Category Archives: Politics

Why Boxing Should Be Banned


As a teenager I loved watching boxing.  In particular, I was a huge fan of Muhammad Ali, as so many people are, and I had most of his fights on VHS.  Indeed, my first draft of this essay included an extended adulation of his feats in order to affirm my credentials.  While doing so, even I was surprised at how little research was required – all the key dates, opponents and statistics were readily accessible from memory.  Similarly, to this day I would still rank Rocky II as one of my top ten favourite films.

But boxing must be banned.  Simply nothing else will do.  It’s impossible to square such a barbaric concept with the stated goals of civilised societies, where violence is illegal in all its forms, other than as a last resort for self-defence.  A boxing match is merely a form of organised, legalised violence, where victory is achieved by punching an opponent in the head, preferably hard enough to knock him or her unconscious, if only for one’s own safety in that your opponent will then be unable to inflict any future damage to your own brain.

Almost every major medical association in the developed world has spoken out against boxing.  In 2008, The American Medical Association noted in its ‘Report on Science and Public Health’ that boxing is a health hazard and whilst it disappointingly concluded that a legislative approach is unfeasible, it made the following comments and recommendations:

“The AMA supports publicising the deleterious effects of boxing on the health of participants and encourages the elimination of boxing from amateur scholastic, intercollegiate and governmental athletic programs as detrimental to the health of participants.”

The British Medical Association has been demanding a total ban on boxing since 1985.  In 1998 its then boxing spokesman, Dr Bill O’Neill, had this to say:

“We are very concerned about the chronic brain damage that boxers are susceptible to from repeated injuries in the ring. It is the only sport where the intention is to inflict serious injury on your opponent, and we feel that we must have a total ban on boxing. As long as the head is a valid target in boxing, these injuries are going to occur.  None of the safety measures that have been introduced over the last 10 to 20 years have had any significant impact on the brain injury and eye damage that occurs in boxing.”

The Australian Medical Association has been calling for a ban on boxing since 1997.  In 2007 they released this statement:

“The AMA opposes all forms of boxing.  All forms of boxing are a public demonstration of interpersonal violence which is unique among sporting activities. Victory is obtained by inflicting on the opponent such a measure of physical injury that the opponent is unable to continue, or which at least can be seen to be significantly greater than is received in return.”

It should also be noted that the World Medical Association has been calling for a total ban on boxing since as early as 1983.

Interestingly, boxing has already been banned in some parts of the developed world.  It is forbidden in Iceland and Norway – and Sweden only recently lifted a total ban to allow fights of just four, three minute rounds in both amateur and professional boxing.

Currently ‘The Journal of Combative Sports’ shows that approximately 10 people a year die due to boxing.  This number has been fairly consistent since 1945 but it is generally accepted to be a case of significant under-reporting, especially in amateur boxing and from certain parts of the developing world.  As more data becomes available online, the number of known deaths is expected to grow.

Of course boxing advocates continually point out that people die or suffer serious injury in other sports, and in some cases, such as American Football, very much more so.  Aside from acknowledging that two wrongs do not make a right, many more people play American Football than participate in boxing and studies have been done to show that statistically, the chance of dying whilst boxing is actually higher.  But this fails to capture the important moral considerations relating to intentions and outcomes.  Outcome is not everything – intentions matter in a just society.  As has been repeated numerous times already in this article, in boxing the actual intention is to hurt your opponent, ideally to such an extent that he or she is incapacitated, unable to stand, unconscious etc.

Some insist that the State would be over-reaching itself by imposing a ban on boxing.  But is ‘Nanny State’ really a fitting accusation toward a government that doesn’t allow people to punch each other in the face?  Surely one of the most important obligations of any government is to discourage such behaviour among its citizens.

So how problematic might it be to ban boxing?  I have to say that I don’t find the threat of underground boxing, with all its associated gore, a particularly convincing argument.  Of course to begin with, as a matter of principle, we ought not to give in to that which is undesirable just because it might be difficult to prevent.  But I wonder whether illegal boxing really would become as widespread as some believe, or be as difficult to police as, say, illegal drugs.  The latter are desired by a significant portion of the world’s population and are easy to conceal.  There is clear motive and opportunity.  Boxing is nowhere near as popular, requires a large venue and the gathering of lots of people.  Also, the appeal of fighting for the competitors would cease (if anyone is tempted to insist it is the noble art, I suggest they are not looking hard enough for ways to be noble).  I think it is highly questionable as to whether so many would be keen to step into the ring if life changing sums of money weren’t available, especially given the increased health hazards of unregulated fights, to say nothing of the risk of going to prison for a very long time for GBH or murder.

