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DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library | Major Studies | Wootton Report
THE TIMES ADVERTISEMENT AND THE WOOTTON REPORT
by Steve Abrams
7 April 1993
revised May 10th
Soma and the Wootton Report
by Steve Abrams
In 1967 my organization Soma published a full paged advertisement in The Times which called for reform of the law on cannabis. Sixty-five people were persuaded to sign this document, including leading figures in the arts and sciences and eminent medical men. our proposals for reform stopped short of outright legalization. However, legalization was clearly a long term prospect if they were implemented. The advertisement declared the existing law "immoral in principle and unworkable in practice."
The advertisement was immediately debated in the House of Commons, where the Minister of State, Alice Bacon, announced an expert inquiry headed by Baroness Wootton of Abinger. In January 1969 the so-called "Wootton Report" on Cannabis endorsed the position taken in the advertisement, that "the long asserted dangers of cannabis were exaggerated, and that the related law was socially damaging, if not unworkable."* The Home Secretary of the day, James Callaghan (now Lord Callaghan) put up a smokescreen. He denounced the Report, claiming its authors had been "overinfluenced" by the "lobby" responsible for "that notorious advertisement." However, after waiting for a year, he quietly introduced legislation to implement the recommendations of the Wootton Report.
The legislation expired with the 1970 general election, but it was immediately reintroduced by the Tory government and became law as the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The law implemented the unanimous view of the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence that end users of cannabis should no longer face the prospect of imprisonment. This was spelled out by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, in his advice to magistrates on sentencing. After a prolonged debate Britain had decided to condone the use of cannabis. Today the law is scarcely enforced against end users, and the majority of arrests are dealt with by the procedure of cautioning, without a conviction being recorded.**
*Home Office Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence - Report on Cannabis, 1968, p. 1
** "The law banning cannabis sale and use is all but unenforced." Times leader, "Overdue for Repeal", 24 July 1992
This interpretation of the history of cannabis law reform has been consistently denied in the media.* A full paged article in The Independent on July 22, 1992 ("Twenty-five years gone up in smoke") was summarised: "On the 24th July 1967 sixty-five of the famous liberal great and good signed an advertisement in The Times calling for cannabis to be legalized and ... nothing happened." Lord Deedes, writing in The Telegraph on December 15, 1992 said the same thing about the Wootton Report.
The last public debate on the subject took place in 1969, when Baroness Wootton, then chairman of a sub-committee of the Government's advisory body, recommended a lightening of penalties for possession of cannabis. As a member of the same body, I remember that I thought her arguments persuasive but politically unattainable. We discussed this amicably until Jim Callaghan, the Home Secretary, denounced her proposals in the House of Commons, and that was that.
Lord Deedes is at least willing to admit the existence of the Wootton Report. However, when Lady Wootton died in 1988, at the age of 91, the work for which she was best known was not considered worthy of mention in obituaries, notably in The Independent and the Guardian.** The Telegraph was the only newspaper which got it right:
In 1967 her Report on soft drugs caused a considerable furore by its recommendation of more lenient sentences for offences involving cannabis, and was dismissed patronizingly by James Callaghan as "overinfluenced by a lobby in favour of legalizing pot." In 1970, however, Callaghan introduced legislation broadly in line with the Wootton proposals.
The press celebrated the twentieth anniversary of many trivial events of the 'sixties, but there does not seem to have been a single reference in 1989 to the controversy which dominated the news in January and February 1969. When a long television interview with Lady Wootton was shown posthumously, the subject of drugs was not raised, but a voice-over made the astonishing claim that "in the 'sixties she campaigned for the legalization of cannabis."
*The Times did, finally, print a letter from me on 24 July 1992. It is interesting to compare this letter with another which Rees-Mogg refused to print in February 1969. That letter in included in my article. "Cannabis Law Reform in Britain" in The Marijuana Papers by David Soloman, Penguin Books, 1970, pp. 69-79 (UK edition only).
** So far as I know, the Wootton Report has never been mentioned in The Independent. The authors of the page published on July 22, 1992, Dina Rabinovich, Emily Greene and Andrew Brown, listed forty events following on after the advertisement but pointedly ignored the existence of the Report and the reduction in penalties under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
In a letter to the Times on February 5th, 1969 in the aftermath of the Parliamentary debate on the Wootton Report, Lady Wootton and the Chairman of the Advisory Committee, Sir Edward Wayne, noted that none of the members of the sub-committee supported the legalization of cannabis. On the Sunday following publication of the Report, Lady Wootton said in an article in The Sunday Times : "Even those who wanted to legalize (cannabis), even the people who signed the Times advertisement, admit that immediate legalization is not practical."*
The Wootton Report did contemplate the eventual legalization of cannabis, but the so-called "cannabis lobby" refused to jump the gun. The 1969 Prospectus of the Soma Research Association, Ltd. said:
A Soma delegation gave oral evidence to the sub-committee. We took the view that prohibition appeared to be an ineffective and socially damaging method of controlling the misuse of cannabis. However, we argued that realistic decisions about the long term control and possible legalization of cannabis could not be made on the basis of existing knowledge. Additional research was required, but could not be undertaken because the law prohibited research in which cannabis was smoked.
The advertisement said, "The Government ought to welcome and encourage research into all aspects of cannabis smoking, but according to the law as it stands, no one is permitted to smoke cannabis under any circumstances, and exceptions cannot be made for scientific or medical research." Lady Wootton made the same point in her Sunday Times article: "People have not been able to undertake serious research because smoking is forbidden on all premises."
Research was prohibited because it was an offence to have charge of premises where cannabis was smoked. The liability was absolute; guilty knowledge was not required. No exceptions were judged possible. Cannabis could not even be smoked by a machine on government premises. The law contained a term which made it impossible to challenge its own premisses of the harmfulness of cannabis smoking.
The advertisement asserted that cannabis was "the least dangerous of pleasure-giving drugs." The argument was rehearsed at some length, and those persuaded by it might well have been inclined to experiment. It came close to saying that the main danger of cannabis smoking was the prospect of being arrested. But any criticism of an unjust law is likely to breed disrespect for the law. The text said, "The prohibition of cannabis has brought the law into disrepute and has demoralized police officers faced with the necessity of enforcing an unjust law."
* Barbara Wootton, "Time and the Drug Scene," Sunday Times, 12 January 1969.
At the 1967 Tory party conference, the Shadow Home Secretary, Quintin Hogg (now Lord Hailsham), denounced the organizers and signatories of the Soma advertisement. He said that the editor of The Times, William Rees-Mogg (now Lord Rees-Mogg), would never live down the scandal caused by its publication. Hogg was "profoundly shocked by the irresponsibility of those who wanted to change the law. Their arguments were "casuistic, confused, sophistical and immature:"
There is no half-way house in this matter. There can be no encouraging the drug up to a point. You either sell it over the counter or in the shops or you prohibit it altogether.
Rees-Mogg replied in a Times leader, "The Right to Dissent," on October 23rd:
We believe that people who want to change the law have a right to put their case to the public. We do not accept advertisements from people who want to break the law. But there is a vital difference between wanting the law to be broken and wanting it to be changed. ... Mr. Hogg thinks that the subject of drugs is so dangerous that free discussion cannot be allowed, that those who disagree with him have no right to be heard. Our view would be that his rhetorical approach is more likely to repel than to persuade.
In January 1969, following publication of the Wootton Report, Hogg wrote in the Daily Express that it was necessary to "pursue the addicts of hashish and marijuana with the utmost severity the law allows." When the report was debated in Parliament, on the 27th of January, Hogg insisted that cannabis was a dangerous addictive drug, the cause of madness and mayhem. He opposed any reduction in the maximum penalty of ten years' imprisonment because, in this event, "the conclusion drawn by the public, by traffickers in the drug and by potential victims of it would be that the government were on their way to legalizing its use.
The penalties under the Dangerous Drugs Act did not distinguish between supply and use. The maximum penalties were one year on summary conviction and ten years on inditement. Reducing the penalties for possession of cannabis would involve putting down the maximum penalty on summary conviction to six months or less. This would mean, in practice, that users of cannabis would no longer face the prospect of imprisonment. The main deterrent to consumption would thus be removed and use would increase. The stigma of a criminal conviction would soon be lessened. The police would no longer have much incentive to enforce the law and in due course they would be unable to enforce it. Finally, legalization would come, after a generation.
