Comment Opinion & Features

Is legalising cannabis really such a good idea?

The medical use of cannabis – or marijuana – has been increasingly permitted for the relief of a variety of conditions. It has been prescribed for people with conditions such as multiple sclerosis, spinal injury, arthritis, epilepsy, cancer, insomnia and muscle spasms.

The legalisation of cannabis for recreational use is also spreading in an increasing number of countries, and the permissive cannabis regime in the US state of Colorado (and more recently, California) has encouraged many investors to see cannabis as a promising “growth market” for future expansion.

It would seem that the wind is set fair to open up a new era of permissive legislation towards the “pot” that many of us saw, back in the 1960s, as a harmless hippy recreation. There have been petitions to “legalise pot” ever since that decade, and it looks as though its legalisation is now steadily succeeding in the Western world.

But in America, a new book called Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence, by Alex Berenson, puts a different complexion on this so-called harmless recreation. Berenson, a writer married to a psychiatrist specialising in the treatment of mentally ill criminals, began to notice that many of the disturbed, and sometimes violent, individuals that his wife treated had smoked pot all their lives. When he investigated further he found that it was an accepted norm in the psychiatric profession that many people with serious mental illnesses smoked a lot of cannabis.

According to Dr Erik Messamore, a psychiatrist who specialises in neuropharmacology, the rise of marijuana use in the US (according to the New Yorker, it’s doubled in the past 20 years), has produced a concomitant rise in a brain disease similar to schizophrenia, producing delusions, paranoia and psychotic episodes.

It has been well documented that cannabis – especially with high levels of the chemical known as THC – can trigger schizophrenia in people who may be vulnerable to the condition. (The most compelling account of this is Patrick and Henry Cockburn’s book, Henry’s Demons, describing how Henry developed schizophrenia triggered by smoking cannabis.)

The writer Peter Hitchens has been subjected to fierce criticism over the years – even from those in authority, such as police chiefs – for noting the connection between recreational cannabis, violent crime and mental illness. Now it seems that Alex Berenson’s manifesto will bring more attention to the social and personal dangers of this opiate. Medical application under supervision is very different from the liberalisation of this opiate for recreational use, which would hardly be in the common good.

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I’m glued to the serialisation of Les Misérables on BBC One each Sunday night, an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s original novel – not the more recent musical. It is blatantly obvious that the great French writer is wringing out our emotions, continually putting his hero, Jean Valjean, in peril, and describing how the little orphan, Cosette, is cruelly beaten and abandoned.

But it is still compelling because it is, fundamentally, a story about redemption. Can a man redeem his past by reforming his character and making amends? Or will his past always catch up with him and sabotage his best efforts to change and lead a good life? Dominic West brings real depth and conviction to the character.

It’s been remarked, too, that priests and nuns are portrayed, on the whole, as good and decent people. This is now considered unusual in contemporary drama.

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Ireland has become increasingly nervous about Brexit as the possibility looms that imports of food and other necessities may be badly affected.

As the political commentator Dan O’Brien notes, Ireland is a massive net importer of basic foodstuffs. “The value of potato imports exceeded exports by a factor of 25 in 2017. Forty times more flour products are brought into the country than shipped abroad.” The price of bread and potatoes would soar catastrophically in the event of a “no deal”.

That Ireland imports so much of its potato consumption is astonishing and even deplorable, when it could easily be self-sufficient. And a huge price hike due to imports would surely hit the poor most.

Follow Mary Kenny on Twitter: @MaryKenny4