Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Lunch at Grain Store

I hadn't seen Hari since I had both hands, but we became re-acquainted via Facebook, where he posts prolifically about Eighties pop - Kate, Siouxsie, Madge - and his indestructible dog, Delius, a beautiful blue whippet. Since Hari is a purely north London phenomenon and I am strictly Sarf, I suggested that we meet on middle ground, round the back of King's Cross, in the redeveloped bit I'd not been to yet, where Bruno Loubet has Grain Store, a vast restaurant in an old warehouse (that stored grain). I had been looking for an excuse to visit since it opened a couple of years ago.

Hari is a busy man, but gave me a couple of open windows in his hectic schedule, which I cross-referenced with Grain Store's online booking system to secure a table for two at 13.30 on 24.11.15. They sent e-mail confirmation, a reminder on the day before, and phoned to check the reservation, too. Phew! I guess that's the way they do things, these days, and it did turn out to be a rainy day, but I was surprised to see any vacant tables in what is a cavernous space, equipped with a long bar and a bustling open kitchen.

I go way back with Bruno Loubet, to the first feature I wrote in one of the early issues of seminal Eighties men's mag, Arena: 'Three Fresh Chefs'! One of the three was Marco Pierre White, then strutting his stuff at Harvey's in Wandsworth; Bruno was another, then cooking at Raymond Blanc's greenhouse restaurant in Oxford (was it called, The Greenhouse?) The third fresh chef was AngelaDwyer!

The same age as me, Bruno is a thoroughbred Haute Cuisinier. From the Médoc, with the claret birthmark of those born 'under the kitchen table,' his talent was spotted as a teenager and he attended a special High School for the gastronomically gifted. They do that in France. Loubet did his National Service in the Navy, where he was given an honorary officer's rank so he could dodge all that tiresome drill and concentrate upon cooking for the Admiral's table, commandeering a vehicle and driver to transport him to the markets in the early mornings while his fellow recruits were on parade. It may be no more than superstition to say that Monsieur Loubet is a natural born cook but, more than that,  Bruno is a French Chef. Cuisine may be the claret the runs in his veins, but it is also an organising principle of the culture in which he was raised.

From Le Manoir, Bruno came to London as Head Chef at the Four Seasons, Inn on the Park, running a big hotel brigade and winning the crucial Michelin star within a year. Then he did his own thing at Bistrot Bruno, Soho, in 1993, going on to open L’Odeon in 1995, located on the first floor of a terrace in Regent Street, where Veeraswamy is now. Having become such a grande fromage on the London restaurant scene during the Nineties, some were surprised when Mr Loubet abruptly quit for Australia in 2001, as he turned forty, taking his young family to live in the sunshine down under for a decade. He returned to reunite with a former mentor, Pierre Koffmann, who came out of retirement to run a near legendary pop-up restaurant in a marquee on Selfridges roof for one heady month during the summer of 2009. Actually, he also returned recently to cook at Le Manoir, closing Blanc's series of Diners Des Protégés, with chefs who came through his kitchen en route to their own careers. Bruno Loubet's job these days, though, is Executive Chef to the The Vetter Group.

Grain Store is in the Granary Square development of old warehouses behind King's Cross. "Bagleys is going to be the part of the next phase, next door to St. Martins," Hari informed me, referring to the scene of many a warehouse rave in our youth. I gave myself plenty of time to get there, but the place was easily found from the Tube, so I had half an hour to kill, wandering around the site which includes a campus for CSM, Central St. Martins and the new UAL, University of the  Arts, London. As it was lunch time, art students clustered around the door to their studios, smoking in the manner that only those who have no concept of  their mortality may. I noticed how much they look and dress like students, these students, these days. Cleaner than we were, but still smoking. Some of the smokiest parties I can recall from when I was their age happened in Battlebridge Road, a stone's throw from where they're stood, in the badlands behind King's Cross, which is  re-developing at a rate that rivals the E&C, where plans also include UAL. Sigh. London, eh? Be nice when its finished.

