The Reverend Bill Matthews was Vicar of Gouray Church. Here he discusses young people’s attitude, why they don’t listen to the heath messages, why the health officials clearly don’t listen to them, and whether decriminalisation is possible for some drugs.
My own view of the subject of cannabis and tobacco is that it is very much an accident of history that one ended up being criminalised, and one was legal.
The contingent nature of history could have been so easily different. In terms of effect, tobacco is at least as destructive of human health as cannabis, but because it became acceptable early in our history, it is simply not possible to criminalise it. Moreover, as the Prohibition era demonstrated, criminalising a drug like alcohol only drives the problem underground, and plants the seed of gangster culture.
So I think that while health professionals stress the dangers of tobacco, there is a certain degree of reticence and hypocrisy inbuilt into the system by the history.
Incidentally, I have not yet come across murder by cannabis, but there have been a number of cases of people extracting nicotine from tobacco and using it for murder, usually disguised in a food like a curry, and one man was sentenced only this year for killing his wife by nicotine.
The evidence for cannabis is more varied. There is certainly anecdotal evidence linking cannabis use to some homicides, such as a murder in Colorado this year, but on the other hand, recent crime statistics for Denver show a significant drop in robberies and violent crimes since marijuana legalization went into effect. As John Vibes notes: “It is important to mention that this strong correlation is not definitive proof that legalization is the cause of this drop in crime, but it does strongly suggest that this is the case.”
I think the USA legalisation experiment will provide far better data to form opinions on, and any arguments, either for or against cannabis use, should contain a qualification that these opinions may be revised once more data becomes available. I would be extremely distrustful of any positions which were rigidly fixed, either for or against, because at the moment, the jury is still out.
Which Drugs are Our ProblemBy The Reverend Bill Matthews
Concern grows on the island about the increasing traffic in drugs. The obvious consequence is that they will be more readily accessible to consumers. Consumers include our children and this is something that should concern all of us.
However, is it a time for moral panic or reactionary hysteria? If a new social disease is threatening to affect even younger age groups then certainly we should take it seriously. Certainly we should respond quickly and try to take steps which are effective. But how can we do this in the face of what is a growing worldwide problem?
Moreover, the problem is distorted by media sensation and much ignorance amongst the general public. So, perhaps the best step we can take is to examine it as realistically and dispassionately and analytically as we can. But let us do this ourselves and not leave it to others, especially if our children may be involved.
One of the issues in this debate that we often fail to take into consideration is the view of young people themselves. Frank Colfield, Professor of Education at Durham University, together with a colleague, Les Grafton, have this year undertaken research with young people ("Drugs and Young People," 1994). In this he draws a clear distinction between soft and hard drugs. He says that young people often have well thought out reasons for taking soft drugs and reasonably want any discussion to take into account all forms of legal and illegal drug taking. This includes cigarettes, alcohol, sleeping tablets, tranquillisers, anabolic steroids, glue sniffing, cannabis, cocaine and heroin. A more disturbing debate!
They ask which drug causes most social damage? The annual death rate in the UK caused by tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs is about 100,000, 30,000 and 300 respectively. Since 1982 only four people, all adults, have died as a result of cannabis. That needs to be compared with one million who died from tobacco during the same period. It seems fair then that young people should want to include in discussion the smoking and drinking habits of adults.
Of course, it can be said that drug taking part of the "pop culture" which young people adopt as this alternative to the notionally "straight" world of adults. There are many good arguments to justify why young people find the adult world unattractive. Also, there are many indicators which suggest that cultural conditioning from parents, state, education and churches is not what it could and should be.
So, the attractions of the hedonistic, anti-aggression rave culture are not hard to understand. It includes music, dance, vocabulary and allegedly safe drugs like ecstasy. In a post-industrial society young adults in particular have a disposable income even if unemployed and have time which they seek to make exciting. One good feature about the soft drug scene is that it often seeks love and peace and is directly opposed to the violence of being louts.
We then have to ask the question: "Are drugs all bad?" The Department of Health's guide to parents for drugs in 1992 states:
"There are no hard or soft drugs, no good or bad drugs."
Professor Colfield says that this remark flies in the face of young people's experience and so they tend to reject it together with other drug education which is an attempt to con them. All his informants made a clear distinction between soft (ganja or marijuana, acid, poppers and even ecstasy) and hard drugs (cocaine, crack and heroin). To them that is a wide gap and no slippery slope between smoking cannabis and the injection of heroin. They were as averse to the common stereotype of addicted junkies as the rest of us.
Professor Colfield also makes a case for the decriminalisation of cannabis in line with some other European countries such as Holland, Spain and Germany. He also advocates an experimental legalisation period of five years which would enable us to examine the situation in a controlled way. Well, there is something to be said for a controlled experiment, particularly for decriminalisation and certainly we need a much more balanced and detailed examination of the whole issue of drugs.
My opinion is that it is all as much part of our cultural malaise as anything. If young people reject the models of adult society then we must strive to provide that which is better. It is no good saying that the young have always done this. We should be concerned to seek what is more inspiring and exciting. From the very earliest days in our teaching of children we should seek to offer them high ideals and moral clarity. We should offer them positive projects which can inspire their imagination. Most of all we should treat them seriously and involve them in all discussions about their welfare as part of the common purpose of life together.
My point is that there is no point in seeking to address the problems of society without first addressing the causes. Houses need to be put in order in the State, in the churches, in the schools and in homes before we can expect a more acceptable and accepting young generation.