Lord Taylor of Warwick

I am pleased that the House of Lords voted by a majority of 52 against an amendment which would have overturned the Government’s proposal. The change will reverse the then Home Secretary David Blunkett’s 2004 downgrading and raise a maximum jail sentence for possession to five years.

I believe that Cannabis is not a ‘soft’ drug. The stronger varieties such as skunk have proven mental health risks. As a former Judge, I witnessed the devastating impact that drugs had on young people. What starts out as ‘a bit of fun’ often ends in serious addiction to Class A drugs.

The Labour Government’s policy towards Cannabis has been unclear. Having lowered the category, they are now raising it again. Their message on drugs has been dangerously ambiguous. Recently, one of my researchers attended a debate where Communities Secretary Hazel Blears seemed more than a little confused over which category Cannabis belonged in!

I am pleased that the Government has now seen sense and are, as Jacqui Smith said, “serious about tackling the danger that the drug poses”. Better late than never.

20 comments for “SINK SKUNK.

  1. 01/12/2008 at 4:43 pm

    The trouble with drugs policy in this country (in common with a lot of the Western world) is it’s heavily politicised. Any attempt to have a system based on harm is seen as politically weak and avoided like the plague. While Blunkett’s handling of the downgrading was confused it did at least save the police some time. The usage figures for Cannabis has been heading in the right direction since. I wonder if the figures head back up in 5 years if people will think about reversing this latest change?

    I’m sure there are sections of the population badly affected by strong variates of Cannabis. However there are also sections of the
    population who have a similar tawdry time with alcohol yet we don’t
    ban alcohol to prevent the harm it causes to those with mental health
    problems (not to mention the rest of damage caused by it in the rest
    of the population).

    We need to have properly financed studies into the effects of drugs.
    We should be moving towards an evidence based, politically
    independent, multi-teared classification system with a focus on harm
    reductions. Until then I fear drugs will continue to be the political
    football they have been for the last 60 years.

  2. 01/12/2008 at 4:50 pm

    The question that is raised, since “tackling the dangers” is the apparent number one priority, is whether simply making the drug illegal and prosecuting users for getting high is an effective way of doing so.

    Given that there are serious mental health issues over alcohol use and serious addiction issues with nicotine, can we expect similar prohibitions on these dangerous drugs in the future? Or is the freedom to get hammered more sacrosanct than the freedom to get high?

  3. B
    01/12/2008 at 4:52 pm

    The idea that Cannabis has ‘proven mental health risks’ is a bit of hyperbole since there is no settled scientific consensus on the direction of causation. Simply put, the research doesn’t demonstrate whether the very slightly higher rates of anxiety and depression in chronic cannabis users is being caused by the cannabis use or whether already anxious and depressed people are simply more likely than other groups to use cannabis.

    Sadly this kind of scientific illiteracy is all to common in the lords. The effect of this inability to parse scientific and academic prose is usually mitigated by the opposition. But sadly in the increasing number of issues that matter (i.e. drug law reform, joining the EU, debate over civil liberty etc) but which lack a genuine opposition position within the government, no challenge is made and the speaker can get away with saying whatever old clap trap supports the party line. Although the lords credibility is at an all time low, pretending that the things one says are supported by the scientific community when they are not, threatens to diminish the reputation of Academia as well. The long term result is that no scientific report is taken as credible, the political realm says whatever it wants in an effort to push through policy and the rest of us are denied real debate on the issue.

    So as not to be blown to bits by the petard I hoisted what follows are some citations that lend support to the claims I make. I challenge Lord Taylor to cite similar studies which support his claim that mental health risks he cites are “proven”. Asking him the more difficult question of why a person should be subject to imprisonment (for 5 years no less) for mere possession of a substance with some dubious mental health risks, would of course be illuminating to the public at large and signs of a real democratic debate – but, as we all know, this is exactly why such a challenge would never be issued in the house of lords. (After all, a challenge like that might be repeated in kind at the next session and visible embarrassment would just be further evidence that the lord’s is unable to be seen by the public as credible)