There's several places to eat in Granary Square that I'd definitely check out if I lived locally and could afford them, you know. Dishoom is styled after the classic Bombay cafés run by Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran and apparently has four locations across London; Caravan is a coffee roastery and café with an eclectic, tapas-like menu that includes plenty for veggies. Grain Store, is 'a unique restaurant inspired by chef Bruno Loubet’s extensive travels and years dedicated to his beloved vegetable patch.' Which is not to say it's a vegetarian restaurant, but one where 'the humble vegetable is elevated to the starring role (although many dishes also feature fish and meat).'

In memu terms, this means that garnishes are listed before before the fleshy components of dishes, so that vegetarians reading them have their appetites whetted, then expectation is dashed as they discover that the starter salad of dehydrated crisp vegetable, fruit & mushroom salad in prune vinegar dressing is strewn with extraneous wood pigeon. I mean, I get it. Bruno has banned beef and put an emphasis on game and fish, but that still means that I get excited by the thought of beetroot gnocchi with broccolini & shallots, but let down to find it comes with a piece of griddled silver mullet. Hot seaweed sushi, glazed pak choi, black garlic purée, all sound fantastic, but they are the garnish to a piece of hake, which is also cooked 'à la plancha'. Still, in too many London restaurants, 'vegetarian' is taken to mean, 'may eat fish' and, indeed, while being basically vegetarian, I will eat fish under certain circs.

Grace Dent, or The Delectable Grace Dent as she is also known, put her finger on it when she reviewed Grain Store's impetuous sibling, Grain Store Unleashed in The Standard last Spring, when The Zetter Hotel dining room hosted a pop-up spin-off: '...the concept, even to a five-a-day obsessive, might still seem a bit woolly. Here is a ‘vegetable restaurant’ that isn’t really for vegetarians. The menu contains wood pigeon, wild sea trout and meat-based stocks (which can be removed). Was there a market for weirdos like me who eat steak, but get het up over kohlrabi and broad bean ravioli? Yes. Turns out there are tons of us.' See, Grace used to be veggie, but now eats meat, whereas I am coming from the opposite direction. A note on the menu does say that many of Grain Store's dishes can be rendered in veggie versions, so we're not short of choices.

Pic by Maddie Mooves
That said, the two main course options denoted as 'vegan' are Loubet's versions of classics that you will find at any provincial veggie bistro: 'chilli con veggie'; and a 'risotto' made with a different grain, in this case Farro wheat, with jerusalem artichokes, leeks & chestnut mushrooms (which does sound divine!) The token vegetarian dish on swanky menus is often raviolis containing pumpkin, or sweet potato or, as here, butternut squash. Several menu items have a wine glass symbol next to them, indicating an optional but recommended beverage accompaniment. For only an extra £4.50, I washed my squash raviolis (left) down with a glass of pumpkin juice. They were plump and sweet, with mustard apricots and a commendable absence of sage, arranged on an oblong plate strewn with wilted rocket & pumpkin seeds. I could have eaten me a few more of them.

I had plenty of time to decide what I wanted to eat because Hari was late. Then, upon eventual arrival, the first thing he ordered was something I had been ogling at an adjacent table: deep-fried balls served on fir twigs. Wild mushroom & Montgomery cheddar croquettes, truffle salt  turned out to be balls of cheesey shroomy joy with bosky truffle on the finish. I asked Helen, our Server, if I might try the vegetarian Scotch egg that I'd heard so much about, from the other, All Day Menu and Hari immediately wanted that, too. Cleverly, Mr Loubet concocted a blend of dehydrated vegetables with secret herbs and spices that does indeed taste a lot how I remember chorizo and he's used it instead of a sausage mixture to coat his egg, which is probably from a free range hen with which he is personally acquainted. However, it's still an egg, so it's not vegetarian, in my definition. Which brings us back to Grace Dent's point about the woolliness of the 'demi veggie' concept.

