Cannabis lobby has high hopes for change

Channel 4’s Pot Night could be just an excuse to show corny Cheech and Chong movies, but there are signs that it reflects changing attitudes to a recreational spliff. Eddie Gibb investigates.

Say what you like about this country's laws against recreational drug use. but at least there are enough liberals in charge of television to allow us to watch programmes about it. A spokesman for American cannabis- legalisation group Normal. who had already caught a whiff of Pat Night. is impressed the subject is being discussed at all on a national network. ‘Something like that would never happen over here.‘ he says.

Given Channel 4‘s twin loves - themed evenings and popular culture it was perhaps inevitable that it would get around to drugs sooner or later. but the decision to focus exclusively on cannabis reflects a changing attitude to the drug. For the first time it‘s conceivable politicians might be willing to look beyond the ‘reefer madness‘ myths that have always dominated the debate. Amsterdam—style coffee shops on Byres Road or Cockbum Street are clearly not around the corner. but a more realistic tone is discernable in some politicians’ pronouncements.

Last May. the Scottish Affairs Committee‘s report Drug Abuse in Scotland. concluded: ‘We are totally opposed to any experimentation with the Dutch approach to cannabis in Scotland.‘ It continued: ‘At a time when Scotland faces a massive drug problem we believe that any move to decriminalise cannabis would send the wrong signal to young people.‘

Hardly evidence of a softening attitude to soft drugs among Scottish


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Pot Night: Bruce Morton checks out an Amsterdam coffee shop

MPs. you might think. But Labour chairman William McKelvey says this conclusion does not reflect accurately the tone of the committee‘s discussion on the issue. ‘They were told how to vote.‘ he says.

McKelvey‘s principal concern in the drug field is reducing the number of drug—related deaths in Scotland. which in Glasgow alone numbered nearly 100 last year. Cannabis is a ‘red herring‘. he says. which diverts attention and resources from the real issues surrounding drug abuse. His particular concern is that police time is taken up with prosecuting otherwise law-abiding people who are caught with a small lump of bash in their pocket.

‘Ultimately I think it should be licensed like alcohol, but legalising small amounts is probably a good step.’

‘Cannabis should be taken out of that whole argument.‘ says McKelvey. ‘We need to look closely at the Dutch experience to see if we can learn something here.‘

Neil Montgomery. an Edinburgh- based independent television producer. first proposed the idea of Pat Night to Channel 4 as a way of reflecting what he saw as a changing tide in public opinion towards cannabis use. His own film Amsterdam by Night. featuring Bruce Morton as the toking tour guide. was intended to show that the city‘s relaxed attitude to smoking joints helps keep cannabis out of the hard drugs loop.

‘My impression is that police in this country would not be too unhappy about supporting such a situation.‘ says Montgomery. who had several off-the- record conversations with drug squad officers. ‘Ultimately I think it should be licensed like alcohol. but legalising small amounts is probably a good step.‘

Sonre of the arguments in favour of legalising cannabis use have been around since the 60s; rrrost evidence

suggests it‘s safer than both alcohol and tobacco. but by a quirk of fate these are the drugs that have become socially acceptable in the western world. In the US. a judge working for the Drug Enforcerrrent Agency. concluded in 1988: ‘Marijuana is the safest therapeutic agent known to humans.‘ Not surprisingly. this is not what DEA enforcement officers wanted to hear. ‘They just turned round and said screw you.‘ says the spokesman for Normal.

The tone of debate hasn‘t been significantly more elevated in this country. but pro-legalisation campaigners are increasingly focusing on cannabis as a drug with medical uses. and no known side effects. Sufferers from multiple sclerosis. cancer patients undergoing chemo- therapy and people with AIDS are increasingly asking why a drug that they say significantly alleviates the symptoms of their disease is withheld from them.

It seems possible that the case for a controlled. legal supply of cannabis might make more headway in the medical arena. Put crudely. the terminally ill arouse more public syrrrpathy than a bunch of Grateful Dead camp-followers.

However Release. the London-based drug information group which is in favour of legalisation. believes the cannabis argument is a straightforward civil liberties issue. ‘There are civil rights implications.‘ says Release policy officer Stuart Hall. co-author of the forthcoming book Cannabis 'I‘he Casefar Change. ‘The bottom philosophical line is that with the modern trend towards deregulation. individuals should be able to make an informed choice. We‘ve got to get the debate rolling. excuse the pun. and see what people think.‘

I’m Night is on Saturday 4 Marti/t at 8pm. Release ('(lll be t'mrlat'tet/ an 017/ 729 9904 and the lit/inbm'g/t-base(l Legalise (‘an/tabis campaign is ml ()/3/ 667 6488.

I Defiance demonstration The Scottish Defiance Alliance against the Criminal Justice Act is holding a mass demonstration on Sat 25 Feb in George Square. Glasgow. from noon. At 1.30pm. the rally will march to the Pollok Free State in Pollok Park, to show solidarity with the anti-M77 demonstrators. Buses to the demonstration from Edinburgh will leave Waverley Bridge at 10.30am.

I Ceroc night A night of hot dancefloor action in aid of The Big Issue In Scotland has been organised by the Ceroe club on Sat 25 Feb. at the Henry Wood Hall. Claremont Street. Glasgow. Tickets cost £7.50 (£5) from 01324 613209 or at the door. Doors open 8.30pm.

I Engender The latest in the Engender dialogues takes place at the Traverse Theatre. Cambridge Street. Edinburgh on Mon 6 Mar. from 8pm. Perry Willson of the University of Edinburgh’s Italian department will be talking about the role of women in the anti-fascist resistance in Italy. Tickets for this women-only event cost £3.50 (£2.50) and are available from the Traverse Box Office. or by phone from 01312281404.

I Youth video Young People Speak Out (YPSO) has organised a video show and hustings on Sun 5 Mar at the Edinburgh Filrnhouse. Lothian Road to examine the problems facing young people in the city. The event is to highlight the provision the new unitary authority will make for young people after the demise of Lothian Regional Council. Tickets are free and can be reserved by phoning YPSO on 0131 220 4244.

I Women In Black A candlelit vigil will be held on Thurs 9 Mar at the The Mound. Princes Street. Edinburgh at 6.30—7.30pm. The event is organised by the Scottish Women’s Action Network as part of the Edinburgh Peace Festival to show solidarity with women throughout the world who are suffering the effects of war. All women are invited to take part and should wear sombre colours. Children should wear white to reflect the hope for a peaceful future. Please bring a candle in ajar.

I Befriending scheme The Maryhill Children and Young Persons‘ Befriending Scheme is looking for new befrienders. The scheme offers befriending to young people aged 8-18 years who are experiencing difficulties in their lives. Befrienders offer young people care. respect and understanding. New recruits need two or three hours spare every week. a genuine liking for children and young people and to be committed. reliable and able to respect confidentiality. For further details about the scheme. phone or write to Nagina Malik at the Community Central Halls. 304 Maryhill Road. Glasgow G20 7YE. 0l4l 332 0224.

I Helpline change The Lesbian and Gay Catholic Helpline now operates between 7—10prn on Sundays. The number is still 0141 333 9340.

I It you have news of any events or courses which you want publicised In this column, please forward them to ‘Action’ at The List, 14 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 iii and include a day- time phone number.

The List 24 Feb-9 Mar I995 5