    # ^ Patton, G. C., Coffey, C., Carlin, J. B., Degenhardt, L., Lynskey, M., and Hall, W. 2002. Cannabis use and mental health in young people: cohort study. BMJ 325(7374): 1195-1198. Retrieved 45 Mar 2007
    # ^ Fergusson, David M.; Horwood, John L.; Ridder, Elizabeth M. “Research Report: Tests of causal linkages between cannabis use and psychotic symptoms. University of Otago Christchurch School of Medicine published in the Society for the Study of Addiction (2004-11-05). Retrieved on 2007-11-03.
    # ^ Hall, Wayne; Degenhardt, Lousia; Teesson, Maree. “Cannabis use and psychotic disorders: an update”. Office of Public Policy and Ethics, Institute for Molecular Bioscience University of Queensland Australia, and National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre University of New South Wales Australia published in Drug and Alcohol Review (December 2004). Vol 23 Issue 4. Pg 433-443
    # ^ Arseneault, Louise; Cannon, Mary; Wiitton, John; Murray, Robin M. “Causal association between cannabis and psychosis:Causal association between cannabis and psychosis: examination of the evidence”. Institute of Psychiatry published in British Journal of Psychiatry (2004). #184, Pg. 110-117
    # ^ Earth Erowid (2005). “Cannabis & Psychosis – A guide to current research about cannabis and mental health”.

  4. 01/12/2008 at 6:21 pm

    Have you balanced those dangers against the problems connected with enforcement of drug laws, such as infringements on civil liberties?

    Also, have you considered whether locking people up is the best way of “tackling the danger”?

  5. Dee
    01/12/2008 at 6:44 pm

    Lord Taylor speaks a great deal of sense and coming from a legal perspective he clearly has seen the damage done by skunk in particular. Ambiguity has contributed to the num,bers of young peole who are growing up with very mixed messages. Class A? Class B? harmful/not harmful? what is needed is less rhetoric and more honest education ….education that is not linked to targets and accessible funding streams but education which is protected by ringfenced funding and honest evidence baded outcomes.
    Jacqui Smith may say she is being serious about tackling the danger the drug poses but the questions are WHEN? HOW? WHO WILL BE RESPONSIBLE AND HELD TO ACCOUNT FOR QUALITY OF TRAINING?

  6. James Schlackman
    01/12/2008 at 7:02 pm

    Just last week, Baroness D’Souza touched on the value of expertise on this very blog when discussing the 42-day pre-charge detention vote. In noting the input of the former head of MI5 and a senior policeman, she notes that “none of us believe we know more than these experts on this topic”.

    Your post, however, seems to run contrary to this sentiment. I do not mean to discount your own experience, but surely the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs are the recognised experts on this topic, and their opinion has been well reported.

    I’m curious to know whether you simply disagree with Baroness D’Souza on the value of expert input, whether instead you value expertise within the Lords more highly than that outside it, or if there is another explanation for the disparity here?

  7. 01/12/2008 at 9:50 pm

    Isn’t it funny how lots of new comment writers have suddenly come out of the woodwork for this post?

    @Alex Bennee and McDuff: it’s true that there is a huge problem with alcohol. If it were illegal now it would not be legalised or have its classification downgraded. Unfortunately, it’s already legal, and for fairly obvious social and political reasons, it can’t be made illegal for the foreseeable future. This is a good example of why cannabis should be kept as illegal as possible. At least its current status stops many people from using it regularly who might if it were legal, and those who do still use it have to do so in private, where as far as I’m concerned they are welcome to it, as long as it doesn’t have an impact on my or anyone else’s life.

    I think many of the MPs/others who advocated downgrading were probably drawing on their own experiences in the 60s/70s. Unfortunately, the cannabis in circulation today is a very different substance with far higher levels of THC, which is why Lord Taylor of Warwick’s headline is quite appropriate.

  8. Bedd Gelert
    01/12/2008 at 9:52 pm

    “Recently, one of my researchers attended a debate where Communities Secretary Hazel Blears seemed more than a little confused over which category Cannabis belonged in!” A situation not helped by your [intentional?] omission of where it is to be moved from and to.

    I understand where you are coming from on this, but the fact is that the police will have to plan and prioritise their time as to which drugs cause most harm. Treating all drugs as the same will mean huge amounts of time and effort invested in drugs lower down the food chain, while the cocaine traffickers are ignored.

    Of course, to be provocative, one could ask if one is going to base drugs policy on ‘harm’ why not open centres where people could take pure heroin without the law getting involved at all, as suggested by Paul Flynn MP on his ‘must-read’ blog..

    Flynn is so interesting, erudite, free-thinking and iconoclastic, one wonders why the noble Lords haven’t ‘head-hunted’ him for the ermine…

  9. Brom
    02/12/2008 at 1:14 pm

    Dudes, if I wanna get high on da skunk den dat is ma decision. I dont want no old peeps in da House of Lords telling me what ta put in ma body!