David Sexton of The Standard - whom The Delectable Grace Dent must call, 'colleague' - decided in January 2015 that Grain Store was too 'self-consciously innovative and stressfully entertaining' for his tastes, but I do declare, I loved it. I'd been looking forward to Dried fava beans & kishk (a soft cheese) soup, pomegranate molasses and it was as good as I'd hoped: hearty and slightly tart, with sweet molasses zig zagged across the surface of the soup. Similarly, 'Baked beetroot 'carpaccio', fermented beetroot dressing, spiced labneh' (strained yoghurt - like the Greek) did not disappoint a beetnik such as I. Although, I must admit, I did begin to imagine how this beet salad might compliment certain stinky cheeses, supplied here by Androuet. Yes, I am back on the cheese and not always strictly in a gourmet way.

Pic by Angela Sam
Hari let me scoff a few of his cheesey shroomy truffle balls and gave me half his Scotch eggg, yet I felt I'd not eaten enough, so I got the Butternut squash ravioli, mustard apricots, rocket & pumpkin seeds while Hari had dessert. His eyesight's going, poor old bloke, but he's not yet reached the stage where he carries reading glasses, like me, so when he ordered Coconut & Kaffir lime green tapioca, sweet potato, banana crisp (right), the chances are he glanced over the word, 'tapioca.' But he wolfed it down any old way, chased by a cup of Earl Grey.

We drank water, freshly filtered and chilled, which is served by the carafe as an alternative to bottled water and spent thirty quid each, including a respectable cash gratuity, which I thought was not bad. I must return, one fine day, to sample the chilli con veggie and/or a poncey risotto.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Times I Saw The Clash #1, 11.11.77

The Clash Get Out of Control Tour @ Cambridge Corn Exchange


When two 11s clashed.
Ask what was the most impressive pop concert I sever saw and I don't have to think too hard. It was Prince & The Revolution at Madison Square Garden on the Parade tour in 1986. Amazing as that epic show was, however, it did not change my life. My life had already been changed by The Clash. The first time I saw the band was at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge, November '77. I had turned sixteen in September and was at boarding school in Stamford. We persuaded a liberal teacher to hire a mini bus and improvised a punk look. It wasn't hard, then: if you didn't have long hair & flared trousers, you stood out.
The collectable Clash badge set!

Going into the gig, a man on the door dispensed lapel badges that said, 'I Want Complete Control', which became a highly-prized trophy then and now, according to Robin from Clash City Collectors, 'the Complete Control badge has been copied a few times & should be quite cheap to pick up, but an original one would cost around £25 + P&P. Cheers,'

Complete Control was to be the gang's third single, written as an angry retort to their record company CBS and the latest of a kind of song in which The Clash mythologised their own experience as a band, which arguably started with Garageband. Charles Shaar Murray had quipped that The Clash were the kind of garage band who should be locked in with the car engine running, leading Strummer to come back with the immortal line, 'Back in the garage with my bullshit detector...' After some uhmming & ahhing and no little bullshit, The Clash had eventually signed to a major multinational record company in a move that the punk bible, Sniffin' Glue denounced as a sell out. Still, CBS had put out the emblematic first single, White Riot, backed with 1977 : 'no Elvis, Beatles, or Rolling Stones'! But then, the record company guys didn't know what to do for a follow up, so they picked the nearest thing their sophisticated ears could hear to a memorable tune from the epochal first album and put out Remote Control as the second single, without clearing it with The Clash. 'They said, we'd be artistically free, made us sign a bit of paper,' Joe ranted. 'They meant, let's make lots of money and worry about it later.'

First on the bill was a group of female French Lou Reed fans called, 'The Lous'. I was more interested in checking out the crowd, with its characteristic Seventies smell of patchouli. It was not quite my first taste of rock action, exactly, but might as well have been. Most were older student types with long hair & flared trousers, come to investigate this new thing called punk rock with its sneering & spitting. They stood back, kept a critical distance, leaving ample room for excited teenagers to get to the front of the stage, which was low and not large. I can't recall from this distance if I had previousy heard, Blank Generation, but I'll never forget the sight of Richard Hell & The Voidoids performing it, mere feet away.