The issue of cannabis law reform was raised at a crucial time. In 1967 the drug laws were in disarray. The Dangerous Drugs Act applied to drugs controlled under the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, namely heroin, cocaine and cannabis, including their derivatives and analogues. Amphetamine and LSD were subject to more moderate penalties under the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1964. LSD had only just become illegal and barbiturates were not controlled at all. Meanwhile some cannabis users were punished more severely than heroin users. Cannabis smoking was regarded as a crime but heroin addiction was treated as an illness. Doctors had the right to prescribe heroin. The Court might send a cannabis smoker to prison and send a heroin user to a doctor.
The formation of Soma was announced in an article published in Cherwell, the Oxford student newspaper, on February 1st, 1967. The national press became involved in a controversy about the prevalence of cannabis at Oxford, arising out of an article by myself in an anthology, The Book 21 Grass, edited by George Andrews and Simon Vinkenoog.* The publisher sold the "story" to The People, who brought it out in two inch headlines on January 29th. This article was quoted at length by President Clinton's drugs adviser, Professor Norman Grinspoon in his book, Marihuana Reconsidered (Harvard University Press, 1971; pp. 311-312. It was also described in the Times Literary Supplement (June 15th, 1967) as "a sane and balanced piece of writing that does much to implement the ... view that harm rather than good is done by the existing state of the law."
* "The Oxford Scene and the Law", The Book of Grass, Peter Owen 1967, pp. 235-42
Following a press conference on February 2nd to launch the Book of Grass, an article by Peter Fiddick appeared in The Guardian, prophetically entitled, "Pot lobby moves into gear." (February 3rd) Follow up articles, debating the prevalence of cannabis smoking at Oxford, appeared The Times, The Telegraph and the Guardian. There were also several articles in The Oxford Mail, and the story dominated Cherwell (then edited by Julian Norridge) for the remainder of the term.
The page one lead in Cherwell was accompanied by a double paged spread, "The Pot Plot", a kind of dry run for the Times advertisement which served as a fact sheet for the media. "The Pot Plot" was noticed by the popular press. "Smoke more pot. It's safer than beer," wrote Arthur Smith in the Daily Mirror on January 31st. "Make it legal to take marihuana urges Oxford student" was the heading for an article in the Mail the following day by Nicholas Lloyd (former Cherwell editor, now Sir Nicholas, editor of the Daily Express). On the 6th of February I took part in a television discussion with the Chief Constable of Oxford C. G. Burroughs and a psychiatrist from the Littlemore Hospital, Dr. O'Gorman, on the television program "Today", from Birmingham.
On the same day, The Telegraph printed the following letter from me:
May I make myself clear? Drug addiction is extremely rare within the University of Oxford. I do not know of any resident member of the University who is addicted to narcotics such as heroin and cocaine. There are probably a number of addicts to amphetamines and barbiturates, drugs which are widely and indiscriminately prescribed under the National Health Service.
There is no reason to believe that the widespread use of cannabis (marijuana or hashish or hemp) constitutes a problem at the University. Cannabis is nonaddictive and there have been no cases at Oxford of disorderly behaviour attributable to its influence. The consensus of informed medical opinion is that cannabis is probably less harmful than alcohol.
The civil authorities and the press have indiscriminately confused the non-addictive and relatively harmless herb cannabis with addictive and harmful drugs such as amphetamines and heroin. When challenged on this point they argue that cannabis is indirectly harmful because its use leads to heroin addiction.
There is little or no evidence in support of this view. One might as well argue that sex leads to prostitution. The effects of cannabis and heroin are opposite in character. Heroin users are disturbed individuals who need to escape from reality; cannabis has the effect of enhancing reality.
My qualified estimate that five per cent of Oxford students use cannabis when it is available has been challenged by authorities who have a strong vested interest in minimising the extent of the situation. Students go out of their way to conceal information from these authorities, but they go out of their way to reveal information to me.
My estimate was based on four years direct observation, in the course of which I observed hundreds of people smoking and conducted and cross-checked many careful interviews. Perhaps I have sources of information which are unavailable to the Chief Constable, the proctors and various anonymous university officials.
* According to press reports, "money changed hands for The People article." Cf. "Our Man in Fleet Street", Drugs and Society, vol. 1, no. 3 (December 1971, pp. 34-35) and the response, a letter from me, in vol. 1, no. 4, January 1972, p. 37 I was not paid. I had no contract with the publisher, who sold the story without my permission and against my protests, which are documented.
I had been playing the numbers game. Five per cent of junior members of the university translates to five hundred Oxford students. I felt no compunction about using the image of the University to challenge the traditional stereotype of the anti-social drug taker. Following publication of the People lead, an article in The Times said that my claim that "at least 500 undergraduates and a few dozen dons" smoke pot "has been rejected by police, proctors and dons."
The Times quoted the view of the Senior Proctor, Dr. Robin Fletcher, that my figures were "grossly exaggerated." : "The article could create a very bad image of the University. It is unfortunate for a number of reasons." A similar article in The Telegraph quoted the view of "a senior member of the university who is concerned with investigations into student health problems" : "I would be surprised if the number of people using drugs habitually in the University is more than about twenty." This official was presumably D. C. M. Yardley, (now Local Ombudsman) who was Dr. Fletcher's predecessor. The Telegraph stated that Dr. Yardley had led an investigation of undergraduate drug use the preceding year and concluded that no more than fifty students were involved. No more than thirty took drugs with any degree of regularity. In the Cherwell lead on February 1st, Dr. Yardley's view of the danger of cannabis is quoted: "The nervous system of regular pot smokers is shot to bits. They are mental wrecks." In The People he is quoted: "All but those with the strongest minds will end up seeking bigger and better 'kicks' from heroin and like drugs. Within the university and nationally, any move to bring about the acceptance of hemp must be fought."
The matter was resolved by the University Committee on Student Health, which included several heads of colleges. I was invited to give evidence to the Committee on February 15th. They accepted my claim that as many as five hundred undergraduates had used cannabis. I made the point that the problem was hardly confined to Oxford and asked the Committee to press the Home Secretary to institute a government inquiry into the status of cannabis and LSD. The Chairman of the Committee was the Head of my college, St. Catherine's, Alan Bullock (now Lord Bullock, formerly Vice Chancellor of the University). He told me that my suggestion that the University press for a Home Office inquiry had been accepted and invited me to assist him in drafting the letter to this effect, which was sent to the then Vice Chancellor, Kenenth Turpin on February 28th.
The first account of the Student Health Report appeared in a Cherwell exclusive on the 1st of March. On the same day things looked as if they might be getting out of hand. Cherwell had announced a "happening" in Wellington Square, sponsored by International Times. It was to be filmed for German television. John Hopkins, the organizer, promised to provide Suzie Creamcheese of the "Mothers of Invention" pop group on a white horse. The front page of the Oxford Mail for March 2nd has a photo of hundreds of students pouring out of Balliol College and another of them marching along the High. There were signs and banners with legends such as "Death penalty for pot" and "God moves in a mysterious way." The Deputy Chief Constable stated that "more than 500 students disorganized the city centre for over two hours."*
The Oxford Mail account says that the police tried to clear Wellington Square, whereupon the "happening" reformed as a procession down St. John's Street. They moved straight across Beaumont Street and St. Giles, without pausing for traffic, in through Balliol College back entrance (where the police could not follow) and out again through the front entrance in Broad Street. The procession continued on through the Turl and the High to Carfax. The "happening" was also covered in the national press. The Sun called attention to six undergraduates tied together with a plastic rope crawling along the High Street, insisting they were climbing a mountain. The Sun also remarked on the presence of a girl on horseback carrying a sign which said, "Free Suzie Creamcheese!"
The Report of the Committee on Student Health was published on April 3rd and reviewed in The Times the following day. The Times article says, "At the Health Committee's suggestion, the Vice Chancellor of Oxford University, Mr. K. C. Turpin, is to ask the Home Secretary for an urgent national enquiry into the dangers of drug taking." It said the university was concerned at the numbers which might be experimenting with cannabis. The following article by Nicholas Lloyd appeared in the Daily Mail:
The pot takers. 500 Oxford students use marijuana
About 500 Oxford undergraduates smoke marijuana,, says a committee of dons. The Committee was set up to report on the health of students at the university. In a letter to Kenneth Turpin, the Vice Chancellor, it say that an independent claim that about five per cent of the 10,000 students take drugs is probably correct.
But it maintains that the situation at Oxford is not exceptional and that a similar proportion of students at other universities take drugs. The committee, headed by Mr. Alan Bullock, Master of St. Catherine's College, says that drug taking is a national problem. It calls for a full investigation into the effects of different drugs and says that public policy could then be based on scientific fact instead of prejudice.