None of this should be taken as a recommendation not to learn the art of boxing via non-combative training.  The world can be a dangerous place and it is a very good idea to learn how to defend oneself.  It is also of course a fantastic way to keep fit.  But punching someone should never be considered sport, in line with its spirit of goodwill and respect.

The Shame Of Sochi


If I appear a little slow out of the blocks on this topic, what with the Winter Olympic Games now only a few days away, it is only because the perfect article had already been submitted by the brilliant Stephen Fry.  It is here, please read it:

However, further crimes have since come to light, one in particular close to my heart, so I thought I ought in fact to summarise why I agree that a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Sochi is indeed essential.

As should be clear, the price, that is to say principally the moral price, of victory for any athlete was already too high before recent developments, but now, to the outrage of holding a major global event in an openly homophobic state, we can add to the list unprecedented corruption, the non-payment and intimidation of migrant workers, the environmentally unsound disposal of waste from the development project and, despite assurances to the contrary, the senseless murder of thousands of stray cats and dogs.

Putin’s law which bans homosexual propaganda, bought and paid for by the Russian Orthodox Church he’s desperate to court, is so obviously sending a message that it hardly warrants discussion.  The basic claim that gay people wish to convert children, and are actively seeking to expose them to overtly sexual material, is baseless of course.  It is such a familiar tactic by homophobes to invoke a concern for children that it’s almost a cliché.  We can all agree that sexual material is not for children but this doesn’t require a specific law regarding homosexuals.  And whilst it is easy to see what may be in it for religious people to indoctrinate children at a young age, it’s not clear (even if it were possible) what is in it for gay people to do likewise.  The law is in fact so vague in its wording that it could be used against gay people for doing almost anything, at the whim of god knows who.  As if the real intentions of this legislation were not transparent enough then, Putin polished away the final smudges two weeks ago when he said this: “You can feel free in your relationships, but leave children in peace.”  If these Olympics awarded medals for being covertly sinister, then Mr Putin would surely take home the gold.

Everyone agrees that the Sochi games have cost at least £30 billion to prepare for, but no one really knows the true figure, if only because more than half the workers at the various construction sites have not been paid.  To give this number some context, the previous Winter Olympics cost £1.2 billion, and the London 2012 Summer Games, criticised as they rightly were for their lavishness in the face of growing austerity, cost £11 billion.  The Mayor of Sochi denies there is a problem with corruption however, just as he denies the intimidation of journalists reporting it and the destruction of surrounding habitats with the illegal dumping of ‘Olympic waste’ – but then this is a man who also refutes the existence of a single homosexual person in the whole of Sochi, in spite of there being several thriving underground gay nightclubs.

Today it is being reported that authorities in Sochi are undertaking the shooting of an estimated 2,000 stray cats and dogs.  Dogs are apparently attacking children (notice the invocation of children yet again) and straying into Olympic venues.  One might wish to table a few objections; firstly, if dogs are attacking kids on mass on the streets of Sochi, then why have they not attempted to resolve the problem (humanely) before now?  As stray dogs are usually weak, cold, tired, hungry and/or pregnant, it seems to me unlikely that they are wasting their much needed energy on attacking people.

Secondly, if dogs, not dissimilar in size to a human being on all fours, are getting into Olympic venues unnoticed, should we be more than a little concerned that terrorists may be following on behind?

Finally, as I assume cats are not forming gangs and dragging the children of Sochi off into the night for ritual slaughter, it is unclear what the official justification for their murder really is.

Perhaps then, we might dare to wonder if this has in fact been an issue long overlooked in Russia, and so to avoid its exposure via the eyesore of thousands of starving animals most of us in the west recognise as pets, the problem is being cruelly fast tracked.  Apparently nothing must ruin Putin’s big day out.

