The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Cannabis Ard Fheis blow

Mick Hall • 14 March 2004

At the recent Sinn Fein Ard Fheis, motion 221 proposed by the Seosamh MacLiathain Cumann from Galway was voted down; the motion called for the decriminalisation of cannabis for personal use to end the criminalisation of young people who would otherwise never appear before the courts. According to a letter writer to An Phoblacht/Republican News,

"The vote was lost by eight votes, and when a recount was called for from the delegates, a senior officer board member hurried from the stage into the backstage area and emerged with several leading Ard Chomhairle members to bolster the vote against the motion."

Of course whilst this vote cannot be directly linked to the recent spate of suicides of youngsters in Belfast, some of whom in the past had suffered punishment beatings for drug related 'offences', one cannot help thinking that for a party that considers itself to be radical on a host of issues, Sinn Fein is, as far as illegal drugs are concerned, still back in the dark ages, or at least many of its current leadership are. Statements made on this subject by leading Sinn Fein politicians are at times identical to the ill informed nonsense that is often spouted at Westminster, Leinster House and on Capitol Hill. Like the ruling elite in these aforementioned Parliaments, certain SF leaders seem to believe that if they condemn illegal drugs and those who take them, they are marching on the side of the Angels, when in reality the opposite is often the case. After all, who benefits most from Prohibition, if not the major dealers and importers of illegal drugs such as cannabis? Without prohibition they would no longer have a market.

It is worth remembering that whilst narcotics like morphine and cocaine, plus less potent drugs such as cannabis have existed and been used by human kind for thousands of years, up until the early part of the 20th century, almost everywhere in the world all of the main drugs which today are regarded as 'problem drugs' were legal. It was only the pressure exerted by the United States, often via organisations which they economically controlled, like the World Health Organisation, that insisted upon the almost total prohibition of these drugs throughout the world and thus emerged the disastrous situation in which today we now find ourselves.

Indeed the US insistence on the prohibition of Heroin went as far as to ban its prescribing stateside, as a pain killer for people with terminal diseases such as Cancer. Of course the ever willing pharmaceutical industries were ready and waiting, at twice the cost, to step in to fill the need and provide a synthetic version of Diamorphine. Never mind that no such drug was needed as Opiates have served humankind well for thousands of years as the best pain killer available. This aforementioned example I would suggest clearly points out who was providing the motor behind this, on the surface self righteous and seemingly idealistic, piece of legislation.

Whilst banning diamorphine (heroin) for terminally ill patients was a step too far for Europe, US pressure did eventually result in much of Western Europe ending what was known as the English method of treating drug addicts. This method of treatment consisted of a GP prescribing via a prescription the addict's needs with clean pharmaceutical heroin and to a lesser extent cocaine. It was cheap to implement, had a high success rate and almost totally eliminated a black market of any size. It simply was not worth it economically for gangsters to deal in drugs as there was no market for them. It is only in recent years that countries who want nothing from the US treasury, such as Switzerland, have returned to this method of treating addicts. Having much the same success rate that was achieved previously, when last this method of treatment was used before it was ceased, after being made illegal in the late 1960s, that is the vast majority of Swiss addicts once given their daily does, are able to live normal and productive lives. Incidentally, the list of individuals who were treated in this way in the UK, prior to the systems abolition and went on to become acclaimed in their various professions makes interesting reading. As too does the success rate the Swiss have had in returning addicts to 'normal life,' well over 50%. Whereas the best of today's 'conventional', one-cap-fits-all treatment programs for addicts, using detox or short maintenance methadone can only boast of a 20-25% success rate, the majority hardly reach single figures

To listen to some SF politicians, one would think it is only working class communities in which drug abuse becomes a problem. This is media spin, designed to belittle working people, written by some nice middle class journalists who should know better, were it not for the blinkers of ambition their newspapers proprietors prefer them to wear. The fact is like alcohol, illegal drugs are used by all classes within society, Queen Victoria's flunky regularly signed the local Chemist shops, pharmacist drugs book near Balmoral when picking up her cocaine in the late 19th Century and little has changed since. It is just that in affluent areas drug users have enough cash to support their habits, either through work, family funds or by paying for private doctors to prescribe their needs. As strange as it may sound, whereas restrictions were placed on the UK's NHS doctors from prescribing to addicts, few were placed on private doctors so doing (talk about one law for the rich, etc.).

In any case, much of the social depravation that we see in certain working class areas and which is often laid at the door of dealers and drug addicts has in reality little to do with drugs and everything to do with central government's economic and social policies. Cities like London, Dublin and Belfast had run down working class neighbourhoods long before every kid on a street corner had smoked a spliff. Drugs are a convenient scapegoat for governments the world over, whether it be to blame the less well off economically for their living conditions, or to introduce harsh new laws and increase military/police spending as has happened of late in Colombia.

