Cannabis is no addictive life-wrecker, Mary Ann Sieghart says.
But its illegality can draw young people into heroin use
It's official: cannabis wrecks lives. So says the Home Secretary. So says William Hague. And how does the Tory leader know? He saw the drug "wrecking the lives" of many of his fellow undergraduates at Oxford.
It is the sort of assertion that you tend to accept - unless you know otherwise. I was at the same university as William Hague, in the same year, studying the same subject. Most of the people I knew at that time smoked cannabis. None of their lives has been wrecked by the drug. Indeed, every single one of those friends has since prospered.
Several are now entrepreneurs, worth millions; there is a clutch of well-to-do barristers; an actor and a novelist who are both household names; several investment bankers, and more than a handful in the media. One or two are Tory MPs, but I won't mention their names. Most have children and lead enviably stable, professional lives.
Until our third year, drug-taking seemed to be a pretty harmless occupation. It livened up people's evenings and weekends, but did not affect their work. Then one of the dealers started selling heroin.
And suddenly a small group of otherwise lively, talented undergraduates fell under its spell. My brother and I, who had seen heroin destroy the lives of some London friends, became the most proselytising of preachers, trying to persuade others not to touch the stuff. We had only limited success.
Heroin is the really dangerous drug. One boy I knew died of an overdose. All but one of the rest gave it up, and now lead perfectly successful lives. (Oddly enough, so does the junkie.) But it took a chunk out of their early adult years, and left scars that will never completely fade.
This is the drug that undoubtedly wrecks lives. The only reason why some of my friends encountered it, though, was because they had to go to an underworld drug dealer in order to buy their relatively harmless cannabis. If anything acts as a gateway to dangerous drugs, it is the illegal status of pot.
This illegality also has a distorting effect on the picture that most people have of drug-takers. They encounter only the casualties, the equivalent of alcoholics: those who smoke cannabis in moderation and lead unwrecked lives are reluctant to advertise the fact because the law has criminalised them.
But, if Mr Hague had moved in different circles at Oxford, he would have discovered that "social" pot smokers, like social drinkers, are just normal, respectable and well-adjusted members of society - no different, indeed, from him.
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