There really are some things more important than sport, even Olympic sport.  Certainly it can never justify diabolical abuses of human and animal rights.  Long before now we ought to have taken a stand against this international advertisement and promotion of a regime that insults human dignity during its most precious moments.  Whilst it is still not too late for the athletes to put their consciences before personal sporting ambition, even I can concede that it may be unfair to expect them to do so at the eleventh hour.  The correct procedure would have been to change the venue months ago.  However, everyone else can boycott it.  Journalists can refuse to write about it.  Television companies, especially the tax payer funded BBC, can put into effect a media blackout, sponsors can ask for their money back, and all the rest of us can show absolutely no interest in it.  This is a crucial moment in our history.  We must show that we have learnt from the past (for example, Berlin, 1936) and not be seen yet again to celebrate and endorse the rule of a murderous tyrant.

Wear The Poppy With Pride


On the 4th August, 1914, Britain declared war on Germany to defend Belgium, and by proxy France, after Germany had set its ‘Schlieffen Plan’ in motion (a military operation intended to defeat Belgium, France & Russia in six weeks).

On the 3rd September, 1939, Britain declared war on Germany again, this time to defend Poland from Hitler’s search for ‘Lebensraum’ (living space) for the German people in the east.

In June 1992, a UN force, including British soldiers, entered the Bosnian war to protect Bosnian Muslims from the unfolding massacres being perpetrated upon them by Serb & Croat forces (with the encouragement of at least some Catholic Priests).

Currently, our soldiers are in Afghanistan and Iraq attempting to help re-build those societies and protect their people, having freed them from the suffocating, violent and all too often deadly consequences of living under religio-fascist dictatorships.  Whether you think this is a good thing or not, this is what they are doing.  They are risking their lives to protect the rights of women, to defend freedom of speech and to advocate the necessity of democratic, secular governance for a peaceful world.  As it’s a particular passion of my own, I think it’s worth mentioning that they are also saving animals from cruel practises such as bear baiting and dog fighting.

Of course one should never forget the vital contributions made from across the commonwealth, in the first and second world wars in particular, to assist the propagation of our most deeply held principles.  People from India, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada for example selflessly gave their lives alongside British troops.

And so it goes on.  Our shores have not been seriously threatened since 1588 and have not been breached since 1066.  The proudest moments in the recent history of our armed forces are represented by its defence of others, whoever they maybe, against nationalistic or religiously inspired aggression.   Whenever we have let ourselves down on the international stage, as for example we’ve undoubtedly done so on occasion in Northern Ireland, it has largely been due to us forgetting the core values for which we are generally, sometimes begrudgingly known for across the globe.

How distressing it must be then for those who’ve sacrificed so much for such noble, liberal, humanist causes, to see their legacy distorted by a section of the remembrance fraternity.  Some members of certain organisations (you know who they are), often whose essential business it is to ask for respect and support for our soldiers, far too often stain their reputations with racist, xenophobic and Christian rhetoric that are precisely not the values our soldiers fight and die for.  They are in fact the very evils being resisted.

So please wear the red poppy with pride this Remembrance Sunday.  But be sure to take a moment to consider what it truly stands for.  Let’s take back this fitting occasion from those who are perpetually angry and fearful of a changing world.

Twitter Debate: Should The West Intervene?


Today I had the pleasure of meeting Peter McCabe on Twitter.  As it turns out, we were both simultaneously inflamed by a discussion of the Syrian crisis that was taking place on The Andrew Marr Show this morning – but for very different reasons!  We ended up debating the virtues or otherwise of Western intervention in foreign affairs for much of the day.

I am of the view that the West has a responsibility to combat tyranny wherever it feasibly can, even if this involves the use of military action, assuming it appears reasonable to imagine it will improve the situation and set that particular country on the long path towards peace, freedom of speech, the emancipation of women and all the rest of it.  I also think in many cases it is essential for our own long term security.  I hope I am not misrepresenting Peter when I say that he is of the view that military intervention is never justified and can only ever hope to make a situation worse.

This is of course a common disagreement, raging not just between the left and the right of the political spectrum but also within their own camps.  I consider myself very much of the left and share it’s commonly held views on almost everything.

Whilst the restriction of 140 characters hardly inspires flamboyant prose, and does tend to lend itself to defending an attack without leaving room to fully clarify one’s true position, I think we both did quite well to cover many of the key aspects of this philosophical question.  Here is our debate (which I publish with Peter’s permission) – please do go to my contact page and let me know what you think either of us got right or wrong on this most critical of issues…

At this point we both agreed that we wanted to watch the football, and had in any case probably exhausted whatever we could reasonably hope to communicate via this particular media.

