Monday, 21 March 2011

Ming Flanagan - cannabis, alcohol and double-standards in Ireland

In war the truth is the first caualty. In the war on drugs, hypocrisy is the first weapon. Ming Flanagan proves one thing: you can smoke cannabis, hold down a job and be a popular public representative. Others prove the opposite of course but what is concerning is that the 'Ming should be arrested' debate applies standards to cannabis use that are not applied to alcohol and vice versa. This is presumably because one is legal and therefore respectable and the other is illegal and therefore not respectable. Fair enough when discussing a legislator breaking the law, but chief witness for the prosecution Cllr. John Coonan (FF) also plays the health card.


Ming  Flanagan


As the originator of the 'arrest Ming' debate, Cllr. Coonan of Kilkenny tells us he was ”horrified” by the election of Deputy Flanagan and said “It would be remiss of me as a former health care employee, if I didn't express my reservations about [a] candidate who expressed the view publicly and on public record that he grows illegal drugs and smokes cannabis'.  Illegal yes - but on health grounds the Cllr. should surely be making as much fuss about the effects of alcohol use as of cannabis. Yes, marijuana does have serious health disbenefits, and studies linking its long term use to depression and psychosis are many and convincing. For example a 2009 University of Melbourne study conludes that 'The prevalence of mental illness amongst males using cannabis frequently is predicted to be 14.3% to 14.8%. In comparison, otherwise similar males who have never used cannabis are predicted to have a prevalence of mental illness of 8.0%. In other words, mental illness is almost twice as likely for cannabis smokers.

In terms of damage to lives cannabis also has fewer social consequences than alcohol.  Cannabis use is, for example, far less frequent in Irish society (approximately one in every 175 adults is using cannabis on a daily or almost daily basis according to the National Advisory Council on Drugs in Ireland) - whereas 80% use alcohol (WHO) and 10% of those are thought to be alcoholics.  Alcohol use has been linked by the Irish Youth Justice Service in 2009 to 85% of youth problems and 50% of crime. In 2009 the Health Research Board published a study which conluded that:

“Alcohol-related social problems, such as violence, public disturbance, poor work performance and family problems, are imposing a serious burden on Irish society."
The report includes an analysis of data from the Garda PULSE system which reveals a 30% increase in alcohol-related offences between 2003 and 2007. And the Marin Institute reports that 66% of domestic violence cases, 40% of rapes and 28% of child suicides are linked to alcohol abuse. Overall one in four people are likely to affected by alcohol related crime at some point in their lives.

The argument that cannabis should be legalised because alcohol is legal does not really hold water in this light.  But spare us at least the 'shock' and 'horror' at the use of illegal drugs until we have fully acknowledged and addressed the problems with the legal ones. As the Spanish used to say to the English, we will worry about abusing bulls when you stop abusing children.

Motes in eyes job if ever I saw one.

Cannabis NI http://www.cannabisni.com/republic-of-ireland-cannabis-news/1951-councillor-demands-that-state-should-prosecute-ming
Safer Choice.org Marijuana vs Alcohol Research http://www.saferchoice.org/content/view/24/53/#injuries
Problems with Cannabis use http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/3997
Cannabis use Ireland http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/11215/
Alcohol Facts Ireland http://alcoholireland.ie/?page_id=110
Alcohol and Youth Crime http://www.examiner.ie/ireland/alcohol-a-factor-in-50-of-youth-crime-96427.html
Health Research Board study of Effects of Alcohol http://www.hrb.ie/index.php?id=1000&tx_hrbpress_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=126
Alcohol and Crime http://www.marininstitute.org/alcohol_policy/violence.htm

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