Home Office - Wootton Report
SECTION IV SOCIAL ASPECTS OF CANNABIS USE
47. Much of the main controversy about the dangers of cannabis has attached to the claims that its use leads to opiate addiction and to the commission of violent crime. We paid particular attention to these aspects in our review of the salient literature and of evidence as to United Kingdom experience.
48. Hitherto discussion of the question whether there is a progression from cannabis to heroin has relied chiefly upon evidence from retrospective investigations of the previous habits of heroin-users. In the nature of the case such evidence can never be conclusive. On the assumption that the use of cannabis is still confined to a fairly small section of the population, evidence that a high proportion of heroin addicts have previously taken cannabis would only suggest that the marihuana-smoker is more likely than the non-smoker to take to heroin; what it cam1ot do is to give any clue to the frequency of such a progression among marihuana-smokers generally. For what they are worth, such retrospective investigations (which incidentally more commonly deal with American than with British experience) indicate that many heroin addicts have previously sampled other drugs including cannabis.
49. Most observers discount any pharmacological action disposing the cannabis-smoker to resort to other drugs, and look for other explanations. Some have suggested that in order to obtain their supplies cannabis-users must inevitably resort to the criminal underworld where opiates are also available. According to our witnesses supplies of cannabis in this country are not necessarily obtained in the same places as heroin. However, social mixing of some cannabis and some opiate-users takes place and involvement with opiates could thus occur on a socio-cultural basis.
50. Others suppose that dissatisfaction with the relief or pleasure to be obtained from cannabis leads users on to other drugs, and a minority postulate a predisposition to cannabis which is also a predisposition to heroin. These suggestions arise because most observers obtained their information from drug-users who are patients or offenders. These are often the multiple drug-users who rarely avoid trouble and are frequently to be found in clinics and before the courts. There appears to be a particular group of emotionally deprived, disturbed personalities who have tried most of the illegal drugs (including cannabis) before becoming heroin addicts. In fact most heroin addicts are multiple drug-users and have the emotionally impoverished family background not infrequently found in other delinquent groups, such as high incidence of broken homes, poor school record. police record. unemployment and work-shyness. Cannabis-users with similar personalities and backgrounds may have a predisposition to heroin, amphetamines and other illegal drugs. It is the personality of the user, rather than the properties of the drug, that is likely to cause progression to other drugs.
51. It can clearly be argued on the world picture that cannabis use does not lead to heroin addiction. So far as the United Kingdom is concerned no comprehensive survey has yet been made but a number of isolated studies have been published. none of which demonstrate significant lines of progression. Our witnesses had nothing to add to the information already available, and we have concluded that a risk of progression to heroin from cannabis is not a reason for retaining the control over this drug.
52. Published statements on links between cannabis and crime tend to confuse the consequences of enforcing legal restrictions on non-conforming drug users with alleged criminogenic effects of cannabis-smoking itself. Since possession of cannabis is generally prohibited, the user found in possession automatically acquires a criminal record. To obtain his supply. an illicit source must also be involved.
53. A main charge against cannabis overseas, but not in this country. has been that its use makes people commit crimes of violence, because it removes inhibitions. There have been reports of outbursts of wild agitation and unprovoked violence by chronic users. Other observers have denied any direct link with violent crime. The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission concluded that "the connection between hemp drugs and ordinary crime is very slight indeed", but that excessive use did, in some very rare cases, make the consumer violent; 600 witnesses were asked by the Commission whether they knew of cases of homicidal frenzy, and very few did. A considerable majority of these witnesses did not consider that the drug produced unpremeditated crimes of violence, and some said, as other writers have since, that there is a negative relation because cannabis makes men quiet as a rule. The New York Mayors Committee reported to similar effect: many criminals might use the drug, but it was not the determining factor in the commission of major crimes.
54. Probable reasons for this divergence of views are: criminals in some countries have based their defence on alleged cannabis-intoxication which provoked behaviour which they could not remember and for which they could not be held fully responsible; many of these users had combined cannabis with opium, heroin. amphetamine, barbiturate or alcohol, and it was impossible to identify which of these if any was to blame for an individuals criminal behaviour; samples of persons investigated have mostly been small and the history of drug-taking, its duration and its degree in each individual has been provided exclusively by the man himself, who often believed it to be in his interest to lie about it.
55. The most that emerges from the welter of conflicting statements is that an excessive dose of cannabis may lead to an attack of disturbed consciousness, excitement, agitation, or panic, and reduce self-control. The stronger with alcohol than with the smoking of cannabis.
56. In the United Kingdom the taking of cannabis has not so far been regarded even by the severest critics, as a direct cause of serious crime. It is not, of course. disputed that a number of criminals take cannabis as many do alcohol. We sought further evidence on these matters, but we found that for lack of reliable methods of detecting cannabis in the body the police were not in a position to offer any information.