Ten Commandments For The 21st Century

1. Thou shalt not commit or threaten violence upon any individuals, except in self-defence (or in the defence of others) and when all other alternatives, including fleeing the scene, have been exhausted.

2. Thou shalt not torture, torment, victimise or cause undue psychological distress to any living creature.

3. Thou shalt make all political decisions based on verifiable evidence.

4. Thou shalt educate children via a depiction of the most up to date scientific and historical evidence.

5. Thou shalt afford equal civil rights to all, regardless of skin colour, nation, faith, gender or sexual preference.

6. Thou shalt not quantify concern on the basis of skin colour, nation, faith, gender or sexual preference.

7. Thou shalt not judge integrity on the basis of skin colour, nation, faith, gender or sexual preference.

8. Thou shalt provide accurate sexual health information to all, regardless of any religious or political affiliations.

9. Thou shalt form judicial decisions based on verifiable evidence, and out of concern for societal protection and individual rehabilitation, as opposed to an emotive desire for retribution.

10. Thou shalt provide medical assistance subject only to need and available resources, and not with reference to any other prejudices or financial inquisitions.


I thought it worth including the original ten, or at least I should say, the most commonly quoted list – the first one (there are actually a few different versions in the bible):

1. I am the Lord thy God.  Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 2. Thou shalt not make for thyself a carved image; Thou shalt not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God. 3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. 4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 5. Honour thy father and thy mother. 6. Thou shalt not murder. 7. Thou shalt not commit adultery. 8. Thou shalt not steal. 9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. 10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor anything that is thy neighbour’s.

Clearly the first five, and number ten are utterly irrelevant to living a happy, peaceful life.  Numbers six and eight are correct in essence of course but require some context – which I have tried to provide in numbers one and two respectively of my own list.  Number seven is certainly a sound piece of advice but I think it is questionable as to whether it deserves a top ten spot.  By far the wisest is number nine (given that most societies have recognised the wisdom of refraining from stealing and murdering) and it informed the wording of my own ninth.

Build Up That Wall

Sean Faircloth is the Director of Strategy and Policy for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (in the U.S.).

I’ve just read his book ‘Attack Of The Theocrats’.  Despite having possibly the worst cover of any book I’m ever likely to read (see my ‘Books’ section), it is very enlightening with regards to the many different ways that religion harms the world we live in when it informs our decision making – particularly our governments decision making.  And he demonstrates that in America, religion is still very much an overbearing concern upon public policy.

The book is in part a manifesto for how America can pushback against the rising tide of Christian theocracy.  He lays out a ten point plan and asks anyone with a site such as mine to post them in order to help spread the word.  So here I am doing my bit for the cause!  Clearly they are equally relevant for Britain or anywhere else in the world:


1. The military shall serve and include all Americans, religious or nonreligious with no hint of bias and with no hint of fundamentalist extremism colouring our military decisions at home or abroad.

2. Any federal or state funded program, whether offering services domestic or foreign, that relates to reproductive health and intimate sexual decisions shall be based on science and public health; not on religious bias or the denigration of women or secular minorities.

3. Healthcare professionals shall fulfill their ethical and professional oath to address the needs of the patient, and they must do so without a hint of religious bias.

4. There shall be no bias in land use planning, environmental law or employment law based on religion or lack thereof.

5. Marriage can be defined by religious congregations howsoever they choose within their own services but marriage under American law shall have no bias whatsoever.

6. When facing end-of-life decisions, all Americans shall be guaranteed control over their own bodies without being thwarted by religious bias.

7. America’s youth shall never be subjected to bias in education.  If there is one penny of government funds involved then there must not be one iota of religious bias or propaganda.

8. The composition of Congress and legislatures shall include secular Americans and there must be no political bias against secular candidates.

9. There shall be one consistent standard pertaining to the health and welfare of children, regardless of the religion of a child’s parents, school, or child care centre. Religious adults can do whatever they want to their own bodies, but children shall be treated as human beings, not as pawns to be sacrificed in the name of religion.

10. Medical, technical, and scientific innovation shall be dedicated to the health and advancement of our fellow citizens and must never be impeded by religious bias.