Drugs in themselves are not the major problem. For example a long term, regular user of clean pharmaceutical heroin, will suffer few if any physical ill effects. Whereas a regular drinker of alcohol will within a decade begin to suffer severe symptoms, such as liver damage, which if they refuse to stop drinking will eventually kill them. True cannabis is not harmless, as most people take it by mixing it with tobacco which is extremely dangerous and harmful yet no politicians wants that banned.

The overwhelming majority of people who are damaged by cannabis are done so by being arrested and becoming part of the criminal justice system. This is as true in a politically 'abnormal' society such as the north of Ireland, as it is in one in which the police, in general agreement with the public, implement the law. Approx two thirds of young men under 25 in England and Wales have criminal records, the vast majority for drug, alcohol or motoring related offences. The majority with drug related offences are for lesser drugs such as cannabis or E. Is it any wonder when one considers the immense waste of time these offences take up, that the majority of English and Welsh police forces no longer bother to enforce certain drug laws? Apart from the total hypocrisy of it, most young police officers having themselves tried drugs, it means that police officers can concentrate on more serious work. The police across the Irish Sea seem to have learnt that when governments enforce unpopular laws, it is they who become unpopular. Like breaking the Sunday trading laws, few see smoking cannabis as doing anything criminal, nor I might add do most see selling it as being a hanging offence. Except, that is, the control freaks out there.

It has to be said that for all the fine words spoken by the likes of P O'Neill, to justify punishment beatings of youngsters who have become involved with illegal drugs, I cannot help thinking that in societies like the north of Ireland, where the police do not have the support of the nationalist population, one of the major reasons organisations like the IRA were so anti drug and often still are, was because drug users risked coming into contact with the RUC, due to the illegality of the substances they were using. This being so, in all likelihood the police would make an attempt to use the youngsters as informers or pump them for info. Thus they constituted a danger to the armed struggle; all else flows from this. Of course it could not be put so bluntly as this, so all the crap put out by the US, UK and southern Irish governments about drugs were repeated like a mantra by leading Republicans, to a degree that some republicans, who should now know better, continue to do so, even though the ceasefire has negated any previous justification for so doing.…

The silly gateway theory: the nonsense of which is proved by the millions of people, including myself who took drugs occasionally in our distant youth, only to grow out of them as we did many things as we got older.

Evil pushers: In my experience, at street level the pushers of drugs are working class kids or young adults, much like your children or mine. The more so if they have developed a habit to the likes of heroin and have been forced to the margins to survive. When the state called for a war on drugs, what they actually meant was a war on us and ours, curse them.

Drug users dead before they are out of their teens: This is a particularly silly thing to say to a teenager, the majority of whom cannot see ahead to their 20s. Think about the number of pop songs with lyrics in about dying before I get old.

For some reason political party's seem to lose all reason and backbone when this subject is touched on. So I suppose we should not be surprised by the SF leaderships mini stampede to defeat the Cannabis motion proposed by the Galway SF Cumann. I would however end with this: am I the only one to give pause for thought on finding out that on this issue, the majority of the UKs and Ireland's Chief Constables/senior police officers hold far more progressive and humane views than the majority of the political party's that regard themselves as progressive within England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (including SF)? These men and women, whose officers tackle the problems that illegal drugs throw up daily, call for either the decriminalisation of certain drugs and in some cases legalisation. Whereas the leaders of the said political party's go about spouting ill-informed rubbish, whilst burying their heads in the sand, hoping the problem of illegal drugs will be gone by the time next years conference comes around. In their dreams perhaps!







Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

25 March 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


Deporting the Burly Bartender: Seán Ó Cealleagh
Seaghán Ó Murchú


For Being Irish in the Wrong Place and at the Wrong Time
Breandán Morley


Lords' Ruling Timed to Stymie Collusion Inquiries

Eamonn McCann


Cannabis Ard Fheis Blow
Mick Hall


Why Growth and Power in Both Parts of A Divided Country Will Do Sinn Fein Just Fine
Anthony McIntyre


In Defence of the Crown
Eamon Sweeney


Game Playing by "Free Trade" Rules
Toni Solo


Social Inequality, Grinding Poverty, State Negligence
Cédric Gouverneur


22 March 2004


A Momentous Week in Madrid
Douglas Hamilton


Shinner Sing-A-Long
Brian Mór


Biggles and the Provos

Kevin Bean


'The Solidarity of Those Who Struggle for Justice'
Willie Gallagher


Truth, Power and Dissent
Anthony McIntyre


The Irish Hero - A Multidisciplinary Conference in Irish Studies
Centre for Irish Studies


The 2004 Jonathan Swift Poetry Competition
Dr John Hirsch


The Letters page has been updated.




The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices