Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Alistair Darling, Nick Clegg, Louise Mensch and now, we discover Chuka Umunna, have all done it. David Cameron has made a point of not telling us whether he has or he hasn’t. Bill Clinton allegedly did so in the beer garden of Oxford’s very own Turf Tavern. David Miliband, on the other hand, has said that he never tried himself because at university he was ‘a bit square’ – mmm, funny that. The topic of discussion? Smoking marijuana, of course.
When it emerged that Bill Clinton had smoked pot in his student days as a Rhodes scholar in Oxford, it almost derailed his presidential campaign. However when Barack Obama confessed to doing the same, hardly anyone batted an eyelid. The black chalkboard propped up against the wall of The Turf, laying claim to be the place where Clinton did or did not first inhale, is now a key attraction, drawing visitors from afar to this historic pub.
In the past decade, views and attitudes towards youthful experiments with cannabis have changed beyond imagination. Across the pond it is whispered that Obama may legalise the drug as his latest big political move. Of course, it’s still a controversial topic to bring to the fore, and the hard facts aren’t available yet to back up any proposed policy. Nonetheless, with drug related violence continuing to increase in America, especially over the border in Mexico, the advocation of marijuana reform is no longer a taboo subject. With a presidential election looming that will probably be closer than most Democrats want to believe, the fact that legalising marijuana could be one of the big policies fronting Obama’s campaign sends out a pretty big statement that perceptions have changed.
With the expenses controversy, the phone hacking furore, and now the banking scandal in full swing, politicians are desperately trying more than ever to keep ‘in touch’ with the public. Right now, every little bit helps. If that means demonstrating that they were, once at least, just like any other university student, experimenting, trying to fit in with their mates, then so be it. And all that could involve soft drugs. I’m surprised public relations gurus across the land aren’t pushing MPs to come out with it. It won’t be long now before Jacob Rees-Mogg is the next politico to admit that he was ‘rather partial to the odd puff now and again…’
Despite this growing social acceptance, however, we shouldn’t forget that the side effects of smoking marijuana are extremely dangerous. A recent report from the British Lung Foundation shows that there are established scientific links between smoking cannabis and tuberculosis, acute bronchitis and lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer from smoking cannabis is 20 times higher than that from smoking tobacco cigarettes. Smoking cannabis could also expose users to a vastly increased risk of developing a psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia. So despite the growing social acceptance, despite the increasing number of public figures admitting to having smoked cannabis and despite this show of humility, honesty and proof of being ‘in touch’, we shouldn’t just sit back and give them a pat on the back for this achievement – smoking marijuana is dangerous and in the interest of public health deserves to remain a controversial issue. Debate, anyone?