The Way Of The Gun

Guns, guns, guns.  Everyone’s talking about guns.  Unfortunately most people are talking total nonsense about guns.  I never thought I’d find myself wanting to upload a clip of Piers Morgan – but he does seem to have mustered the only appropriate response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.  Anger, frustration and disbelief feel quite normal, especially in the wake of the gun lobby’s recommendations going forward.

Ok so Britain has between 30 – 60 deaths from gunshot wounds every year.  That figure has been consistent for at least the past 15 years.  In Britain, all hand guns, automatic and semi-automatic weapons are totally prohibited.  If you want a rifle or a shotgun you have to pass stringent background checks which include intense scrutiny of your legal and mental health history (a GP must be made available for consultation) which is reviewed every 5 years.  Also, a personal ‘referee’ with an appropriately responsible position in the community must be named (such as a teacher or doctor) – and crucially one must provide a verifiable good reason for needing a gun – self-defence is not accepted as a reason.  So in effect it is not possible to buy a gun legally in Britain.  Not only are our shooting organisations silent on these laws (no review has been called for in recent years) but the general public almost unanimously supports them.  These laws and ‘cultural norms’ result in most people never seeing a real gun throughout their whole lives.  Consequently it is almost certain you will not be shot in Britain, no matter where you live, who you associate with or which places you choose to frequent.

America has between 12,000 and 13,000 deaths from gunshot wounds every year.   Contrary to what many seem to snobbishly imply, it is not necessary to know the finer details of all the different types of guns, all the different gun laws, in all the different States in America (questioning ones knowledge of gun makers and gun laws has annoyingly become the first line of attack for those backing the NRA’s stance, as though that is the real issue) – you just need to know that it is quite easy to buy a whole array of guns legally, including hand guns and assault weapons.  There’s an estimated 1.5 guns for every adult in America.

Consequently, guns are everywhere.  It means that a gun is almost always within reach of someone who is not of a desirable state of mind to be in possession of such a destructive weapon, be it a jilted or jealous lover, a drunk in a bar fight, a gang member looking to gain status or save face, a desperate bank robber who is surrounded or being pursued, or a psychopath intent on mass murder for its own sake, such as at Columbine and Sandy Hook.  The not so surprising result is that thousands of people are shot dead every year – in the supposed beacon of success of the developed world.

The relationship between the opposing laws of Britain and America and their respective annual death rates caused by guns should be so obvious as to make this article unnecessary.  Amazingly however, this is far from the case.  Here are some of the reasons why:

“The assault weapons ban of 1994 – 2004 made no difference.”

Statistically it may be true, but no one should be seduced by the naming of this bill.  There were many loopholes, including for the weapons used in Aurora and Sandy Hook, and it didn’t apply to imported weapons.  Of course also, with the proliferation of weapons in circulation, one might expect significant improvement to take a little longer – and that is if the ban was actually a ban.

“Chicago has the highest rate of deaths caused by guns, yet it has the strictest laws.”

The laws are only strict relative to much of the rest of America.  Guns still proliferate in Chicago and in at case are easily obtainable cross border.  To claim Illinois (or Connecticut) are ‘gun free zones’ as the NRA are relentlessly doing, is phenomenally disingenuous.

“It is illegal guns that are used in most of the shootings, not legal ones.”

Guns are small, expensive and particularly popular with criminals.  Therefore it shouldn’t surprise anyone that house burglars steal them.  It’s a perfect business model; plentiful supply, huge ‘local’ demand, high price tag.  The fact that America manufactures millions of guns every year and sells them legally to its citizens is the problem.  From here, illegal circulation is inevitable.

“Assault weapons cause only 3 per cent of deaths – most are caused by hand guns.”

Yes America, hand guns are the main problem.  So ban them.  Britain did it.  It worked a treat – no one ever gets shot.  Genius.

“The second amendment of the constitution guarantees the right to bear arms.”

Is it possible that things might have changed in the past 240 years?  I mean it’s called an amendment, so the authors of the original Bill of Rights had already conceded they didn’t nail it on the first draft.  Couldn’t there be another amendment, perhaps written by people who live in the modern world?

This is the scenario, or similar, often used to justify civilians being armed:

A gunman walks into an office environment and starts shooting.  Employees can only barricade themselves into meeting rooms and wait for the psychopath to enter, with just pencils and rulers as weapons.

