My folks were decent respectable people with a clear opinion of right and wrong. From the age of seventeen, I was permitted to smoke at home but alcohol consumption such as a glass of wine with food had to wait another year. In my fee-paying school also we were allowed to smoke at break times for the last two years there. I'm not suggesting it was encouraged but it was accepted as normal for a portion of boys to smoke while many choose not to.
Alcohol was the same thing where some guys liked it and others didn't. The Gardai didn't mind you having a smoke and would even turn a blind eye to a quiet drink even if you were a year under the legal age. Of course if you were drunk and acting the maggot they'd make an example of you. That often included a couple of thumps for good measure, to soften you up as it were. This was all considered normal and everyone accepted it.
The line was drawn at illicit drugs though. Anything that was mood-altering and mind-altering was considered dangerous and frowned on by society at large. As expected, this made illicit drugs highly sought after among the young but feared as well. Half the thrill of a joint back then was smoking it and getting away with it. It was underworld, risky and delicious all in one. It implied you had an edgy side to your nature and had no fear. It made you a big guy in the eyes of your peers, or at least that was the perception. Those same peers though would have secretly delighted at your discomfort if the long arm of the law collared you with a joint.
Fast forward thirty of so years and the smoker is shunned, penalized and marginalized. Penalties for alcohol use are on the way and even the harmless Coke can is frowned on. And the medicinal cannabis bill will be passed by the Dáil tomorrow. Soon it may well be illegal to smoke tobacco but perfectly legal to have a joint. At this rate murder may well be legalized in thirty years time while life-saving might be penalized. Will our pubs have to convert to drug dens in the future to remain legal? WTF?
The news this morning is that, "The Government will not oppose the medicinal cannabis bill due before the Dáil tomorrow, ensuring it will be passed." But this is for medicinal use John, I hear you say. Well yes, in principle. But even youthful Simon Harris has concerns because, "The (Heath) Minister has however, expressed some concerns about several elements contained in the bill. In particular it includes removing references to cannabis from the Misuse of Drugs Act which has the effect of making it legal for anyone to possess cannabis, including for recreational purposes." In legal terms, either nobody can have it or everyone can have it. It could take years to draft legislation which covered all the bases but the vote is tomorrow. So you can expect that cannabis will be normalised for all citizens and visitors to this country by the weekend. 'Good, in'it?
Of course, it wouldn't be Government without jobs for the boys and in this regard we will see the establishment of a Cannabis Regulation Authority to, “Regulate the labeling, advertising and marketing of cannabis and cannabis-based products for medicinal use." They're going to advertise the stuff in case you didn't know it was out there! "The bill also proposes a Cannabis Research Institute that would, among a number of functions, research the risks and benefits of cannabis for medicinal and recreational use." So we'll get another bung to friends of Enda to rubber stamp the legal drugs racket. But it gets even better. We're then told that, "The institute would also cultivate cannabis and manufacture cannabis-based medicinal products." They're going to grow the fucking stuff themselves!!!
Oh, Check me into the home for the bewildered. According to the Gardai, "Cannabis accounts for the majority of all drugs seized in Ireland. Of the 8,417 reported drug seizures in 2006, 4,243 (50.4%) were of cannabis." The Journal has reported that, "Irish smoke as much marijuana as the Dutch." Then RTE has recently informed us that, "A new Eurobarometer study on young people and drugs shows that Ireland has the highest number of young people who have used cannabis in the past year (28%), compared to an EU average of 17%."
Now I'll state clearly here that I do not use any illicit drugs so I admit freely that I know nothing about them other than what I've been told or heard elsewhere. So I did a little digging around to educate myself. Among the variety of ways cannabis is consumed, forms of smoking or oral consumption are most common. So you can smoke it or chew it I suppose. Then I stumbled on this nugget. "It is generally considered that smoking, which includes combustion toxins, produces a somewhat more relaxing,("stoned") effect, while eating delays the onset of effect but the duration of effect is typically longer." A word with a local expert of sorts led me to understand that the vast majority of users smoke cannabis from choice. Fair enough!
But to do so, they need to mix it with something and that something is apparently tobacco. Cannabis comes in a tiny block so the user lays out a cigarette paper, lays down the tobacco trail and then scraps the cannabis block with a knife to release power particles all over the tobacco. The paper and contents are then rolled and sealed into a "joint" and a match applied. Upon inhalation, the smoke is held much longer in the lungs before exhaling. The effect is to get the high into the bloodstream in rush, the bang for your buck factor I suppose. By comparison if you want to take it orally then, "The cannabis must be sufficiently heated or dehydrated to cause decarboxylation of its most abundant cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, into psychoactive THC." That sounds like a right pain in the arse compared to just rolling a joint. Miraculously, tobacco combusted in this fashion does NOT release millions of carcinogens because otherwise they'd never legalize it, would they?
On a personal level I'm all for the right to choose and that includes drugs. I have the right not to choose cannabis and I exercise that right daily. If others want to take it then that's up to them and good luck to them. I have a very good friend who loves his cannabis as his very best treat in a week and he's a fabulous bloke. All I want to do is have my few cigarettes in a day as I have always done with the prospect of pints at the weekend to look forward to. But I must say that I am beginning to wonder about this brave new world and where we are headed. The past has been torn up, the present seems to be about change so what will the future bring?
Five years down the road then, will we have a new social landscape altogether? I'm thinking along the lines of the Saturday lunchtime trip to the pub for the United/Liverpool match on SKY. Packed to the rafters as usual, taunts flying about as will be the pints, can I expect to see several lighted joints around me with plumes of promised ecstasy floating in blue waves past my nostrils. Will this be the new normal? Maybe the beer will be gone altogether, priced out of everyone's range and replaced with the Government cannabis instead. Ashtrays will be re-named something else but still there to collect the same old ash and the dopey beer grins will be replaced by dopey dope grins. Maybe you''' be allowed to bring your own beer with you to enjoy with your joints, who knows? (A corkage fee maybe?)
But here's the thing. Say I want to have an ordinary cigarette, will I still have to step outside? Indeed, in the atmosphere of that time, would that be normal?