On Tuesday students at St. Catherine's College passed a motion by 24 votes to 4 in favour of making marijuana - known as 'pot' - legally available.
* In fact the numbers were swelled because students from the Oxford Polytechnic, in their "rag week", joined the proceedings.
On the 7th of April, the Home secretary, Roy Jenkins, announced the appointment of an investigation led by Baroness Wootton. She was to head a "sub-committee on hallucinogens" of the Advisory Council on Drug Dependence, appointed in December 1966, enacting a recommendation of the Second Brain Report the previous year.
We hoped for something earth shaking from the Wootton Committee. We hoped for a published report on cannabis that would bear comparison with the New York Mayor's Report on Marihuana (the La Guardia Report) of 1944 and the East Indian Hemp Drugs Report of 1893-94. The first stage of the campaign had been concluded.
The chain of events leading to the appearance of the advertisement involved an interaction with the affairs of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and the so-called "underground." One of the reasons for raising the subject of cannabis with urgency in the favourable context of its use at Oxford was the need to combat what a Times leader ("A Dangerous Press Camapign") soon called "the deliberate sensationalism that underlines the present campaign against "drugs." The Soma advertisement said "The crime at issue is not drug abuse but heresy."
Traditionally, the use of cannabis had been largely confined to Blacks, Indians and Arabs.* Muslims broadly tolerated the use of cannabis but prohibited alcohol, which is, literally, sacred to Christians, and also to Jews. The new rock music could be represented as a fusion of black rhythms and Eastern spirituality. The gentle undulations of the music were also explicitly sexual. For decades the Americans, in particular, had portrayed the use of cannabis as degenerate.
The News of the World replied to the article in the People by accusing the Rolling Stones of abusing drugs. (February 3rd) The same night Mick Jagger appeared with Hogg on the Eamon Andrews talk show. Jagger told Hogg that he too had been to university, and seemed to get he better of him. Then, I thought, he got above himself and announced, impulsively, that he would sue the News of the World for libel. The newspaper panicked and went to the Scotland Yard Drug Squad. The head of the Drug Squad, Chief Inspector Lynch later told me that he refused to act. He said that he was not expected to stamp out cannabis, but to keep its use under control. If he arrested Mick Jagger every lad in the country would want to try some pot. He was, after all, head of the drug squad, not head of the Lynch mob.
* The statistics published with the Wootton Report show that 1964, the first year in which white offenders outnumbered blacks, was also the first year in which a minority (48 per cent) of cannabis offenders were sent to prison.
As is well known, the News of the World had more success with the local police in West Wittering, where Keith Richards lived. In the subsequent trial, Jagger's counsel, Michael Havers (later Lord Havers, also Mrs. Thatcher's attorney general in the "Spycatcher" case) alleged that the newspaper used an agent provocateur. The arrests were made on February 12th, but the story did not break until the 19th. Only the Telegraph named those arrested, Keith Richards, charged with the absolute offence of permitting premises to be used for smoking cannabis, and Mick Jagger, charged with possession of amphetamine. George Harrison has said that the Beatles were at the party that was raided, but the police waited until they left.
Perhaps the beginning of the entire sequence of events was the arrest on cannabis charges on December 30th 1966 of the aforementioned John Hopkins (Hoppy), a member of the editorial board of the underground newspaper "International Times."* The "underground" was a literary and artistic avant garde with a large contingent from Oxford and Cambridge. Hoppy, for example, was trained as a physicist at Cambridge. The underground had found an enemy in Lord Goodman, Chairman of the Arts Council, who went over the head of the Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, and appealed directly to the Director of Public Prosecutions to mount a police raid on the Indica bookshop where International Times was edited.** Goodman had an animus against (Barry) Miles, co-proprietor of the bookshop with Peter Asher, and also a member of the Editorial Board of IT. In December 1966 Eric Whitte nominated Miles to serve on the Arts Council Literary Advisory Panel. Goodman had been infuriated when his appointment was announced to the press on January 30th, and had him thrown off.***
Hoppy, who was on bail, organized the greatest of the underground events, the "24 Hour Technicolour Dream" at Alexandra Palace on April 29th, to raise funds for the defence of the paper. When his trial came up, he insisted on pleading not guilty though he had no defence. He had a previous conviction for possession of cannabis but insisted on a jury trial, which meant going before a judge of the Crown Court and risking a longer sentence than one year. Hoppy completed a classical recipe for self-imprisonment by lecturing the court on the need to legalize cannabis. Sentencing him to nine months imprisonment on June 1st, the Deputy Chairman of Inner London Sessions, A. Gordon Friend, said:
I have just heard what your views are on the possession of cannabis and the smoking of it. This is not a matter I can overlook - You are a pest to society.
* Lord Thompson, proprietor of The Times, obtained an injunction to stop the use of the word "Times" in the title. The paper then became "IT" until Max Handley restored its correct name in the mid seventies. Incidently the girl in the logo is not Clara Bow. Its Theda Bara.
** According to Tom Driberg.
*** Peter Fryer - "A Map of the Underground", Encounter, October 1967, pp. 9-10
A sympathetic account of the case was published by Clive Goodwin in Tribune and Christopher Logue contributed a poem "For John Hopkins, imprisoned in Wandsworth Jail", which appeared in the New Statesman on July 7th.
The next day, June 2nd, Hoppy's friends met at Indica. I raised my idea of advertising in The Times.* Miles said he thought he knew where the money might be found. He had been to school with his partner, Peter Asher, who was half of the pop duo "Peter and Gordon", a "one-hit wonder." Peter Asher's sister, Jane, was Paul McCartney's girlfriend. McCartney had several times contributed small sums to keep IT going. By the end of the day he had offered to guarantee the cost of the advertisement, which was #1800.
I was not as surprised as I might have been at this turn of events. I had gone to the meeting thinking about the plight of the Beatles and their record company, EMI. "Sgt Pepper" had been officially released the preceding day. I had purchased a copy from the HMV Shop in Notting Hill on the 27th of May and had been listening to it continuously. Earlier in the year the single Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane suggested that the Beatles had become enthusiastic proponents of LSD. "Sgt Pepper" reinforced this impression. McCartney had also given an ill-advised interview to Life magazine. The Beatles had "pissed" on their clean image as explicitly as the Rolling Stones had "pissed" on a garage forecourt in June 1965.
The establishment was ready to send the Rolling Stones to prison. Now it looked as if the Beatles would be next. Something had to be done to get them off the hook. Nobody wanted them arrested, but it was difficult to see an alternative. I proposed, in effect, to change the issue from LSD to pot and to associate the Beatles with leading figures in the arts and sciences in a legitimate protest from 'within the system.' It is not in any way surprising that McCartney was willing to back the advertisement or that Rees-Mogg was willing to publish it.
I went along with Miles to discuss the project with McCartney. Unless my memory is playing tricks on me, McCartney thrust a copy of Sergent Pepper into my hands and said, "Listen to it through headphones on acid." The conversation that followed was, however, sedate. McCartney was well aware of the power of public statements coming from the Beatles. He realized that if they spoke out on too many issues, their influence would be diluted. But pot was going to be an exception. McCartney said that the Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein would all put their names to the advertisement and he agreed that the project would be left entirely in my hands. He hoped that his participation in the funding could be kept quiet. It came to the attention of the Evening Standard the next day. I received a call from the Diary, from Max Hastings or Julian Norridge translated from Cherwell. "How could you possibly know?" I asked. The source, I was immediately told, was the editor, Charles Wintour.
Later I spoke to McCartney on the phone. We agreed that Phillip Oates could say in his first "Atticus" in the Sunday Times (eventually published on July 9th) that all four Beatles would be among those contributing to the cost of the advertisement. Then, on the eve of publication, when I attended The Times to inspect the proofs, the advertising manager, R. Grant Davidson, got cold feet. Publication had been delayed for a week whilst he checked all the names. Now he asked for payment in advance. I rang the only person I had met in the Beatles organization, Peter Brown of the music publishing company, Northern Music (NEMS). He sent round his personal cheque for #1800. Someone later told me that he had been reimbursed from a Beatles advertising account. Probably none of the Beatles was out of pocket.
As the advertising manager's caution indicates, the publication of the advertisement was a near thing. The deciding factor in persuading the Times to publish and the Beatles to meet the cost was probably the sensational case of the Rolling Stones, which began on the 27th of June. The verdicts came on Thursday the 30th. Richards was sentenced to a year in prison on the premises charge and Jagger was given three months for possession of four amphetamine tablets known as 'black bombers.' Both were first offenders. They were released on bail the following day.