Very emotive for sure, but the idea that ‘James from finance’ will suddenly become the hero with a gun doesn’t sound like reality to me.  To give it some perspective, when was the last time you saw a brave bystander step in when a violent thug began beating on someone outside a bar?  It does of course occasionally happen, but far more likely is that everyone present will be shocked by the sudden outbreak of violence and will quickly remove themselves from the vicinity.  Imagine how much more terrifying it would be if someone walked into a room liberally firing a large gun.  Guns are really loud, not only when fired but also when their bullets hit things (imagine the noise and destruction that would be caused by wildly throwing golf balls around your lounge and multiply by a thousand).  Most people jump at the unexpected bursting of a balloon.  On top of the deafening noise, there is the unfolding carnage – blood spurting and people screaming in pain.  And this is all happening in a matter of seconds.  How likely is it that someone who has not been trained to handle such scenarios (even if they happen to be a crack shot down at the range) will be able to coolly draw, load and fire their gun effectively?

Of course as a matter of fact I have to concede that if the scenario did occur and I happened to be taking cover next to a former marine carrying a concealed weapon, I would be enormously more optimistic about making it home for dinner than if I was only surrounded by people of similar physical capacities as myself, with not a useful weapon in sight.  But the concession is spurious because the scenario is just so unlikely – and for it to even have a chance of happening we would have to create a world where practically everyone walked around with a concealed weapon.  There are no words to emphasise how far away from a solution to gun violence I think this would be.

Gun advocates often produce lists of documented examples of where a ‘good guy’ with a gun has stopped a crime.  Everyone should be suspicious of these lists.  Most of them are recount situations where someone has stopped a non-violent crime by drawing a weapon.  I would argue that, short of serious intent to cause bodily harm, it is not appropriate to intervene with a gun.  You don’t want to shoot someone for stealing a wallet (or risk collateral damage) – and you don’t want to get shot because a thief retaliated when you threatened to shoot them for attempting to steal a wallet. The number of occasions when an ordinary citizen with a weapon has brought down a man who is shooting at people are so few as to be statistically irrelevant.  For one thing, just imagine how long we’d be hearing about this hero on the news.  Can anyone recollect such a story?

I believe that attempting to remove all guns from society is the only conceivable solution – but it does have one major problem – the amount of guns already in circulation.  Some form of permit re-assessment combined with a buy back scheme would seem to be the answer here – for legally held weapons.  For those already in illegal circulation, only time will resolve this.  It might take 20 years for there to be a significant impact of a policy such as this in an environment like modern America.  And as has been seen with other crackdowns, both in America and elsewhere, there may be a short term spike in gun crimes.  But to take the long view, if America is serious about solving the problem of gunshot deaths on its shores, then it must try to remove the guns.

Breaking The Taboo

Since my post on legalising cannabis, we have seen a couple of significant developments; Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister of Britain has come out in support of decriminalisation against the coalition governments official line, and the release of the movie below, produced by amongst others, Sam Branson – Richard Branson’s son, and narrated by Morgan Freeman.

The film was released to support the launch of the ‘Breaking The Taboo’ campaign.

Please sign the petition:

Let’s break the taboo.

Legalise Cannabis

With regards to cannabis use, despite decades of efforts, scientists have been unable to establish a lethal dose, unable to show evidence of physical dependency, unable to correlate regular use with long term health problems and unable to link it to any other serious problems in society – and one might argue we could do with a little more happiness and thoughtfulness in our world.  It’s clear that when it comes to weed or hash, there is an irrational demonization process taking place when compared to the safety of a plethora of other goods freely available to purchase on our supermarket shelves.

Of course harder drugs such as alcohol, cocaine or heroin cause real harm if misused.  It’s worth noting however, that still by far the most effective way to minimise such harm is regulation, education and rehabilitation.  Criminalisation has not and cannot ever work.  Cannabis is just a particularly ridiculous substance to ban because of how innocuous it is – especially when one considers the consequences of prohibition.

Everyone wants to get high.  It seems to be part of the package of being human.  Some people use alcohol, tobacco or caffeine – drugs that are legal.  But many people discover there are other, illegal substances, that work better for them.  The overwhelmingly most common experience people have on these illegal substances is euphoria, and other than a bad head in the morning, they find that the drawbacks are negligible.  This is why they take them again.  If these people were seeing their friend’s drop dead by the truck load or were having a bad time themselves, it’s highly unlikely they would continue to spend their money on such drugs.  This is why scare tactics don’t work.