Finally came The Clash. My memory has the Stuka backdrop, dive-bombing the stage, but it may be playing tricks. It would be an appropriate metaphor for their performance, though. The band kicked off at 100mph and accelerated through to White Riot at the end. Their version of Police & Thieves, midway through the set, offered little respite from the relentless fury of their music. Paul concentrated on his axe, lurking near Topper's drum riser and was not quite the upfront presence he later became. Mick, stage right in his zippered bondage strides, already had charisma & poise, not to mention riffs: "You're my guitar hero!" as Joe exclaimed on the new single.

Strummer himself was the focus of my attention, riveted by the intensity of his performance. Although mere feet away, he seemed to be in a different world, possessed, separated by a force field of energy that was palpable if not quite visible, except perhaps via ultra sensitive photography. I have a screen-printed poster made from an iconic photo of Joe, taken maybe a month later, that I regard as an avatar of righteous rage and keep to remind me of those indignant teenage feelings chanelled by Saint Joe.

I've looked around online for a set list and been disappointed, as some of the songs I've seen listed speculatively weren't written until later, but basically it was the first album: Janie Jones & Protex Blue. Joe inhabited the songs, acting out, Career Opportunities by flapping his arms, beside himself with frustration at being offered dull jobs. But then came Garageland, with its bullshit detector, hinting at the possibility of breaking from mundanity and articulating one's truth.

When I say this gig changed my life, I mean, it was inspirational, hinting at a life much larger and more vivid than my cosseted schoolboy's existence. I wrote a delirious review that was printed in the school mag, to the headmaster's reported displeasure. Within a year, I was expelled from boarding school after hitch hiking to Cambridge to see another punk band at the Corn Exchange. We got stranded and were out all night. The day after they kicked me out, I remember, I consoled myself by buying a  copy of the new Clash single, (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais in a pink paper sleeve, with the sub-Lichtenstein pop art label.

ADDENDUM: (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais was released in the same week that I was expelled from school, in June 1978. I had hitch hiked to Cambridge to see The Vibrators and The DPs, aka The Depressions, who were truly awful punk also-rans. I mean, The Vibrators were old men, but at least they had a tune or two, the title of one of which had been appropriated by Stiff Little Fingers. I wasn't too enthusiastic about this gig, but I had been assured of a lift home from a graphic designer who worked in an office in Stamford that I had started cleaning as a part-time job, after school. (I inherited the job from a girlfriend who had gone to college.) The dude boasted about having been the original drummer with The Vibrators, so this was a chance to call his bluff. I guess it was a bluff, because he set off without us, leaving a note to say he'd see us there. But he didn't show up. Stranded, we had to walk home, most of the way, me and my mate. We walked from Cambridge nearly to to Huntingdon and dawn was breaking when my mate eventually called his Dad, who lived not far away, and he came out to rescue us. Limping ito the boarding house at five in the morning, there stood my house master, grimly.
'The police of three counties have been looking for you,' he declared. 
'Then why didn't they find me?' I wondered.
'I think you'd better go upstairs and pack,' he said.
'You're joking,' I said (he wasn't). 'I'm going to bed.'

Anyway, back at Hammy Pally,  Dillinger, Leroy Smart and Delroy Wilson, the Cool Operator, headlined an all night reggae rave - "midnight-to-six, man" - that also featured Ken Booth, "for UK of pop reggae" with "backing bands & sound systems." But, Joe Strummer was disappointed to discover, that "it was Four Tops all night" with synchronis-ized dance routines along the lines of those perpetrated by the 4/4 Motown innovators, who also invented Norther Soul. Smiling performers would dance off and then dance on again "with encores from stage right," which I Jah Man Strummer found strictly silly. He had wanted and expected a militant rasta vibe, not close harmonies and syncopation.
In the lyric of the ensuing song, Joe compares the commercializ-isation of the reggae scene, as he perceives it, with what's going on in his own corner of the musical universe, where the new groups of the short-lived Power Pop craze were not concerned with what there was to be learned from grizzled punk veterans, but were busily wearing Burton suits, if you please, and - in an echo of the title of George Melly's seminal analysis of pop culture, 'Revolt Into Style': "turning rebellion into money."
"All over, people are changing their votes, along with their overcoats," objected Joe. Eric Capton, the guitar god, had made some drunken racist remarks onstage and inspired the formation of Rock Against Racism. Our beloved David Bowie, fully coked-up in Thin White Duke mode, when met by a massive crowd upon arrival at a London railway station, had stood up in the back of an open-topped car and thrown what looked a lot like a Nazi salute. "If Adolf Hitler flew in today," sang Joe, "they'd send a limousine anyway."