That night there was a spontaneous demonstration outside the News of the World building in Fleet street. No one had cared enough to demonstrate in Fleet Street since the first world war, and no one would ever care enough to do so again. The police turned dogs on the demonstrators and six people were arrested. The demonstrations continued into the early hours of the morning. The next day, Richards and Jagger were released on bail. It being Friday, the members of the underground club, UFO, over a thousand persons in extravagant dress, marched at midnight from Tottenham, Court Road to the statue of Eros at Piccadilly Circus, where they were joined by several hundred members of other West End clubs. I remember Pat Arrowsmith of CND wringing her hands in anguish, being quite unable to comprehend our tactics.
We then formed up and marched to Fleet Street. Again the police turned dogs against us, and one demonstrator was bitten. On Saturday the News of the World demonstrations continued for the third night running. A picture of part of the crowd, myself among them, appeared on the front page of the News of the World. Mick Farren, a future editor of IT and lead singer of the Social Deviants, was beaten by the police and a number of others were arrested, including Suzie Creamcheese.
Rees-Mogg's celebrated leading article, "Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?" appeared in The Times on the same day, Saturday the 1st of July. My admiration for it is subject to qualification. The editor did not address the issue squarely. He was moved by the spectacle of Jagger in handcuffs, but said nothing at all about the twelve months sentence meted out to Keith Richards, who was convicted of being in control of premises used for the purpose of cannabis smoking. The leader did not question the justice of this charge, which was an "absolute" offence that did not require guilty knowledge on the part of the offender. Rees-Mogg did not mention cannabis at all.
The last "event" preceding publication of the Times advertisement was the famous "Legalize Pot Rally" at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park on Sunday the 16th of July. This was one of a series of "be-ins" which had been taking place at monthly intervals at Primrose Hill and Hampstead Heath. "Vast publicity for legalize pot rally. Steve Abrams appears on television with amazing regularity," wrote International Times. In the event, several thousand people turned up, many wearing flowers and bells and many smoking pot openly. Most of the national newspapers gave "flower power" a double paged spread the next day.
I presided at the meeting and introduced Alan Ginsberg. When a policeman asked him to stop playing his harmonium, which went against the by-laws, he was filmed giving the policeman a flower. I decided to break up the meeting into small groups. I remember Stokely Carmichael, Alexis Korner, Carolyn Coon, Spike Hawkins, Clive Goodwin and Adrian Mitchell speaking simultaneously, each mounted on a soap-box and surrounded by a few hundred people. I was surprised to findmy remarks used in a schools program on "The Right to Protest" that seemed to be repeated on television most afternoons. Everyone had a good time in Hyde Park. No one was arrested. We had struck another blow against the image of the unkempt and violent drug addict.
The aim of the advertisement was to influence the Wootton subcommittee on hallucinogens. They had restricted themselves to pharmacological and medical studies on both cannabis and LSD. We wanted them to report on cannabis alone, to emphasize the social aspect of its use and to make specific recommendations for law reform.
Crude attempts were made to discredit the professional competence of the sub-committee. Following publication of the Report on Cannabis, Quintin Hogg was quoted in The Times, on January 9th, 1969: "A less suitable committee is impossible to imagine. Half the subcommittee are doctors and there is not a judge, or anybody practising at the criminal bar, among them."
The eleven members of the sub-committee were K. J. Barraclough, a stipendiary magistrate and Chairman of the Poisons Board; Dr. Thomas Bewley, a psychiatrist in charge of the addiction clinic at Tooting Bec Hospital, the Secretary and later President of the Society for the Study of Addiction; Peter Brodie, Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard in charge of the C.I.D., also Vice President of Interpol; Dr. P. H. Connell, a psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital; Dr. J. D. P. Graham, professor of pharmacology; Dr. C. R. B. Joyce, Head of the Department of Pharmacology at London Hospital Medical College, later Director of Research at Ciba, Switzerland; Sir Aubrey Lewis, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at the Maudsley; Dr. Nicholas Malleson, a psychiatrist, Reader in Student Problems and Head of Student Health at London University, also the most experienced LSD therapist in Britain; H. W. Palmer of the Glaxo Pharmaceuticals Company; Timothy Raison, Editor of New Society, later Tory MP, Minister of State for Home Affairs; Michael Schofield, a sociologist who had conducted several studies for the Home Office; and Baroness Wootton, a distinguished social scientist, a serving magistrate, Governor of the BBC, veteran of several Royal Commissions.
I decided that Dr. Malleson was the key member of the subcommittee. Had it been a jury, he would probably have been the foreman. I approached him and offered to rewrite the text of the advertisemnt until it satisfied him. In return, I asked to use his name privately in soliciting signatures. I had met Michael Schofield as a fellow member of the committee preparing a Report on Drugs and Civil Liberties for the National Council on Civil Liberties (NCCL). I asked him to sign the advertisement.
The sub-committee met 17 times between April 1967 and July 1968. At the first meeting the plan was to report to the main committee in October. The report was to be restricted in scope and to treat both cannabis and LSD. Before the advertisement appeared, the committee limited its enquiries to pharmacological and medical questions.
According to Michael Schofield, the sub-committee were not favourably disposed to begin with. At the first meeting one member said that research was not necessary and that all the sub-committee had to do was to work out ways to "stop the spread of this filthy habit." During the early meetings, six members wanted to take a hard line, four were undecided and two felt that the penalties for possession were too severe.* The two liberals were probably Schofield and Malleson. It follows that Lady Wootton took some persuading.
If there was a consensus of informed medical opinion on cannabis, the sub-committee would have to recognize it. The important thing was to do what could be done to persuade them to report on cannabis alone and to broaden the scope of their enquiry, to give proper consideration to the social aspects of cannabis use and to make specific recommendations for law reform. My endeavour in the text of the advertisement was to define the issues for a public debate.
The debate began immediately. The advertisement was mentioned in Parliament on the day of its appearance. Four days later, the headlines were about the savage sentence of five years' imprisonment and a £10,000 fine or an extra year which Judge Argyle passed on a black man charged with "possession" of cannabis. He did this, he said to express his disapproval of the Soma advertisement.** He also claimed that 69 of 70 heroin addicts in Birmingham had "started on cannabis."
On the same day, Friday the 28th, the Soma advertisement was the subject of an adjournment debate in the House of Commons proposed by Paul Channon. The Minister of State, Alice Bacon (Later Baroness Bacon), claimed that 97 per cent of heroin addicts known to the Home Office had "started on cannabis." She seems to have invented this figure. Her speech was racist in tone and credited cannabis and LSD with the importation of negro music and Indian spirituality. She compared McCartney unfavourably with a now forgotten singer called "Lulu." However, she said that the issues raised in the advertisement would be considered by the Wootton sub-committee, and she committed the Government to taking their Report into consideration in framing new legislation.
* Michael Schofield - The Strange Case of Pot, Pelican Books, 1971. Schofield has a chapter about "Reactions to the Wootton Report" but he ignores Callaghan's assertion that the sub-committee had been "overinfluenced" by the "lobby" responsible for the Soma advertisement. He also fails to mention the fact that he was a signatory to the advertisement.
** The man was regarded by the Court as a major supplier. Press reports did not specify the quantity of cannabis found in his possession. The sentence was reduced on appeal.
In this debate William Deedes outdid himself. He was under the illusion that hashish is far more dangerous than marijuana.
Does anyone believe that if we were to end the black market in cannabis leaf by legalizing it, a black market in resin would not begin. That could undermine the nation. That is why I believe that those who sign public announcements assume very grave responsibilities unless they can back what they say with more knowledge than most of us,believe we have.
Tom Driberg, who signed the Soma advertisement, read from his father's evidence to the East Indian Hemp Drugs Commission in 1892. I briefed Driberg and Channon and got to sit in the strangers box on the floor of the house during the debate.
On Monday the 31st of July, a week following the publication of the advertisement, the conviction of Keith Richards was quashed and Jagger's prison sentence (for possession of amphetamine tablets) was reduced to a conditional discharge. The Soma advertisement had asked for the abolition of the premises offence and included a plea for the release of all those imprisoned for possession of cannabis.