The law is no deterrent because suppliers know the risk and reward trade off swings massively in their favour.  Compared to something like guns, drugs are small and easy to conceal and transport.  The prize is simply too tempting.  And let’s be clear – it’s the current law that creates this irresistible business opportunity.  As for users, well they go to someone’s house to buy their drugs of choice and then they go back to their own house to take them.  This is quite obviously impossible to police.  There is hardly any risk of being caught as a user.  Millions of people take illegal substances every day for decades on end without even a single brush with the authorities.

Therefore we can confidently say that the only consequences of our current laws are a creation of a black market, wasting police time, wasting tax revenue, preventing a lucrative tax income, criminalising people unnecessarily and further overcrowding of prisons.  Our governments stubborn refusal to admit the war on drugs has been lost, and a continual denial of the facts presented to them by their own experts, also brings untold dangers to people’s health by resulting in a failure to educate, by aiding the proliferation of poisonous concoctions or dangerously strong strains, and by obstructing treatment.  The best way to help people negotiate the road to euphoria without taking an unhappy diversion to misuse or abuse, is to educate them and regulate what’s available.  Billions of us around the world unthinkingly feel the benefit of this every day with drugs like alcohol or paracetamol.

One might also wish to argue, as indeed I do, that every individual has the innate right to be the guardian of their own consciousness.

Cannabis implores us more than any other illegal drug to raise the question – why is it illegal?  The answer lies in our society’s unhealthy obsession with the concept of sin and an antiquated desire to control what people do in the privacy of their own homes.  These twisted definitions of morality undoubtedly have their roots in religion but our right-wing media has kept them alive and well in the 21st century by depicting anyone who smokes a joint as a robber of old ladies handbags, a violent gangster, a societal drop out, unclean, unsuccessful, disease riddled or curled up in a corner half way into a coma.  Back on planet earth we know this is just a conservative fantasy.

I should dispose of the line that detractors cling to as their last bastion of hope – the gateway drug argument.  When it comes to alcohol, everyone can see that the percentage of those that drink who also take heroin is so low as to exonerate booze from blame.  But remarkably, when the conversation switches to cannabis, it is assumed by many, without any evidence, that it will lead to the abuse of other drugs.  Of course no unbiased study has ever supported the gateway drug argument, and it is rejected by any serious expert on the subject of drug use.  In short, the same logic that clears alcohol from blame as a gateway drug also exonerates cannabis.

As I was writing this essay, I read an article in The New York Times warning the Democrat Party in America not to become ‘The Party of Pot’.  They make the following claims; marijuana is addictive and many studies by reputable organisations support this view – and those who say otherwise are lying.  Marijuana lowers IQ by 1 or 2 points in adulthood if you start using it heavily at age 14.  14 year olds who use it heavily perform less well at school.

First notice they use the term ‘addictive’ as opposed to ‘physical dependency’.  This is key.  What they are talking about is psychological addiction.  Doubtless, as with many other things, some people do struggle to discipline themselves where marijuana is concerned.  However, if this kind of ill-discipline was a problem that governments normally considered when legislating, then every candy store and fast food restaurant would have to close down, to say nothing of Facebook or Twitter.

The other two points regarding heavy use by 14 year olds are deliberate and cynical uses of bait and switch.  Clearly it is not being suggested that marijuana ought to be made legal for 14 year olds. But also, when we take a closer look, we can see that the bait is quite unappealing.  The average adult IQ is 100.  No one would notice if someone dropped from 100 to 99.  As for performing badly at school, well here we need to note that the study in question categorised ‘heavy use’ as 20 times a week!  If a 14 year old is using marijuana 20 times a week then they have many more problems than their grades to worry about.  This kind of use must reflect a broken or uncaring family (and school).  The behaviour exhibited as a result of this kind of usage would be so obvious that to fail to spot there might be a problem can only suggest neglect from all the adults in this young person’s life.  Needless to say, almost every young teenager who is neglected in this way tends to perform badly at school, whether marijuana is involved or not.

If we applied the same kind of vigilance to our lives in general as seems to be recommended for drug policy by the anti-legalisation lobby, then we would all be terrified to take one foot out of bed in the morning.  No one in history has ever died directly as a result of using cannabis.  It really will be ok.