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Case for Cannabis

I wrote to my MP:

Dear Neil Coyle,

I write as your constituent regarding today's Parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall, led by your colleague Paul Flynn MP,  'That this House has considered the e-petition relating to making the production, sale and use of cannabis legal.' As a new Labour MP and in the wake of your party's recent leadership election, you would do well to emulate the example of Mr Flynn, a veteran who has represented the cause of cannabis legalisation in the Commons for many years as a matter of principle, but also pragmatism. 'A 50-year experiment in drug prohibition has been a disaster.' he writes. 'Prohibition increases drugs use, harm and crime. It builds empires of criminals as the alcohol prohibition did in America in the twenties.'

'The good news is that the world has recognised the futility, waste and cruelty of prohibition,' Flynn continues, but 'the bad news is that UK has the worst of all worlds.' The Conservative Government has already responded to more than 200,000 people who signed the e-petition, negatively, but today's debate is an opportunity to support rational, evidence-based drugs policy, such as that proposed by Transform, which has published a practical guide to regulating recreational cannabis. Today, I see that Transform is also participating in an expert panel on cannabis legalisation that's been set up by the Liberal Democrats, impotently, now that they can do nothing about it.
In commencing what I hope will not become a protracted and one-sided correspondence, I recall how many times I wrote to your impotent Liberal Democrat predecessor, Simon Hughes, over the years, on the topic of making cannabis legal. Typically, he ignored me, although there was one occasion in 2009 when I almost persuaded Mr Hughes to ask a Parliamentary question concerning the distribution of Sativex - a cannabis preparation made in Britain - as an unlicensed medicine imported from Canada. Since then, in June 2010, Sativex was licensed by the MHRA and, in April 2013, it was placed in Schedule 4 of the MDA.

This is anomalous, since Sativex is a whole plant extract of cannabis - it is essentially a tincture, fundamentally no different from what Queen Victoria took for her period pains - and yet raw cannabis remains in Schedule 1 of the MDA, indicating that it has no medicinal value. In fact, the medical efficacy of cannabis is well-established, with an extensive and ever-growing database of Clinical Studies and Research Papers.

As far back as November 1997, in its report into The Therapeutic Uses of Cannabis the BMA recommended 'changing the Misuse of Drugs Act to allow the prescription of cannabinoids [active chemical compounds in cannabis] to patients with certain conditions causing distress that are not adequately controlled by existing treatments'.

One occasion upon which Simon Hughes did respond promptly to me was in late 1998, during his tenure as LibDem Health spokesperson. He happened to be on BBC Question Time when the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee published its Ninth Report, examining 'the scientific and medical evidence to determine whether there was a case for relaxing some of the current restrictions on the medical uses of cannabis.' Summarily, the Report recommended: ' The Government should take steps to transfer cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule 1 to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations to Schedule 2, so as to allow doctors to prescribe an appropriate preparation of cannabis.' Mr Hughes endorsed these recommendations on TV and so I congratulated him, to his evident pleasure.