Soma was an informal organization when the advertisement appeared. Later, it was incorporated as the Soma Research Association, Ltd. There was a very distinguished Board of Directors, including the most eminent living scientist, Francis Crick, F.R.S., who won a Nobel prize for his discovery with James Watson of the structure of DNA. The Board included four psychiatrists: Professor Norman Zinberg of Harvard, whose experiment published in 1968 was the first authorised by the US government and became the strongest affirmation of the relatively harmless character of cannabis smoking; Dr. Anthony Storr, a leading establishment figure and author; Dr. R. D. Laing, the leading radical analyst of the day; and his colleague at the Philadelphia Association, Dr. David Cooper. The other directors were The Revd. Kenneth Leech, the leading authority on drug abuse within the Church of England, an early advocate of the "legalization" of cannabis; Francis Huxley, the Oxford anthropologist, and myself. Cooper, Crick, Huxley, Laing and Storr were signatories to the advertisement.
Soma had five employees, including Don Aitken, the Secretary and Archivist; Derek Blackburn, Psychologist; and Adam Parker-Rhodes, Pharmacologist. Premises were at 438, Fulham Road, SW6 and 4, Camden High Street, NW1. Soma had active research and medical programs, the latter in collaboration with the doctors at an affiliated NHS surgery in Notting Hill. Dr. Ian Dunbar was Medical Director of Soma and Dr. Sam Hutt was Medical Correspondent. Aitken and Blackburn prepared a bibliography of cannabis. We did the first human experiments with the active principle of cannabis, tetrahydracannabinol (THC), synthesized in our laboratory. We compared the action of the isomers of THC and tried to distinguish euphoria from intoxication by measuring the apparent tridimensionality of visual perception, the extent to which the world appeared, as it were, "spaced-out."
We could work with THC because its structure had not been determined when the Dangerous Drugs Act was last revised. It had not been placed under UN control. Before we made THC, we obtained supplies of a purified form of cannabis, the alcoholic extract, which was made available on prescription. Extracts and tinctures of cannabis had been removed from the Pharmacopoeia but were still listed in the Extrapharmacopoeia.
Dr. Dunbar wrote a prescription for me on the 18th of August 1967. I finally encashed it at an obscure branch of Boots in the East End. The prescription came with a letter that said: "This is an historical document. I suggest you frame it." Later a pop group, the Aynesley Dunbar Retaliation brought out a famous LP called "Dr. Dunbar's Prescription."
I put it to the Home Office Drugs Branch that most of the distinguished signatories to the advertisement and many of those who commented on it had openly declared their use of cannabis. For example, the following paragraph ended a letter to The Guardian published on July 8th and shown on television in "What the Papers Say" :
... If anyone remains unconvinced by this mass of expert advice then I can only offer them the evidence of my own experience having smoked marijuana for many years without ill effects whatsoever.
79 Cromwell Road
The Home Office obtained a legal opinion that the part of the law which made it an absolute offence to keep premises for the purposes of cannabis smoking did not apply to the smoking of purified cannabis; that is to say, smoking preparations based on "extract of cannabis," BPC. An approach was then made to the UN drugs control apparatus, who increased the nominal UK quota of cannabis imports from 15 kilos per annum to 254 kilos. (Five hundredweight) Ganja was imported from India and made up by the botanical firm, Ransoms of Hitchen.
One of the early debates was a seventy minute television special on September 1st, 1967, a mock trial in the series "Your Witness" in which Sir John Foster, Q.C. was to argue the case for cannabis against Leon Brittan. Sir John dropped out and was replaced by Jonathan Aitken, a signatory to the advertisement (now a minister in the Government).* Aitken proposed to call me as a witness. I had in mind smoking pot as I gave evidence and presented myself for cross examination. The BBC researcher, Esther Rantzen, agreed that this would be good television, and so I approached Dr. Dunbar for the first prescription.
* Sir John was at a meeting at the House of Commons in June at which he, Jonathan Aitken, Humphry Berkeley, Tom Driberg and Brian Walden all agreed to sign the advertisement. He later atoned for withdrawing from the advertisement and the debate by joining Soma. Indeed, he sent along his friend Princess Feuzy, who was a subject in our research program.
Leon Brittan was fully aware that extracts and tinctures were controlled separately from cannabis and cannabis resin and that the prohibition on the use of premises for smoking cannabis did not apply to these purified forms. However, he was also aware that my live appearance would undermine his case. He therefore fudged the issue and insisted that if I appeared the BBC would be liable to prosecution. It was compromise in the end. I was not permitted to appear live, but the BBC filmed me smoking at home, passing any risk onto my landlord. The corporation thus obtained some stock film that was reused a number of times.
On the 10th of October, 1967 Jonathan Aitken and I successfully argued a cannabis law reform motion against Professor Francis Camps and Robert Pitman at the London Hospital Medical College. The next day The Telegraph reported the warning that Professor Camps had given about the alleged dangers of cannabis, without noting the fact that his opinion had been rejected by a large audience of doctors and medical students.
I came up against Professor Camps again at a conference on drugs of the Student Humanist Federation at Nottingham University on January 5th to 7th, 1968. The problem was to get in the way of the newspapers reporting his remarks. My solution was to announce at the beginning of my talk that I would be speaking under the influence of a prescribed form of cannabis. The Times, The Telegraph and The Guardian reported this event as if it had been a high wire act.
On the 21st of November 1967, I had spoken against Leon Brittan at a Teach In at Guys Hospital. I did not like his arrogance or his willingness to pontificate on a subject of which he knew nothing. Fate was kind to me. After the publication of the Wootton Report in 1969, I had a unique opportunity to flatten him. We debated the Report at Bristol University. Leon Brittan recalled the "Your Witness" television program. He told the Bristol Union I had insisted on being filmed at home because I knew I could not speak in public under the influence of cannabis. I rose to my feet, Leon Brittan gave way. I turned to the president of the Union, and being advised that smoking was permitted, I resumed my seat, removed an enormous joint from my pocket and lit up. I went through an elaborate pantomime to distract the audience during his speech. I pretended to be "zonked." Then it was my turn to speak. I was in my best form, and I think the Union voted unanimously for the motion. Afterward, Brittan refused to believe I had been smoking. He said I had pretended to inhale.
Inevitably, the debate that gave me the greatest satisfaction was at the Oxford Union on October 19th, 1967. In my article in "The Book of Grass" I had said that the one place in Oxford where cannabis was not smoked was the Union society. Now, just months later, the Union voted in favour of changing the law. Dr. Laing and I were opposed by Ann Mallalieu and the Revd. John McNicoll. William Paton, the Professor of Pharmacology, spoke against cannabis from the floor, Earlier in the evening a motion of censure was passed against the Proctors, who had suspended Cherwell because of its coverage of drugs. Dr. Yardley spoke from the floor in this debate. He and I had threshed out this matter on the television program "24 Hours" on the 11th.
During the Thatcher period, every attempt was made to blame the permissive society" of the 1960s on the political left. In fact, the left was left out, at least in 1967. Cannabis was a libertarian issue which became very popular with the Young Conservatives. When I spoke at a teach-in organized by the Young Communists League, I faced a hostile audience for the first time. Speaker after speaker rose to say that cannabis was a capitalist plot. I was "intent on distracting
the workers from their revolutionary duties." John McNicoll, who also spoke in this debate, had accused me, in the Evening Standard diary, of being a crypto-communist. He said I had taken up drugs when lecturing at Leningrad University. Now, with a delicious political instinct, he accused me of being an American. In a long interview with Penthouse magazine, published in December 1968, I said that though Tariq Ali and Clive Goodman had signed the Soma advertisement, "We want nothing to do with their revolution." I added: "You can't smoke Marxism."
I think the decisive event in the debate about cannabis may have been a meeting of the Society for the Study of Addiction at the premises of the British Medical Association on November 7th 1967. The press were barred from this meeting, which was attended by officials from the Home Office, senior police officers, most of the Advisory Committee and many of the leading medical authorities. Dr. Storr and I spoke on behalf of Soma. We were opposed by Dr. Cedric Wilson of Liverpool University, who made a great fool of himself by including gangrene among the symptoms of chronic abuse of cannabis. He also repeated the claim made by William Deedes in the House of Commons on 28 July, that there were seven million hashish addicts in Egypt and that the Government there was at its wits end to know what to do about it. I quoted an article published the preceding year in the U.N. Bulletin on Narcotics, a study sponsored by the Egyptian government, which said there were 180,000 "habitues" of cannabis in Egypt and that a study of matched groups of users and non-users did not reveal any significant differences between the groups.
The discussion from the floor was the important part of the meeting. One expert after another rose to affirm the innocuous status of cannabis. They seemed to vie with one another in devising new arguments. It may not have reached the height of a religious revival, but I was left with the feeling that a consensus had been realized, that the Djinn was well out of the bottle.
