Criminal Law

Part of Theft from Shops (Use of Penalty Notices for Disorder) – in the House of Commons at 5:19 pm on 11th March 2009.

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Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield 5:19 pm, 11th March 2009

No, not if the hon. Gentleman's intervention would be of the same standard as the previous one.

There is much to be said about the part played by facts and scientific evidence in the making of policy on matters as serious as drugs and criminal activity posing danger to individuals. Between 1998 and 2005, notwithstanding all the folk moral panics that the Daily Mail and others keep spreading, the number of instances of people being registered with doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists owing to problems such as schizophrenia were falling. We were told, however, that the number of cases of schizophrenic disorder were increasing because of the increase in skunk usage. The evidence suggested the exact opposite, but, as we have seen on a number of occasions, it was a case of "Don't let the facts get in the way of a good bit of knee-jerk posturing".

Following the decriminalisation of cannabis by the present Government in 2004, cannabis use decreased. According to all the knee-jerk posturing it had increased, but, again, all the evidence suggested the exact opposite—and again it was a case of "Don't let the facts get in the way of preventing sensible policy-making".

As for whether cannabis is dangerous, of course it is dangerous. Lots of drugs are dangerous. Aspirin is dangerous. Alcohol is dangerous. According to one member of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Professor David Nutt,

"Alcohol is more harmful"— more harmful than cannabis, that is—

"to the population, certainly, and to the individual, possibly."

Alcohol is a legal drug, but, according to all the scientific evidence, it is more harmful than cannabis. People say that cannabis leads to harder drugs. It is 100 per cent. guaranteed that anyone who has ever taken a harder drug, although they may or may not have started with cannabis, drank alcohol before proceeding to harder drugs. People keep repeating a nonsensical theory of cause and effect. Of course cannabis is dangerous. Of course smoking cigarettes is dangerous, although at least it does not cause violent or antisocial behaviour. Of course alcohol is dangerous.

I have often been out on patrol with the police. If one asks what causes them the most problems during a typical working week out on the streets, they will say that, above all else, it is alcohol. Recently, when we were taking evidence during the Committee stage of the Policing and Crime Bill, I asked what substance needed most to be controlled. The answer was alcohol. Of course cannabis is dangerous—all drugs are—but we have a legal drug that is far more dangerous, and we treat it much more leniently than cannabis. Cannabis is less dangerous, but we treat it much more harshly.

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