However, here we are all these years later and there is now a cannabinoid drug that may be prescribed - at a cost that may be unaffordably high - and yet raw cannabis remains a Schedule 1 drug, and cannot be used at all in medicine, except for research under special Home Office licence that costs £5000, a situation Baroness Meacher, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform, recently described as, “deeply shocking”. Referring to the legalisation of medical cannabis in Germany, the Netherlands, and parts of the United States, she remarked, “it’s exciting to see what’s happening internationally, but here we [the government] have been a failure. Britain is getting left behind”.

Until 10 years ago, British Courts tacitly acknowledged the medicinal value of cannabis when the defence of 'Medical Necessity (Duress of Circumstances)' was accepted in a succession of cannabis trials. Defendants with a range of serious and intractable illnesses, particularly Multiple Sclerosis, successfully argued that cannabis was uniquely beneficial for them and they grew their own medicine, sooner than score via criminals on the street. In 2005, however, the Court of Appeal considered appeals against conviction by five appellants and a cross appeal by the Attorney General against the judges direction in a case where the defendant - Jeff Ditchfield - was acquitted on the basis of medical necessity. Three Law Lords decreed that 'necessity' would no longer be a viable defence in British courts, a decision about which Professor David Nutt memorably blogged, some five years later. (As you will recall, Prof Nutt was the Government's leading drugs adviser until he was sacked by the last Labour administration in 2009 for his insistence that policy should be dictated by scientific evidence, rather than prejudice or expediency.)

While cannabis continues to be used as a political football, anyone who impartially evaluates the evidence of its medicinal value will come to the same conclusions as Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat minister, who, having been lobbied by the United Patients' Alliance, last year called for more liberalised drug laws, and specifically the legalisation of cannabis grown for medicinal use. His suggestion was rejected reflexively: "This government has no plans to legalise cannabis or to soften our approach to its use as a medicine," declared an anonymous spokesperson, who continued to state: "There is clear scientific and medical evidence that cannabis is a harmful drug which can damage people's mental and physical health." The hypocrisy of that sentence would be shocking, if we were not inured to the cant that surrounds this topic.

To be clear: there has long been an association between chronic cannabis use and the onset of mental illness. In fact, the roots of its prohibition - explored by James H. Mills in 'Cannabis Britannica: Empire, Trade, and Prohibition, 1800-1928' - lie in a claim made by the Egyptian delegate to the League of Nations' Opium Convention, held in Geneva in 1925, that ‘illicit use of hashish is the principal cause of most of the cases of insanity occurring in Egypt… generally speaking, the proportion of cases of insanity caused by the use of hashish varies from 30 to 60 percent of the total number occurring in Egypt’. His statistics were spurious and his assertions not supported by the British, whose colonial experience, as recorded in the Report of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission, 1893-1894, indicated that banning preparations of cannabis was unnecessary. Consequently, the British delegate to the sub-committee that subsequently decided to prohibit cannabis abstained, but the UK was still constrained by its decision to ban cannabis, internationally, in 1928.

From the very beginnings of its Prohibition, cannabis has been unfairly associated with hard drugs and mental illness. In the notorious 'Reefer Madness' campaign conducted against cannabis in the 1930s in the USA, dried flowers of the cannabis hemp plant was called, 'marijuana,' and lurid tales were put about that purported to show how the stuff prompted its users to commit insane acts. Now, several generations later, the same tactic is being deployed, with a newly-invented kind of cannabis  - 'skunk' - that is purportedly so potent that it tips teenagers over the edge. South London, in particular Sir Robin Murray's work at the Maudsley has been ground zero for this phenomenon.

'Smoking skunk cannabis triples risk of serious psychotic episode' declared The Guardian in February, 2015. It reported the results of a study published by The Lancet that set out to calculate the proportion of new cases of psychosis attributable to different types of cannabis use in south London. The article was subsequently modified 'to make clear that the study found skunk use was responsible for a quarter of new cases of psychosis in the population in South London that the researchers looked at – not across the country as a whole.' Another study, of 16-year-old twins, conducted jointly (sic) by Oxford and Leeds Universites, found that both cannabis use and psychotic episodes were triggered by environmental factors, including being poor, or bullying.