In November 1967 the reforming Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, exchanged places with James Callaghan, the disgraced Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had devalued the pound. In opposition, Callaghan had been the paid Parliamentary lobbyist for the police federation. He was "Sunny Jim, the policeman's friend." His agenda was not that of the Labour party; indeed, it is difficult to find a more destructive influence in the history of that party. Through his opposition to vital trade union reforms, his failure at the Treasury and his pointing up what he called the "permissive society" as the legacy of his predecessor at the Home Office, he probably cost Labour the 1970 general election. Later his incompetence as prime minister cost Labour the 1979 election, and in 1983 and 1987 he intervened against his own party because of his opposition to nuclear disarmament.
Jenkins defended the non-partisan social reforms of the decade and insisted that Britain was a "civilized society," rather than a permissive one.* I recall taking part in a Third Program discussion of perhaps unprecedented length (from 8:45 pm until past midnight) on November 9th, 1969, in which Warden Sparrow of All Souls, Michael Foot, Professor Alasdair MacIntyre (a signatory to the advertisement) and I discussed the question, "Is Britain Civilized." Bernard Levin was in the Chair. I am now inclined to the view that Britain has over the past quarter century become intolerant of dissent and especially of dissenters, that it has many and various means of denying them the "oxygen of publicity", so that the question might seem to be not whether Britain is a "civilized" society, but whether, as a prime minister seemed to imply, it aspires to be a "society" at all.
* Transport House distributed the text of Jenkins' remarks to the Abingdon Constituency Labour Party on July 19th, 1969
At the Home Office, Callaghan was intent on salvaging his popular reputation, and happy to take the low road. He made known his opposition to the Wootton Report. He made a number of public interventions which could be interpreted as attempts to sabotage the Report, or to dictate terms to the Committee. He was not obliged to publish the Report, formally submitted to him on November 1st, 1968 and he must have realized that the publication of an expert report which exonerated cannabis would do everything to undermine the existing legislation, since it virtually said that the only reason to refrain from smoking cannabis was the fact that it remained, "for the time being," illegal. There were reports in the papers that some members of the Committee were prepared to resign if the Report was not published. I was myself contemplating a pirated edition of the Report.
Printed copies of the Wootton Report were delivered before Christmas and distributed on January 7th, 1969. The press were advised that Callaghan intended to denounce the findings and recommendations of the Report.
The Wootton Report went further than the Soma advertisement in affirming the relative harmlessness of cannabis. An often quoted summary (paragraph 29) allied the conclusions of the Wootton Report with those of the great reports of 1893 and 1944:
Having reviewed all the material available to us we find ourselves in agreement with the conclusions reached by the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission appointed by the Government of India (1893-4) and the New York Mayor's Committee on Marihuana (1944) that "the long term consumption of cannabis in moderate doses has no harmful effects."
Paragraph 67, introducing the Section on General Conclusion and Recommendations states:
The evidence before us shows that:
An increasing number of people, mainly young, in all classes of society are experimenting with this drug, and substantial numbers use it regularly for social pleasure.
There is no evidence that this activity is causing violent crime or aggressive anti-social behaviour, or is producing in otherwise normal people conditions of dependence or psychosis, requiring medical treatment.
The experience of many other countries is that once it is established cannabis-smoking tends to spread. In some parts of Western society where interest in mood-altering drugs is growing, there are indications that it may become a functional equivalent of alcohol.
In spite of the threat of severe penalties and considerable effort at enforcement the use of cannabis in the United Kingdom does not appear to be diminishing. There is a body of opinion that criticises the present legislative treatment of cannabis on the ground that it exaggerates the dangers of the drug and needlessly interferes with civil liberty.
The Committee proposed that new legislation be drafted that would distinguish between hard and soft drugs and between drug trafficking and drug taking. It proposed that the penalties for cannabis be reduced to the point where minor offences would not merit imprisonment. The key recommendation was to reduce the maximum penalty on summary conviction for possession to four months imprisonment. The committee also proposed to abolish absolute offences (i.e., the liability in respect to the use of premises) and called for a legal framework for cannabis research and medical treatment using cannabis and its variants.
The Government's expert advisors had confirmed the apparently surreal assertions of the cannabis lobby. This completely knocked the pins from under any attempt to enforce or justify the law. It discharged the burden of proof that the "cannabis lobby" had assumed. Whatever was said against us could also be said against the Advisory Council and against Callaghan, who had not been bound to publish the Report. The terms of the debate were now changed. If the Government wanted to send people to prison for smoking cannabis, they had to show that its use was harmful and socially damaging. But the further step of legalizing cannabis depended on amassing proof, over a period of time, that cannabis was not a social menace.
The Report went out of its way to credit the influence of the Times advertisement. I quote from an article in the Guardian diary which was planted with a view to facilitating Callaghan's denunciation of the Report. It was a set up, illustrated by a photograph.
LOBBYISTS are the great unseen, the great unhonoured, not least by Government enquiries. But Steve Abrams' pot-boilers have never been that kind of lobby, and the Wootton Committee isn't that kind of enquiry. The Cannabis report out this morning delivers a rare and specific testimonial:
"Our first enquiries were proceeding - without publicity - into the pharmacological and medical aspects when other developments gave our study new and much increased significance. An advertisement in the Times on the 24th of July 1967 represented that the long asserted dangers of cannabis were exaggerated and that the related law was socially damaging, if not unworkable. This was followed by a wave of debate about these issues in Parliament, the Press and elsewhere, and reports of enquiries e.g. by the National Council for Civil Liberties. This publicity made more explicit the nature of some current "protest" about official policy on drugs; defined more clearly some of the main issues in our study; and led us to give greater attention to the legal aspects of the problem. Government spokesmen made it clear that any future development of policy on cannabis would have to take account of the Advisory Committee's report. Accordingly, we decided to give first priority to presenting our views on cannabis."
Publication of the Wootton Report provoked an organized campaign of vilification in the popular press. A famous headline in The Daily Express described the Report as a "junkies charter." Some people in high places and some vested interests were getting worried. Until then, the issue of legalizing cannabis had seemed to be a joke.
In the Parliamentary debate on the Wootton Report on January 29th, 1969, Callaghan gave his reasons for rejecting, or ostensibly rejecting, the Wootton Report:
I think it came as a surprise, if not a shock, to most people when that notorious advertisement appeared in the Times in 1967 to find that there is a lobby for legalizing cannabis. The House should recognize that this lobby exists, and my reading of the Report is that the Wootton sub-committee was overinfluenced by this lobby. I had the same impression as the Rt. Hon. and learned gentleman (Quintin Hogg) that it was compromise at the end; that those who were in favour of legalizing 'pot' were all the time pushing the other members back, so that eventually these remarkable conclusions emerged, that it would be wrong to legalize it but that the penalties should be reduced. The existence of this lobby is something that the House and public opinion should take into account and be ready to combat, as I am. It is another aspect of the so-called permissive society, and I am glad that my decision has enabled the house to call a halt in the advancing tide of so-called permissiveness.
Articles in the Evening Standard (February 3rd) and other newspapers said that the Chairman of the Advisory Council, Sir Edward Wayne and Lady Wootton were both contemplating resignation to mark their protest against the Home Secretary's insulting remarks in Parliament. On February 5th the Times published a joint letter from them, which said, in part:
We regard this statement as offensive to our distinguished colleagues and to ourselves, and particularly to the eminent medical men who signed our Report, and we particularly deprecate the implication of the emotive word 'lobby' in this context. We would also point out that after hearing the evidence no member of the sub-committee recommended legalization.
In October I wrote in the Soma Newsletter (np. 3, pp. 4-5) that Callaghan, for all his blustering, had little option other than to change the law:
The Government is now drafting comprehensive new legislation on psychotropic drugs, including cannabis. The legislation aims at introducing more flexible control of drugs and consolidating the control presently exercised in respect of the Dangerous Drugs Act and the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act. Apparently the new legislation will distinguish between drugs by introducing a two tiered system of penalties for what may, for convenience, be termed "hard" and "soft" drugs. Our understanding is that the problem of whether to classify cannabis as a hard or soft drug has not yet been faced. It is felt, however, that because the Home Secretary has asked the Wootton Committee to continue in its advisory capacity, it will be very difficult to justify the continued classification of cannabis as a hard drug in the context of new legislation. ...
It should be recalled that despite his posturing the Home Secretary did not refuse to implement the Wootton Report. He merely refused to legislate unilaterally and immediately on cannabis at a time when new comprehensive legislation was already being planned.
