An abiding memory of the late Willie Whitelaw came to mind on
hearing ministers bluster through the fog over the reclassification
of cannabis. Not that I am implying that Margaret Thatcher’s deputy
prime minister would have partaken of such leaves.
But when the House of Lords first chucked out government
legislation to liberalise the Sunday trading laws, I tried to
provoke him at his weekly off-the-record briefing session. With a
mischievous grin, while pouring more gin into my glass, he
retorted: “You will find that timing is everything in life.” After
a long pause, he added: “The time was not quite right. One day it
He clearly regarded this statement as more than sufficient for a
journalist from The Times. Of course he was spot on.
There is a logical case to justify the government’s
reclassification of cannabis. Before you ask; no, I did not smoke
the stuff. I feel almost guilty for such an admission – as when
confessing to never owning a microwave or eating at
The truth about cannabis and me is far more prosaic. I puffed away
at normal cigarettes when 13, but realised it gave me no pleasure
and have not smoked anything since. Doubtless, if I had still been
smoking and someone had handed me a joint (I may not be quite au
fait with the terminology here), I would have smoked it. And, if
capable of inhaling, inhaled with the rest of them.
As a consequence, I follow the decriminalisation debate with a
there-but-for-the grace-of-God attitude. I am firmly of the opinion
that the government has made a complete dog’s-breakfast of its
It may be true that cannabis causes little or no harm to most
people. Perhaps we will see more smiles. But that will not be the
whole story. The government is sending the wrong signal at the
wrong time. Perhaps we should have a rational debate on exactly
which letter of the alphabet to ascribe to which drugs. But only if
and when we had managed to control the problem of hard drugs,
eradicated drug paraphernalia from our estates and open spaces. And
that is not now.
Whether through pressure from a liberal elite or a tacit admission
that drug trafficking cannot be controlled, the government has made
a dangerous situation even worse.
Sheila Gunn is a political commentator and a Conservative
councillor in the London Borough of Camden.