Generally speaking, I try not to get too hung up on the individual failings of articles in the right wing press. I could spend from now until Christmas objectively criticising just one edition of the Express or Mail – and they are tame compared to their American counterparts. Every so often however, they seem to lose the plot a little bit, drop their pseudo-moderate cover and output what can only be described as textbook, blatant propoganda, the likes of which Joseph Goebbels would be proud. Every once in a while, the logical jumps made become so cavernous, that one is forced to consider the possibility that the Daily Mail is in fact a working proof of Poe’s Law; that their ranks are in fact filled with undercover liberals, pretending to hold conservative viewpoints, while deliberately presenting themselves as idiots, in order to discredit the conservative ideology.
Press editorial standards, including those supposedly upheld by the PPC, state that there should be a separation between news and opinion. That means that the DM is free, within reason, to publish its racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, xenophobic, hysterical and illogical babble, so long is it is clearly portrayed as opinion. It is also free, should it choose to make such a bold leap, to publish actual facts, about actual things, things that actually happened. What it is not free to do, is to mix the two up. Of course, this means that yesterday it went ahead and did exactly that, exploiting the death of a young man to push its anti-drugs message.
Now, there’s a few things wrong with that article. When I say “a few things”, what I actually mean is, “pretty much everything”, including the title, and the inclusion of the story into the “news” portion of the website. In fairness, the opening gambit of the title, “Killed by cannabis”, isn’t universally invalid; had the subject in question been crushed by a giant ball of hemp, rolling down a hill at high speed, it might be remotely appropriate. That said, even then, he would have no more been “killed by cannabis” than someone who is clubbed to death with a lead pipe is “killed by lead” as opposed to “killed by man with lead pipe”. Possibly, had the man in question died though a cannabis overdose, then this might make this title remotely appropriate, although even then, “killed himself with a cannabis overdose” would be more appropriate. Of course, that’s completely ignoring the fact that it’s practically impossible to smoke enough cannabis for an overdose. I’m scraping the barrel here. The point is, syntactically and logically speaking, it’s nigh on impossible to be “killed by cannabis”.
By the time we’ve made it down to the second half of the article title, we realise that everything we’ve been told so far, is a lie. The young man concerned, it’s now revealed, did in fact die as a result of falling down the stairs. Now, again I’m scraping the barrel, but I do sincerely suspect that our victim was in fact, not pushed down the stairs by an anthropomorphic cannabis-monster. I suspect, instead, that this was a terrible and tragic accident. I’m not for a minute saying, that the fact the subject had consumed cannabis, did not at all affect their probability of falling down the stairs, however, that still does not detract from the position of cannabis as an inanimate substance — a substance which does not force itself upon to its user, but is consumed voluntarily, as with all other drugs, including alcohol.
In a further leap of logic, the article then goes on (we’ve almost reached the end of the title now), to take this anecdote of a single, murderous cannabis plant, and use it as justification to prove a general case, regarding Richard Branson‘s comments that cannabis should be legalised and regulated. We then enter the main body of the article, which proceeds to say the exact same thing as the title, but using more words. You might be fooled for thinking that the body of the article would include evidence and logical reasoning to support the statements made in the title, but you would be wrong. Instead of backing up its argument, the DM uses its usual methodology, which consists of repeating the same unfounded opinion over and over again, interspersed with quotes from unqualified or irrelevant people who have the same opinion.
The first significant hole in the DM’s argument is a logical jump. Time and time again, we see statistics of people who had traces of cannabis in their bloodsteam when they died, represented as if they were statistics of deaths caused by cannabis. Despite the best efforts of rationalists to convince the word that correlation does not equal causation, that a+b = a->b, the message does not seem to have reached the DM. That’s not the only problem: looking at statistics for cannabis present when accidents occurs would only ever tell us what number of accidents involved cannabis, not the probability of cannabis causing an accident. The latter figure would only be determined by interpreting data on the number of accidents involving cannabis smokers, compared to the total number of times cannabis was smoked by anyone in the UK for the same period. Unfortunately, with prohibition, this kind of data is difficult to gather in a realistic environment. Regardless of all this — all this, being the lack of statistical evidence that cannabis use increases the general rate of accidents and/or fatalities in a population — the DM does not even try to support its argument using evidence, only an anecdotal remark from the coroner.
Let’s suppose however, that in this case, the use of cannabis did contribute to this unfortunate accident. This in no way justifies the prohibition of cannabis. Firstly, to rely on a single, or even series of anecdotes, to justify a general policy, is illogical. In order to evaluate general policy, scope must be considered. Millions of people smoke cannabis every year; one single fatality, no matter how terrible, does not constitute evidence on overall risk. No fact of one case alone can “prove Sir Richard Branson wrong”. The other important thing to consider is that drug policy must be consistent; it makes no sense to prohibit one drug while allowing a more-harmful drug to remain legal. In this case, one has to wonder whether the DM would even have covered this story if the drug concerned was alcohol. In the case of alcohol however, the statistics are there: last year there were over one million hospital admissions due to alcohol misuse. Deaths due to tobacco tell a similar story. If these drugs set an acceptable rate of harm, then cannabis falls well under this threshold.