The story of implementing the Wootton Report is told in a little noticed passage in the Crossman diaries.(pp. 836-7) After the legislation had been through the Home Affairs Committee, there was an "absolutely outrageous press leak." This presumably refers to a page one lead in the Sunday Mirror on February 1st, 1970 :
DRUG LAW SHOCK Jim Changes his Mind. Penalties for 'pot' smokers to be cut.
Home Secretary James Callaghan has has had a dramatic change of mind on drugs. He has decided that people who smoke 'pot' should no longer be punished as severely as those using heroin. He has gone further by deciding that the penalties for possessing both hard and soft drugs should be cut.
... Mr. Callaghan only a year ago championed the cause of holding the line against drug permissiveness. ...Last year Mr. Callaghan denounced what he called "a notorious advertisement" in the Times - signed by many public figures including the Beatles - which urged that possessing cannabis should either be legalized, or at most punishable by a fine of not more than #25.
Crossman's diary entry for Thursday February 26th says that Callaghan had come back to the cabinet to say that "he now proposed not to have any reduction at all in any penalties on cannabis." Crossman notes that this was unusual. "One usually only brings things to Cabinet when there is disagreement at a Cabinet Committee." As the discussion continued "it became absolutely clear that the issue was whether to kowtow to public opinion or not." The Cabinet divided. "Every member of the cabinet who had been to university voted one way and everyone else voted the other." Wilson voted with the antis. Having been outvoted by a clear majority, Callaghan published his Misuse of Drugs Bill on March 11th.
The myth that Callaghan refused to implement the proposals of the Wootton Report owes its survival to the fact that the labour government was defeated in the general election of 1970. However, the legislation was bipartisan and it was reintroduced by Reginald Maudling for the tories. It became law as the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The maximum penalty for possession of cannabis on summary conviction was reduced by half to six months. When the Act received the Royal Assent in 1973 the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham (formerly Quintin Hogg), advised the conference of the Magistrates Association on sentencing. (Times, 12 October 1973) He reasserted the insistence of the Advisory Council that minor offences did not merit imprisonment. Lord Hailsham told magistrates to treat cannabis users with "becoming moderation." He said: "Set aside your prejudice, if you have one, and reserve the sentence of imprisonment for suitably flagrant cases of large scale trafficking." It must have been difficult for him to set aside his own prejudice long enough to say that, but he did!
Ten years after the Wootton report, Ronald Butt wrote in The Times, without intended irony, that we should be grateful to Callaghan who put his foot down and saved us from the permissive society by rejecting the Wootton Report. (17 March 1979) When he wrote this article Butt should have known that the Criminal Justice Act of 1977 had reduced the maximum sentence on summary conviction for possession to three months, less than the four months proposed in the Wootton Report. He should also have been aware of the 1978 Report on Sentencing of the Advisory Council, which proposed a further reduction in penalties, ending the status of possession of cannabis as an "arrestable offence" (i.e. one for which a warrant is not required to make an arrest) and abolishing the residual powers of the courts to deprive offenders of their liberty. However, the Report noted that the Courts were already observing this condition in practice; they no longer imposed prison sentences for simple possession offences.*
Margaret Thatcher was heavily indebted to the tobacco and alcohol lobbies. She sought to use the drugs issue for political purposes. The wise counsel of civil servants and professional advisers was by-passed when a planeload of tame MPs departed for a Cooks Tour of American lowlife organized by the U.S. Drugs Enforcement Agency.
Thatcher opened the doors to smugglers by reducing the number of customs staff and she spent several million pounds of public money on advertisements for the use of heroin and cocaine, against the advice of the Advisory Council. But the use of cannabis was so widespread that any attempt to focus on its dangers would have derailed the entire campaign. Cannabis was not singled out for attention and soon references to cannabis became conspicuous by their absence. There was no way to stress the dangers of narcotics without pointing up the relative harmlessness of cannabis. On this issue Thatcher was caught in a trap of her own making. Of course she refused to implement the further proposals for cannabis law reform made in the 1978 Report on Sentencing and re-affirmed in the 1982 Report on Cannabis." However, she did make a crucial concession, granting Chief Constables discretion to caution offenders rather than bring them to trial. This practise has grown and now the majority of offenders are cautioned and thus escape conviction.
* Report on A Review of the Classification of Controlled Drugs and of Penalties Under Schedules 2 and 4 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (15 December 1978)
The Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence was an ad hoc body. The Misuse of Drugs Act made it a statutory body akin to the Poisons Board. It was renamed the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.
** Home Office Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs - Report of the Expert Group on the Effects of Cannabis Use (1982).
The Wootton Report was implemented twenty years ago. Since that time we have had a "half-way house", and possession of cannabis has been virtually "decriminalized." One solicitor, Bernard Simons, who has dealt with many drugs cases, described the present situation in The Independent on July 22nd:
... For me, twenty-five years ago, it was really important in my life - as a libertarian issue. Today the police rarely prosecute; they're told to administer cautions, and even bringing small amounts into the country doesn't lead to court. In my youth, in Notting Hill, people were stopped and searched all the time. and they had nothing on them. You used to have police raids on parties, where they'd find a bit of cannabis and arrest everyone in the room. Twelve people would appear in court charged with the same bit of cannabis. It doesn't happen any more, certainly not in London - though I can't speak for rural Wales.
The police arrest users by accident. If they are looking for a dealer or a thief and they find some 'dope', they make a charge. The few cases that show up in the statistics as leading to imprisonment are artefacts; for example, a sentence served concurrently for possession of cannabis and another more serious drug or non drug offence. In some other cases the quantities of cannabis seized are rather large.
A decision to legalize cannabis in the context of EC drug policy would be bolstered by the results of such research as has been done in the past twenty years, mainly in America. However, the decision is likely to depend on the size and growth of the market. The media have muddied the waters by exaggerating the extent of cannabis smoking in the 1960s. A leader and several articles in The Independent have insisted that cannabis use is currently greater than at any time since the 1960s. In fact, official statistics imply a steady growth in cannabis use over the past quarter century. The total of cannabis seized in 1967 was 295 kilos and 457 plants. Currently seizures are running at about 1,000 kilos per week. In twenty-five years seizures have increased by two orders of magnitude.
Cannabis is normally sold in the form of hashish at a price of about #30 for a quarter of an ounce. That is a week's supply for a user who smokes all day every day. I assume that a typical user smokes cannabis two or three times a week and consumes about a sixteenth of an ounce per week. On this basis, the current level of seizures alone would be enough to support a user population of half a million. But the customs use a notional figure of five or ten per cent for the average level of seizures.* It is therefore likely that there are several million regular cannabis smokers in Britain, up to ten per cent of the population. Probably the market has been saturated. Cannabis is not everyone's cup of tea, and many people do not enjoy its effects or are unable to experience any effect at all from taking it. The experience of decriminalization in Holland is that further relaxation of control does not produce any long term increase in use.
* In the 'sixties the proportion of seizures was probably lower than it is today, partially because the penalties did not distinguish users from suppliers.
The legalization of cannabis may now be on the cards, but how will it be done? "Legalization" is an extremely vague expression. My personal view has always been that the vendor should be the State; that any other solution would introduce a vested interest in maximizing the use of cannabis, and, in one way or another, advertising it. In oral evidence to the Wootton sub-committee on December 5th, 1967 I said that the recent legalization of gambling had been a disaster because the crooks who controlled illegal gambling remained in control of legalized gambling. Yet there is today, in 1993, a strong opinion in favour of legitimizing the existing trade in drugs, much of which is in the hands of organized crime and terrorist groups.
Mr. Lucas, a psychiatrist, asked me if I thought the tobacco companies should sell cannabis to help them to phase out of the production of tobacco. I said that the tobacco companies should not be allowed to sell cannabis and that I doubted they should even be permitted to sell tobacco.
Originally, I hoped that cannabis could be made available through liberal prescribing of standardized preparations. Since the 1970s I have supported those who favour a rationing system loosely tied to the National Health System. I think that prospective users should be required to purchase a cannabis licence, which could be obtained from a NHS surgery. The licence would allow them to purchase up to the equivalent of one ounce of cannabis per month from a chemists shop. This would make it a slight nuisance to obtain cannabis. The doctor would not be asked to prescribe the drug, but would be entitled to know his patient was a cannabis user. All profits from such a scheme could go to the NHS. It would be worth a few billions per annum. In this way the gangsters are cut out, a small overflow is provided, the forms of cannabis available are standardized and purified, and the profits go to a good cause. Moreover, such a scheme would be reversible. A detailed consideration of alternative licensing systems was provided in a book, Cannabis : Options for Change, published by the semi-official Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence in 1979.