In fact, while the correlation between cannabis use and the onset of mental illness has long been noted, and despite the weight of research in this area, causality has still not been clinically demonstrated. “It is now well known that use of cannabis increases the risk of psychosis," Prof. Murray was quoted as saying to the King's College newsletter. "However, sceptics still claim that this is not an important cause of schizophrenia-like psychosis. This paper suggests that we could prevent almost one quarter of cases of psychosis if no-one smoked high potency cannabis. This could save young patients a lot of suffering and the NHS a lot of money.” While these bald statements may be true, Sir Robin fails to add the caveats: risk increases, 'for those with a pre-disposition'; we could avoid a quarter of cases if no-one smoked, 'immoderately and all day long'.

The King's report suggests that 'a theoretical explanation of why skunk might have been preferred by patients with first-episode psychosis is that, when they began to experience their illness prodrome, these individuals might have sought increased concentrations of THC to self-medicate. However, experimental studies show that THC induces psychotic symptoms, while cannabidiol (CBD) ameliorates them and reduces anxiety.' This touches upon the area of cannabinoid research that has been opened up by GW Pharmaceuticals' development of Sativex, which contains equal amounts of THC & CBD. Clearly, work must be done to discover the ways in which the numerous cannabinoids interact, but the prohibition inhibits that research, as Baroness Meacher complained.

One argument against decriminalisation - deployed by David Cameron during his notorious interview with Jonathan Ross - is that such a move would encourage more people to consume cannabis. The evidence from tolerant regimes, such as  the Netherlands and Portugal, does not support that assumption. There may be an initial surge in use as the curious and law-abiding experiment, but then the numbers fall back to where they were. In fact, across Europe, with different regimes being more-or-less hostile to cannabis users, the incidence of cannabis use remains fairly consistent, which indicates that Drugs Policy has little impact. More people in England & Wales (6.6%) use cannabis than in the Netherlands (5.4%) where the average age of first use is higher (sic).

Prof. Murray told The Guardian back in 2004, when the last, lamentable Labour Government experimented with re-classifying cannabis, downgrading it from B to C, before The Daily Mail persuaded them to put it back: "To be frank, in south London, it doesn't matter what the classification is. People who want cannabis can get it; it is readily available." Back then, Murray did not see his role as preaching to people about what they choose to put into their bodies. "I don't think it's a particularly useful thing for somebody like me to come over heavy-handed and say that under no circumstances should you smoke cannabis when all their peer pressure will be to smoke cannabis. If people want to smoke cannabis, they have the right to do so," he admitted.

While Britain continues to persecute people for self-medicating with cannabis, or for simply getting high, we waste a considerable amount of public money every year on policing a victimless crime. Quantifying the economic benefits of legalisation is, inevitably, a case of thinking of a number and doubling it. The Guardian, today, quotes 2013 figures from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, which estimated that legalising cannabis would save the UK between £500m and £1.25bn in costs, while raising a tax revenue of £400m-£900m.

Whatever the true figures, it is undeniable that cannabis is the most widely-used illegal drug in the UK and that policing its prohibition is a massive, counter-productive drain upon public resources. Whereas the evidence that is now coming in from the four States of the USA that have fully legalised cannabis, making it available to all adults via regulated outlets, is that they are generating phenomenal tax revenues. In Colorado, where voters legalised cannabis in 2012, taxes on weed sales were specifically intended to go toward school construction, but $50 million in recreational pot taxes has been collected in the first year, which is more than the State constitution permits it to take. They've raised so much tax revenue in Colorado by legalising pot that the state may offer its taxpayers a rebate.

To summarise: cannabis  is potentially the most versatile and efficacious medicine and its prohibition benefits no-one except the pharmaceutical industry. While it is not entirely harmless, the prohibition does nothing to make cannabis safer, nor to limit its availability. Cannabis can be bought anywhere, but its quality is highly variable and the people who sell it have few scruples and pay no taxes. It is past time that we end the failed experiment of cannabis prohibition, you must agree.

Yours faithfully,