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Live webchat about teens and drugs with former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, Monday 3 December at 1pm

(38 Posts)
FrancesMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 29-Nov-12 10:56:14

We are delighted to host former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith for a LIVE webchat on Monday 3rd December at 1pm.

Jacqui was the Member of Parliament for Redditch between 1997 and 2010 and the first female Home Secretary.

In 2008 she made the decision to reclassify cannabis from a Class C to the more serious Class B drug. In a BBC 5 Live documentary Jacqui talks to those involved with the decision, cannabis users and those on the frontline tackling the UK's drug problems. As a mother of teenage boys, Jacqui reviews whether the message about the potential harms of cannabis was helped or hindered by her decision.

You can listen to Jacqui's documentary for BBC Radio 5 Live, Stoned Again here.

Jacqui is really interested in hearing your thoughts and opinions on cannabis and wider drug use in the UK. Do please join us for the webchat. As ever, if you can't make it, please post up your advance questions here.

Thanks,

MNHQ

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 13:23:55

noidles

So, drugs is a heavy subject, so I'd like to interrupt with a bit of light relief for a moment:

What's your favourite biscuit?

Hi noidles. Last night my husband cleared out the baking cupboard and used the stuff he cleared out to make some biscuits. Both of these events are so unusual, that these are definitely my favourites. By the way, as far as I'm aware, there's were no illegal substances in them!

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 13:28:37

JeanBillie

Intersecting programme.

I wondered what you think we can do to make cannabis less cool to teens? Interesting that it's on the decline because smoking in general is becoming less popular - how can we capitalise on this?

Thanks for kind words about the programme JeanBillie. The interesting thing about cannabis is that in some ways policy is a success story. There has been a consistent decline in the numbers of young people using cannabis. Use was declining before David Blunkett as one of my predecessor Home Secretaries downgraded the classification of cannabis from B to C. It continued declining including after I had reclassified back up again. This is one of the reasons I concluded that changing the classification probably had little impact apart from to make people obsess about the law.

There are various explanations for this fall. Some think it's due to less use of tobacco, some that young people are using other things. I think education is working to make young people more resistant to all forms of drug. Some think it's fashion. It will be interesting to watch what happens in the future.

QWERTYmonster Mon 03-Dec-12 13:29:25

Is the evidence on a link between cannabis use and poor mental health particularly strong? I thought it was inconclusive?

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 13:33:01

quartz101

Jacqui - do you think you'll stand for Parliament again at the next election? Or are you enjoying your post-Parliament life too much? ;-)

Hi quartz101. After I lost my seat, I pretty quickly decided that I would move on to something else. I loved being in Parliament and particularly being a Minister, but I'm also young enough to do something else now. And you're right that there is a liberation in not being a spokesperson anymore. I will always be interested in and involved with politics - there's a lot that goes on outside Parliament and I'm enjoying that.

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 13:37:39

QWERTYmonster

Is the evidence on a link between cannabis use and poor mental health particularly strong? I thought it was inconclusive?

This is one of the most controversial areas QWERTYmonster. Some experts argue that there isn't an epidemiological link between cannabis use and e.g schizophrenia i.e. the use of cannabis hasn't led to a greater proportion of the population with this condition. However others, particularly those who work in mental health are very strong that for given individuals there is a clear link between their cannabis use and their mental health problems. Also, many people pointed to shorter term impacts on mental well being of cannabis use. People can feel paranoid and there is certainly evidence that use at a young age is likely to have a greater impact including on iq as the New Zealand study demonstrated. In 2008, I felt strongly that I didn't want to wait for conclusive proof to act - I took a precautionary approach which has been criticised by some.

personanongrata Mon 03-Dec-12 13:38:24

Thanks for your answer. Agree that cuts are likely to make the problem worse. Research into effectiveness of govt's methadone programme would be good. Just adds another addiction into the mix, as far as I can tell, and another substance to sell/barter etc on the street.

QWERTYmonster Mon 03-Dec-12 13:43:47

Thanks for the honest answer re. data. I've got nothing against a precautionary stance myself, just wanted to check whether an actual causative link had been established - sounds as though it hasn't been.

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 13:46:55

eggsandham

Jacqui you come across as one of the most sane and normal politicians around. It is a shame you are no longer in Parliament.

Thanks for coming on here. My question is about decriminalisation of drugs. I'm far from convinced that this is the right answer and am by no means an expert on this issue. But even a fool can see that our current approach to drugs is not working. I'd characterise the failure of politicians from all parties to even consider the arguments for decriminalisation as a serious case of them sticking their fingers in their ears and saying "la la la we're not listening". So I guess my question is - how realistic do you think it is that we will ever solve the drugs issue whilst that particular potential answer lies completely off the table and not up for discussion?

Thanks for your kind words eggsandham. There are lots of sane and normal politicians around, but it's not always easy for that to come across. However that's a chat for another day.

The really interesting point about your comments is the assertion that 'our current approach to drugs is not working'. This is a view shared by the majority when people are polled, but in some ways it doesn't reflect the reality. Problem drug use in almost all age groups is coming down and particularly amongst young people. There are more people in treatment and more people successfully completing treatment. One of the things which gets people into treatment is coming up against the law which is one of the reasons why I don't support decriminalisation. Whilst I don't support decriminalisation, I do support the police in using discretion about the way people are treated. Most people won't be arrested if they're caught with cannabis and I think this is right.

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 13:55:48

flow4

I am particularly interested in, and worried by, the increased availability of skunk - now smoked by very many teenagers.