  10. 02/12/2008 at 1:55 pm

    I’m sure we would make alcohol illegal Jonathan, so thank God it’s out of the hands of the interfering busybodies! In any event, while making it illegal might remove the harm done, it might also create an underground crime organisation which used up even more police resources. One of the two. I guess we’ll never know unless we try it. If only there were some historical evidence we could look at, perhaps where a nation with similar cultural roots to the UK had prohibited the sale of alcohol in the past. Alas, we’ll never know, will we?

    Interestingly, last month the agitator started making a list of people who have smoked weed and still gone on to have a successful life. Amazingly, given that modern cannabis is so much stronger and will destroy your life much more easily, many of the commenters said that they continued to smoke today, and yet held down full time jobs and hadn’t yet started shivving grannies for crack money. The list of people who have smoked pot, incidentally, includes a former and future US president, and our current Home Secretary and Chancellor. And Bill Clinton might have said he did not inhale, but I’ve seen pictures of him from the 70s and trust me, dude was baked.

    In fact, to tie back into the alcohol issue, and quote the agitator:

    It’s not only possible to smoke pot and go on to live a productive life, that’s by far and away what most people who smoke the drug actually do.

    This is, of course, the main reason why we would never make alcohol illegal now. It’s fully expected that most people can have a glass of wine with their dinner or a few pints of beer at the weekend, can even get drunk on occasion, but still live healthy lives as productive members of society. In fact, it’s acknowledged that even if you spend a bit of time as a rebellious youth in a fug of alcohol and still end up in a suit somewhere in the capital city a decade later. There is an understanding that recreational alcohol use is something many people want to do and the vast majority can do perfectly sensibly. It’s illiberal in the extreme to penalise the majority for the actions of an irresponsible few.

    My personal experience may be skewed because of the industry I work in, but I would estimate that 90+% of the people I know personally have used or still use cannabis – about the same, in fact, as those who drink. None of them are unemployed – in fact, one of the heaviest users I know also works the hardest. I’m also not aware of any of them having criminal records. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that upwards of half the population tries it at some point, potentially less than those who try alcohol but still a significant percentage of the population. Prohibition, in other words, does not keep it out of the hands of people who want to smoke it. People nonetheless survive, as does society.

    All this points to a simple conclusion: prosecuting pot smokers is a frightful waste of time and money. Were we to treat it like alcohol, and prosecute actual harm done with intoxication as an aggravating circumstance, we’d still see Lord Taylor’s stoned wretches who went from cannabis to crack in the courts, but we wouldn’t be wasting our time trying to arrest the people who enjoy a quiet blunt in front of Strictly Come Dancing in place of a glass of merlot.

  11. B
    02/12/2008 at 2:54 pm

    I guess we shouldn’t hold our collective breath waiting for a response or, gasp!, a justification of his position from Lord Taylor.

    What a surprise: a politician who is prepared to put forth strong rhetoric is conspicuously absent when asked to account for his claims. At least our friends on the other side of the pond know better than to appoint their legislators for life. Such things absolutely destroy any semblance of democratic oversight. Sadly this effect is too often lauded by those in the lords…

  12. Bedd Gelert
    02/12/2008 at 10:19 pm

    Brom, Dat is fine sunshine, just as long as ya dahn’t expect any treatment on da National Health, evah !!

  13. Senex
    03/12/2008 at 11:59 am

    My moral compass has always steered me away from taking the stuff but this is not to say that I have not followed its controversy over the years. There is undeniable evidence that it can alleviate suffering for very specific medical conditions.

    Personally, I believe cannabis should be legally available and dispensed by the authorities preferably local police. Shocking as this may sound it would provide control over the plant species used, that is, the softer drug variety and fund the cost of pursuing criminals growing and selling the more dangerous types.

    The precedent for this is alcohol itself. For very practical reasons it is illegal to sell methanol based drinks but without this control many would drink ‘methylated’ spirits and poison themselves. Food ethanol is an alcoholic drug on a par with the softer variety of cannabis.

    Until very cheap, practical technology is available for the authorities to measure the type of cannabis intoxication it should remain illegal and rightly so, for all our sakes.

    Ref: Problems with cannabis use
    Effects on the central nervous system:
    Health and safety:

  14. Alfred
    03/12/2008 at 3:12 pm

    Alex Bennee December 1, 2008 at 4:43 pm said

    “While Blunkett’s handling of the downgrading was confused it did at least save the police some time. “

    Did it? Judging by the court appearances in my local town, cannabis seems to be at the root of most court appearances, theft to feed the habit, destroyed lives leading to criminal behaviour. Being soft on the cause is just leading to increased crime elsewhere.

