Cannabis campaign has gone to pot

Anthony Seldon is master of Wellington College in Berkshire

Last month, the Independent on Sunday declared an end to its campaign to legalise pot, begun 10 years ago, on the grounds that "pot ain't what it used to be". The newspaper's virtue later reached new heights with its publication of an article by the director of the UN office on drugs and crime, who wrote that the paper "deserves great credit for having the courage to change its mind on cannabis on the cases of mounting evidence of just how dangerous the world's most popular illicit drug has become".

Rosie Boycott, the editor of the paper 10 years ago, is the toast of the town, initially for her enlightened liberalism, and now for her enlightened willingness to eat humble pie.

Am I alone in finding this stomach-churning? It seems to me to ignore some rather important parts of the story. The volte-face would have been acceptable had there been sincere remorse and an apology to those thousands of people, and their families, who felt emboldened to start or continue taking cannabis as a result of the newspaper's campaign (and that of fellow "liberals").

What about the school children whose lives have been wrecked because they have developed psychoses or been unable to cope and keep up? What about those who have died or reside in mental hospitals? What about the teachers who have had to endure apathetic or aggressive children high on dope?

A study published in the current issue of the journal Addiction argues that the use of cannabis grew 18-fold among under-18s in the last years of the 20th century and early years of this century. They are predicting an epidemic of schizophrenia. Some of these people will recover. Others never will.

Young people are infinitely impressionable. If a climate is created where it becomes acceptable and, indeed, "safe" to take a drug which is still frowned on and considered illicit, young people will just "roll that spliff". A clear message that drugs - in any form - are dangerous and could muck you up for life needs to be given.

One needs to advocate clearly that young people can derive real and enduring "buzzes" without recourse to chemicals. Schools need to place greater emphasis on education for healthy living from the earliest stages.

Respect for one's self and other people lie at the heart of this. Children can be "taught" how to be happy, without artificial stimulants.

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