I have a teenager who smokes skunk, and so do most of his friends. I observe that it makes them paranoid, unhappy, edgy, dis-inhibited, and sometimes aggressive or violent (particularly during the 'come down'). On the other hand, I grew up in a student culture where almost everyone I knew smoked cannabis, and the effects 'back then' were very different - almost universally pleasant. I find skunk's 'nastiness' very worrying indeed.

Traditionally, we have viewed skunk as simply 'strong cannabis'. But researchers have been studying the effects of skunk vs. 'standard' cannabis, and are beginning to identify important differences. Skunk is strengthened by changing its chemical structure to increase its THC content, by removing its cannabidiol (CBD). This leads to observable and worrying effects: specifically, skunk has a clear psychotic effect, while other forms of cannabis which contain CBD as well as THC, it seems, do not. CBD appears to have some positive medical effects too.

You can see one vivid example of the different effects in this video clip, filmed when a BBC investigative journalist took part in an experiment run by Prof. Robin Murray and a research team at the Institute of Psychiatry. There is more info in this New Scientist article and here.

Unfortunately, I think there is a lack of awareness about the differences between skunk and other forms of cannabis, and this leads to misunderstanding and poor policy and treatment. Young people are given poor information, based on out-of-date 'knowledge' about older forms of cannabis. Drugs workers and other adults who remember their own pleasant experiences of cannabis don't understand that skunk is different. The messages about skunk need to be much harder-line, in my opinion. Personally, I would favour separate classification for skunk, higher than other forms of cannabis that contain CBD. Its effects need to be taken much more seriously, and treatment programmes may need to be introduced.

My question for Jacqui is: do you agree (or will you review the research evidence to see if you agree) that skunk is different to, and more dangerous than, other forms of cannabis which contain CBD? And if so, will you do what you can to make sure that 'official' information and policy about skunk are updated?

Hi flow4 Your point about skunk is absolutely right in my view. Some of the experts are particularly worried about the different impact of skunk to more 'traditional' cannabis use. I was very concerned about the suggestion in the 2008 Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs report that there are some young people who respond to stronger forms of cannabis by 'binge smoking' Some others regulate their use depending on the strength, but I certainly worry about the impact on those who don't.

The question, as I suggested earlier, is whether separate classification is the most effective way to get this message over. As 80% of the cannabis being picked up on the streets is skunk, I think we should probably be talking about this as being the mainstream cannabis that most people are using.

The other interesting thing about doing the programme is that some of the people who were most vehement in their opposition to skunk were older users who had been smoking for many years and could see that there was something very different coming onto the streets. I don't know if we could use them to help get the message over or if they'd just be seen as 'old and out of touch' like the rest of us!

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 14:04:36

QWERTYmonster

Hello Jacqui,

Not really about drugs (I'm past all that and my kids are too young grin), but I wondered whether you're able to talk openly now about your experience as Home Secretary and how you think your gender played in to the way the press and public responded to you?

It's my impression that you got a tougher/more hostile response from certain quarters simply because of your sex - as well as a lot of very ugly glee about the expenses/porn film business (which was particularly grim given that others pocketed hundreds of thousands from mortgage tax relief fiddles but got off with barely a rap on the knuckles.)

I also wanted to commend you on the progress made on domestic violence provision and policing under your watch. What one thing do you think Theresa May should do right now to improve things for those suffering from domestic abuse?

Hi QWERTYmonster. Before I answer the rest of your points, let me just say something on your point about your kids being too young. Professor David Nutt and I definitely agree that we should be talking to our kids at a younger age than we currently do. Some of the drug workers told me that they worked with children as young as 12 and I was surprised at how much my own 14 year old son already knew including having friends who were already using cannabis when I talked to him about it. So it might come round quicker than you think!

On the having a tough time point, I'll simply say that being a high profile woman politician has it's advantages and disadvantages. I'm very unwilling to suggest that I was only a victim of sexism - I made some mistakes too!

I was proud to be able to put a lifetime of campaigning on domestic violence into action as Home Secretary and to lead the first cross government strategy on violence against women. There are so many things I hope Theresa May does, but I'd particularly like her to protect the independent domestic violence advisers - having someone who can support you through all the nightmares of getting away from an abusive relationship is really important whether it's court, money, housing. Having one person on your side can make a big difference and I hope these roles are expanded in the coming years.

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 14:06:07

It's been great talking to you and answering the points. Good luck if you're thinking about how to talk to your own kids about cannabis - it's never too early to start!

I hope to have the chance to catch up with Mumsnetters again.

Jacqui

flow4 Mon 03-Dec-12 14:36:17

I don't know whether you are still watching this thread Jacqui, but if you are... I did not realise you had a role in the cross-party strategy on domestic violence. I have things I would like to say about DV perpetrated by teenage children on their parents - something highly taboo and (as far as I'm aware) rarely even acknowledged, but much more widespread than we would like to think.

Official recognition of the problem would be really useful, as would cross-party agreement on a strategic approach - e.g. responses by police and other services. If you would like to hear more, please feel free to send me a personal message... Or read this other MN thread or this one, where some mothers talk quite openly about their experiences.

LineRunner Mon 03-Dec-12 19:03:37

Just come in and read this webchat - really interesting and frank.

Would Jacqui Smith come back and do another one? I like flow4's allusion to maybe focusing on DV and the inter-generational stuff that is seemingly still taboo.

An Ex Minister is so much more honest, relaxed and actually interesting than a current Minister. Plus Jacqui Smith has a spark about her.

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