    Let’s have a bit more of the common sense exhibited by Lord Taylor and less so called “expert” derived legislation.

  15. Chris Hansen
    03/12/2008 at 7:01 pm

    “The stronger varieties such as skunk have proven mental health risks.”

    That’s a pretty bold statement to be making without providing any evidence. Could you please enlighten us as to which studies you read to come to that conclusion.

  16. 04/12/2008 at 1:43 am

    Judging by the court appearances in my local town, cannabis seems to be at the root of most court appearances,

    Moreso than alcohol? I’d dearly like to know what town you in where it’s easier to get high than hammered. Where are the court records that show these astounding statistics?

  17. Lord Taylor of Warwick
    12/12/2008 at 12:47 pm

    I am delighted that this blog received so many responses. Thank you all!

    Firstly, I would like to point out that I have expertise in this area. I was a Prosecution and Defence Barrister and Judge for several years. During this time, I interacted with drug addicts, doctors and other experts in drug addiction. This gave me ample opportunity to witness the negative effects of drug abuse including Cannabis.

    Drugs particularly have a devastating impact on many bright, young people. Cannabis may be perceived as a ‘soft’ drug but it often starts a chain reaction that leads some young people into a hard core, self-destructive drug addiction.

    I therefore believe that young people need a clear message: illegal drugs are wrong. Cannabis needs to be upgraded from a class C to a class B drug to deliver this message. Many people do not have the strong moral compass that Senex speaks of. The Government’s previous wavering on this issue, I believe, sends people a confused message: that cannabis is o.k. really. It is not!

    I believe that, with this hard message, a good support network needs to be put in place for drug addicts. Those who wish to come off drugs are not getting the full help they need. Investment needs to be made into this area across all levels.

    A greater understanding of the dangers of drug use and drug addiction is also needed. It is an immense subject, but I do try to keep as updated and informed as possible. Harvard University have recently published an interesting article concluding the following: (it can be found on their website)

    “marijuana is at the root of many mental disorders, including acute toxic psychosis, panic attacks (one of the very conditions it is being used experimentally to treat), flashbacks, delusions, depersonalization, hallucinations, paranoia, depression, and uncontrollable aggressiveness. Marijuana has long been known to trigger attacks of mental illness, such as bipolar (manic-depressive) psychosis and schizophrenia. This connection with mental illness should make health care providers for terminally ill patients and the patients themselves, who may already be suffering from some form of clinical depression, weigh very carefully the pros and cons of adopting a therapeutic course of marijuana.

    In the short term, marijuana use impairs perception, judgment, thinking, memory, and learning; memory defects may persist six weeks after last use. Mental disorders connected with marijuana use merit their own category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) IV, published by the American Psychiatric Association. These include Cannabis Intoxication (consisting of impaired motor coordination, anxiety, impaired judgment, sensation of slowed time, social withdrawal, and often includes perceptual disturbances; Cannabis Intoxication Delirium (memory deficit, disorientation); Cannabis Induced Psychotic Disorder, Delusions; Cannabis Induced Psychotic Disorder, Hallucinations; and Cannabis Induced Anxiety Disorder”.

    You might also find the following websites useful:

    •, for information on links between marijuana use and mental health risks.
    •, for more information on the indirect effects of marijuana on health
    •, the Australian Drug Foundation’s website
    • high_.htm, a reprint of New Science magazine’s “Marijuana Special Report: A Safe High?” with commentary
    •, an article about the similarity of long-term marijuana use’s effect on the brain to that of “hard” drugs, with commentary
    •, for general information on the health risks of marijuana.
    •, the homepage of the National Clearinghouse on Alcohol and Drug Information, for general information on marijuana.

  18. Tom
    05/03/2011 at 6:08 pm

    Lord Taylor of Warwick

    Try the same logic with Alcohol and Tobacco if you want people to treat you with any semblance of respect.

  19. Tom
    09/03/2011 at 10:44 am

    I must say, Lord Taylor, the “facts” you allude to are nothing more than opinion, I challenge you to substantiate your claims because, with respect, I have never heard such a load of claptrap.
    I work in mental health, with people suffering from enduring mental health issues.

  20. Hansard Society
    Beccy Allen
    09/03/2011 at 10:49 am

    @ Tom – Lord Taylor no longer writes on Lords of the Blog. The debate going on about this issue currently can be found here

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