The second article on the subject of drugs is penned by Kathy Gyngell, whose other wonderful ideas include shutting-down Ofsted and leaving education completely deregulated. At least in this case, the DM was able to choose the correct section of their website, that being “RightMinds“. RightMinds, as it happens, is basically Comment is Free, but with more angry-and-stupid. The article starts off with a completely non-loaded gambit, “our leading liberal lawyers”. I can sympathise however, with this statement, because for those on the far right, everyone must appear relatively liberal.
They say that a stopped clock is right twice a day, and with the statement, “Does is [sic - this] really address what is really problematic about drugs sentencing?” the writer is spot on. Unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons, but let’s give her marks for effort here. The new sentencing guidelines are a step in the right direction for those of us that want to end prohibition, but they do not solve the real problem of criminalisation. She continues:
We have a Misuse of Drugs Act which clearly sets out the penalties for supply and possession for three classes of drugs. It was passed in 1971. It protects the public from harmful, toxic and addictive substances that could and should never get through our system of drug registration on grounds of safety, quality or efficacy.
Ah. That’s a nice thought. There are several unconsidered problems here, however. Firstly, our attitude to crime in general, along with our understanding of criminology and why people commit crimes, has moved on massively since the 1970s. That however, won’t trouble conservatives, who believe that all illegal acts are committed purely because of “bad people”, who are inherently irredeemable and should be hanged. The second issue here is that there are many substances that we now know have, in the past, been poorly evaluated. Ibuprofen probably would not be legal over the counter if invented today. If considered objectively, alcohol would never be licensed; it would be considered purely recreational and very harmful. The article continues:
No government since has believed it should be changed — a stance backed by the bulk of the public.
…except of course, when cannabis was downgraded to category C, by the last Labour government.
You can forget the hype about prisons being full of drug offenders. They aren’t.
Yes, you can forget all that hype. And facts. And all of those things that are true. Like the fact that last year, drug offences were the second greatest reason for incarceration, after violent crime. Obviously though, we’re going soft on evil drug users and wasting prison space on all those harmless murderers, rapists and muggers.
As Peter Hitchens reported last year even for *supply* of Class ‘A’ drugs… 774 out of 2, 530 convicted offenders did not go to prison at all, let alone for life.
Alternatively phrased as, 1756 did go to prison. That’s just over 70%. So what we’re really saying is, in 30% of drug supply cases, there were mitigating circumstances, such as the defendent being an unwilling mule. Hell, we don’t really know, but let’s go making generalised statements without actually considering any reasons. Then we can just blame the “liberals”.
Sir Iain Blair said in Leicester last year, decriminalisation is the worst of all options. It leaves the streets and public at the mercy of dealers.
YES! Exactly! Just like the public is currently at the mercy of those wicked alcohol dealers! …wait. This statement is taking logic and clubbing it to death with a mallet. Decriminalisation, as in the Netherlands, would allow for police to focus take crimes in the drug trade better, because more of that trade would occur in the open. It’s far easier to police a coffee shop that you know about than a random dark alley. The best option, ending prohibition of less-harmful substances such as cannabis entirely, would leave cannabis in the same boat as alcohol: legal, taxed and regulated.
The key research this advisory panel bases its non deterrence theory on actually says no such thing. What it does tell us is that while dealers view prison as an occupational hazard, or an ‘unlikely risk’, they will go to considerable lengths to minimise their chance of arrest. A bit different.
Yes Kathy, they are “a bit different”. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean, as you’ve quickly jumped to assume, that they are contradictory. The fact that drug dealers will go to considerable lengths to escape being caught does not mean that it forms a deterrence. The fact that they do not want to go do jail does not imply that the risk of doing so will stop them dealing, so long as they do so while taking every possible precaution not to go to jail. In fact, while the harshness of the punishment does not correlate with the deterrence against dealing, what it does correlate to is the measures dealers will go to. It’s in the same way that states with the death penalty have an increased amount of multiple murders — if you’re going down for the one, you’ve got nothing to lose by killing witnesses. In the same way, if dealing drugs means life, there’s no further deterrence to killing a few people if it improves your chance of not getting caught. Shorter sentences have little affect on total dealer numbers, but minimise collateral.
Despite cannabis being a Class B drug, possession and dealing offences are dealt with by warnings – nearly 87,000 of them and 20,000 by cautions. Only one in eight even get to court. Not exactly a robust intervention. Nor in this country is there any court ordered treatment option for cannabis using young people as there is in Sweden.
That’s probably because police and courts use their discretion. Thankfully, they’re smarter than you Kathy, and they’re starting to wake up to the fact that cannabis is a low-harm substance. We’re not telling people who smoke a couple of joints to get treatment, because they don’t need treatment, they’re perfectly fine. It makes about as much sense as consigning someone to mandatory AA classes because they drank a beer. Once. Back in college.
But rather than suggesting such robust interventions, or those successfully practiced by the US drug courts…
Sorry, wait, what? The US “war on drugs” is commonly regarded as the most epic failure of legal policy in modern times.
Pity our children in these low level dealers’ hands as they left free to dominate the streets and push their 20 ecstasy tablets without compunction
I know. It’s almost like we need to legalise these substances, so we can sell them through reputable shops which don’t commit related crimes and which only sell to adults.
Honestly, I feel I should be tipping my hat to the DM. They’ve outdone themselves — nailed every single cliché and logical pitfall in the book. Well done, guys.