Hopefully, the solution of nationalizing cannabis may be the only one which is compatible with the control requirements of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, to which Britain is a signatory. The Convention requires all states to enact laws prohibiting the "possession" of cannabis and providing for deprivation of liberty in suitable cases. This convention was brought in as a result of long pressure from the U. S. Treasury, which acts on behalf of the alcohol lobby in America, and controlled or prohibited cannabis in America in the same way that it prohibited "moonshine", as tax evasion. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics controlled by H. J. Anslinger, a former commissioner of prohibition and a relative of Hoover's, was part of the U.S. Treasury. It was succeeded by the Drugs Enforcement Authority, which is part of the Department of Justice.
The Wootton Report was followed by similar reports in other countries including the Le Dain Report in Canada and the Shafer Report in America. Following publication of the latter, by a Presidential Commission, the government looked into the legal status of cannabis under the Single Convention. Apparently, they obtained an opinion based on the French text of the Convention that the offence of possession" had the meaning of the offence described in British law as "possession with intent to sell" as opposed to simple possession. The conclusion seemed to be that cannabis could be legalized, though only with the state acting as the seller.
It will, however, be difficult or impossible to resist a claim from the tobacco industry. For example, one tobacco company pays Lady Thatcher a fee in excess of #1,000,000 p.a. to act as a "consultant." Such sums are paid out to protect the public image of an industry which may have killed off a hundred million people worldwide in the course of the twentieth century. To the tobacco industry the Single Convention is a paper tiger.
On the 8th of July 1968, the News of the World devoted its entire pre-tabloid front page to an attack on me. There was a marvelous picture, borrowed from the Sunday Times and retouched, and an arrow pointing at my head. The headline said: This dangerous man MUST be stopped! The article had no content; it attacked my plans to manufacture small quantities of THC for research purposes but admitted that the Home Office was aware of the project and had no objection to it.
Four days later, on the 12th of July, the Oxford drugs squad searched the digs of a gentleman named Stephen Abraham, who lived with his landlady, Miss Susan Ratcliffe, in a house at 88, Sunningwell Road. A roach, a spent cannabis cigarette, was found in the room he occupied with Miss Ratcliffe. The police also found an empty bottle of tincture of cannabis and some tobacco with a green tinge. Stephen Abraham was an American and a member of Pembroke College. He had just taken first class honours in maths. He smoked dope like a chimney and he too had a prescription (arranged by me) from Dr. Dunbar.
I am sorry that Graham Greene (a signatory to the Soma advertisement) is not alive to read this, to learn about the "other Steve Abrams" I kept in Oxford to get arrested on my behalf.*
Steve Abraham beat a strategic retreat to America, but on August 1st, his girlfriend, Miss Ratcliffe, was charged with the absolute offence of allowing him to smoke cigarettes dipped in cannabis tincture in their room. The Court and the police accepted that Abraham had a legal prescription.
The case was heard at Oxford City Magistrates Court on October 17th, 1968. The Bench of Magistrates, included Mrs. H. Y. Bullock, wife of Sir Alan Bullock, the Head of my College, then elevated to the rank of Vice Chancellor. She must have been aware of the deliberate confusion of identities. Soma paid half the cost of the defence, who were represented by our solicitor, Martin Polden. Expert evidence for the defence was provided by Dr. Ann Robinson, assistant to Professor Francis Camps at London Hospital. (Dr. Robinson is now Professor of Ferensic Medicine at London Hospital Medical College.)
I have no criminal record and have never been charged with any drugs offence. I was an Advanced Student of St. Catherine's College from 1960 to 1967. I have never met Miss Ratcliffe and have never been to 88, Sunningwell Road, Oxford. In 1968 I lived at 81, Holland Road, London W11 with Jane Firbank, to whom I was then married.
The forensic scientist from Aldermaston who gave evidence for the police said that his tests did not distinguish between cannabis resin and extract of cannabis. He promptly concluded that they were the same substance. He insisted that the product of evaporating the alcohol in tincture of cannabis (made by adding alcohol to extract of cannabis) was in fact cannabis resin, whereas the extract was made by percolating cannabis leaf (marijuana) in alcohol. It contained only those components of cannabis that dissolved in alcohol.
It was argued in evidence that Abraham was entitled to be in possession of a bottle of tincture of cannabis but not to open it. If a fraction of the alcohol that the extract was mixed with evaporated, that would be a step in the direction of "manufacturing cannabis resin." By the same token, opening a bottle of cough syrup might be construed as a step in the direction of manufacturing morphine. By pouring the contents of a bottle of tincture of cannabis, cost 30/onto a tin of tobacco, Abraham was supposed to have, transformed the house into a "factory" for manufacturing Ireefers', according to a report in The Times. According to The Telegraph, Abraham manufactured enough cannabis "to supply five hospitals for seven years." That is to say, he used up a bottle of tincture of cannabis, the same amount used by the five Oxford hospitals over the past seven years.
This case was upheld on appeal by Brian Gibbens, the Recorder of Oxford on January 11th, 1969, four days after the Wootton Report was published. The decision was criticised in legal and medical journals for making a nonsense of the law and it was ignored outside Oxford. However, the impression was created that following a campaign in the New of the World, I had been convicted (in absentia) of "manufacturing" cannabis resin in Oxford.
This may be a great joke, but it got on my credit records here and in America, and it left the police with an open warrant in my name. I was picked up several times in London, the premises of Soma were raided, and I realized that it was time to pack it in. Callaghan had just published his Drugs Bill, so I could claim a victory.
There is buried somewhere in the personal columns of The Times, probably in January or February 1969 a small announcement advertising the fact that Steve Abrams is not Steve Abrams &c.
On July 24th 1992, twenty-five years after the publication of the Soma advertisement, a new full paged advertisement appeared in The Times, sponsored by the Release Legal Emergency and Drugs Service Ltd., registered charity no. 801118.
Registered charities are not permitted to campaign for law reform, but Release, in soliciting contributions to defray the cost (#17,000) of the advertisement altered their stationery to remove the designation of their charitable status and allowed the press, e.g.? the Independent, to describe them as a "soft drugs campaigning group."
Prospective contributors and signatories to the Release advertisement were sent a poster reproduction of the Soma advertisement, together with advice that affirmed or strongly implied that they had published the original as their calling card, twenty-five years earlier. None of the signatories to the Release advertisement got to see the embarrassing document to which their names were appended.
I told the organizers of the Release advertisement that they were in breach of copyright in circulating posters of the Soma advertisement, and that they were also guilty of the additional offence of "passing off." The Director of Release, Michael Goodman, a barrister, and one of the "founders" of the organization, Mr. Rufus Harris, a law clerk, ignored my protestations and authorised the use of a photograph of me, ostensibly smoking a joint, on the invitation to their 25th anniversary party.
Release did come into existence in 1967, but it took no significant part in the cannabis law reform movement of the late sixties. To begin with, Release was a 24 hour referral service for a group of solicitors who specialised in defending drugs cases. Release would have cut itself off from reputable sources of funding had it campaigned for the legalization of cannabis. The solicitors, who were onto a good thing, would have been compromised.
The earliest reference to Release in The Times is in October 1967 and all of the references are to fund raising stunts arranged by Carolyn Coon or criticisms of the police. More surprisingly, perhaps, there is no reference to Release in the "pot people's newspaper" International Times in the summer of 1967. A complete history of the early work of Release is given in The Release Report by Caroline Coon and Rufus Harris (Sphere Books, 1969). This book covers the wider interests of the authors in the drugs problem but the text contains no reference to the Wootton Report or to an advertisement in the Times. The authors seem to think it wrong to, as James Callaghan said, "look at one drug in isolation." They content themselves with a bland and ambiguous injunction, still in use, to "change the drug laws."
If this seems tame, it is. Release has a government grant of #3,000 per week, covering sixty per cent of its operating expenditure. In twenty-five years Release has not done anything adventurous, nor has it published any worthwhile research. Now independent action is out of the question. The orchestrated pre-publicity for the 1992 advertisement, with the media acting in concert, regurgitating handouts from the Home Office Press office was an embarassing confirmation of the extent of news management in the one party state that is Britain today.
I know that things are hard, and that an organization like Release must be encouraged to establish its street credibility and to raise money on its own by tapping a vein of sympathy among a drug using population of several millions and preaching to the converted. I am not happy about Release living on my good will, but I am amused that the Home Office now want to get in on the act, to claim that they themselves inspired the 1967 advertisement.
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