint. So I guess they feel excluded!
Tony Hague, UK

It is interesting to read people's comments - they seem to think that smoking dope once or twice at college gives them some kind of insight into modern drug culture. The point about cannabis being less likely to make people aggressive than say alcohol is well taken and indisputable. However, clubbers don't smoke.... We are talking Ecstasy, Acid, Coke and many many others. I am not saying that these are necessarily worse than alcohol either but by over simplifying, their contributions lose relevance. The trap for those in public life who confess to having tried it (anything), is that they have to say that they didn't like it - otherwise they can't plausibly deny using it now. In any case they would be condoning illegal behaviour.
Clarke, Japan (but I'm British)

It doesn't matter one bit if a political/famous figure has smoked cannabis. Those who've tried drugs at one stage are far better qualified to debate the issue than those, who for political reasons, take the high moral ground. The drugs debate at the moment has only reached the stage of Paul Betts commenting on the latest ecstasy death and saying how dangerous drugs are. The media is partly responsible for being weak and failing to challenge the politicians on the drugs debate. The sooner our politicians grow up and treat this issue with the seriousness it deserves the better. It needs prudent debate and shouldn't be outcast as a political hot potato and ignored.
James Sillars, United Kingdom

I don't think there is anything particularly wrong with cannabis, and applaud Mo Mowlam for her candour. I also feel that yet again the Tories are proving their archaic policies and views by not supporting an open debate on the fundamental difference between cannabis and other hard drugs such as cocaine & heroin.
Tim R, UK

If all the big-shots and government officials were denied their current positions for their past drug experiments, who would be left? Come on, it's just another passing stage in life!
Sze Ming, Malaysia

Many scientific studies have shown most drugs including legal and prescription drugs are far more damaging than cannabis, if you want to get hysterical about drugs do it about lethal drugs like heroin and do NOT include cannabis in the league. Also if smoking effects your ability to work and be a good member of society then you better fire and imprison most of the UK, if not the world.
Matthew, Wales

I think it is true that alcohol is a far greater problem. The potential to lose control, putting yourself and, worse, others, at risk is far greater when alcohol is abused than pot. It is unfortunate that our society can not see past the unwarranted historical taboos associated with marijuana and continues to promote and glamorise excessive alcohol consumption, the drug of choice for "normal" society.
Kirk Prestegard, USA

Why is smoking joints always supposed to only happen during one's "heady student days"? I know people of 70 who smoke, and all ages below. What I'm waiting for is the politician who says that he/she smoked as a student, and still does! Oh, but I forgot - it's illegal, isn't it?
Chris Davis, UK

Have I tried to smoke a joint? Sure have, about 30 years ago with my peers Some of whom are now pillars of society, leaders of business and mostly are very successful. I like many of my friends find the use of marijuana a very anti social experience and was not conducive to having a good time. So consequently "the drug of choice" was a no brainer and to be absolutely honest it was more social to have wine or beer in moderation.
Colin Booth, Canada

The fact that so many politicians have used the illegal drugs should be seen as evidence that the draconian laws re cannabis are impossible to justify.
Nick Watson, US

I was appalled by some of the headlines in today's papers which implied that cannabis was somehow comparable to hard drugs like cocaine and heroin. The sooner the media stop misrepresenting cannabis in this way, the sooner we might be able to have a rational debate about legalisation.
David, England

It's a shame that Ms Mowlam's been given this bone to chew on. I suspect she'll find it indigestible. Personal experience tells me that on balance drugs aren't a good thing. However, I've yet to hear a politician speak knowledgeably and intelligently on the subject. Yet again we're going to have a politician regurgitate the same tired, unbalanced and ignorant anti-drug message.
Mark Thompson, London, UK

Having never been a student, I couldn't comment on what the frequency of cannabis or any other drug use is amongst them. But the fact that Mo Mowlam had a cheeky puff or two as a youngster has absolutely no relevance to her abilities as a politician today, and that goes for all MPs and indeed, anybody in publc life. The sooner a measured and non-hysterical debate about illegal substance use within our society can be started, then the better off we'll all be. The current legislation is not working and NEVER WILL. Alcohol is the worst culprit for abuse in our society and if you don't believe that then try going to a club where everyone's drinking, and contrast that with a club where people are mostly using other substances and you'll see what I mean - you'll get a better atmosphere at the latter, and you won't get your head punched in or your girlfriend molested! Alcohol is alot worse than cannabis - FACT!
Dave, UK

I'm inclined to think that someone who didn't have at least one smoke at university - especially in the 60s - might be a bit of a funny bunny!
Wendy, UK

I'd much rather that the future boyfriends of my four small daughters smoked the odd joint than got regularly drunk. When was the last time you saw someone throw a punch and smoke a joint at the same time?
Bob, UK

There must be precious few of us who haven't puffed the odd joint or two! I'd find the day to day alcohol consumption of our politicians far more revealing┐
Janet, UK

What is the purpose of pressurising high-profile people into admitting they dabbled in cannabis? The whole thing smacks of McCarthyism and, as usual, is driven by the Press and its desire for shock-tactic headlines to increase sales in an increasingly competitive media market.
Rob Cory, UK

The voice of experience usually offers the best advice. I, like millions of other students, smoked cannabis while at university. I did not end up taking heroine or cocaine. I did not become a criminal feeding my drug habit. I continued to get a good degree and pursue a worthwhile career. I consider my limited experience of illegal drugs to be worthwhile and valuable life experience. Having tried these substances when I was young that sub-culture holds no mystery or allure. I would hope that any person charged with making legislation to combat the use of illegal drugs in this country has had, at the very least, the same degree of relevant life experience as me.
Alex S, UK

And no tabloid journalist has ever smoked dope I suppose?
Mark Verth, UK

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See also:
17 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Mowlam has changed drugs debate - MP
14 Sep 99 |  Medical notes
Drugs factfile

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