Is the Government really intent on reclassifying cannabis despite the advice of drug experts, police officers and the evidence that cannabis use is becoming less popular among young people?
This policy is apparently based on the idea of ‘sending a message’ about society’s disapproval and the harm caused by drugs. But is legislation the best way of sending a message, particularly to young people?
As the father of teenage sons I sometimes hear them talk about their peers smoking ‘weed’. For them it seems to be an aspect of identity, with smokers seen as a subset of what used to be called grungers; teens who wear baggie jeans, have long hair and spend a lot of time in their bedrooms listening to bands like Nirvana and their various imitators. My sons have different lifestyles and reference points so they tend to be disparaging about this particular subset of teen culture.
The point is that in all these discussions I have not once heard the idea that young people’s choices about cannabis are based on the law.
Indeed it is almost the reverse, as cannabis (the majority of which is now grown in the UK) has become easier and easier to get hold of it has lost some of its connotations of rebellion leaving young people to take a dispassionate view of its effects and its effects on those people who take a lot of it.
For me, and this is a view which echoes the excellent work of the RSA Drugs Commission, the more we can encourage young people to talk openly and pragmatically about drugs the more likely it is that most young people will make an informed choice.
While experimentation, rule breaking and pushing the boundaries of experience are all a natural part of growing up, spending most of your adolescence in a haze and becoming less mentally and physically fit than your peers is simply not a very smart thing to do.
The more you criminalise an activity the harder it is to have such a debate; ‘it’s against the law, what is there to discuss?’
Whatever happens in today’s elections the Government has some work to do to reconnect to voters. For a Government that claims to be both progressive and evidence-based, being seen to ignore evidence and good governance principles in favour of headlines in some newspapers (as it did yesterday in the decision not to increase the prisoners’ maximum weekly wage to the princely sum of £5.50) means that the battle of the headlines may be won but the war of credibility will be lost.
In his fifth post for the RSA Living Change Campaign, Matthew Taylor explores some of the implications of the framework he has outlined over the last month and asks why ideas like these aren’t more widely known and used.
As we emerge from Covid-19, Ruth Hannan argues there is an opportunity to shift from short-term solutions to approaches based on deeper understanding of citizens’ needs and which focus on systemic change.
If young people are to flourish in this new world of rapid change and insecurity, we need policies that support young people in the here and now, whilst also protecting their futures. Thinking about economic security is one way to do this.