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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Monday 1st April 2013

Folklore, all folklore not just that concerned with plants, has regional or national variations. Just yesterday, I mentioned the common name, ‘our saviour’s flannel’, is usually given to  Echium vulgare, viper’s bugloss, but, in Kent, it is Verbascum, mullein, that gets this name and the folklore associated with it.

So, today, for me is April Fools Day but for others it is All Fools Day. In the folklore I was brought up with, the playing of tricks on people is supposed to end at noon though there are plenty of people who believe it should last all day. They may be right, because you might think it would be called April Fools Morning if it was intended to finish at midday.

But, given that I follow the am only tradition, it was important to get this piece published as early as possible. Not that I am trying to fool you. It would be rather foolish to signpost my intention so clearly. Most published April Fools’ jokes rely on the reader forgetting the day.

Rather, I’ve been saving a couple of stories for today to follow a new and growing tendency to publish stories that seem to be outrageous jokes and then reveal they are, in fact, true.

Let’s start with the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. This is the annual meeting between the UN bodies concerned with drug control, UNODC and INCB, and representatives of governments from around the world. It is generally just an opportunity for people to claim the status quo is working well but would work much better if only tighter enforcement were pursued.

For a number of years, non-state bodies arguing either for reform or enforcement have been allowed to attend and the feedback from CND 2013 is that, at last, the views of those bodies are being listened to and they are becoming more involved in the main conference rather than being pushed to the fringes. This summary from the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition suggests that the intellectual incest of the CND where everyone believes current policy is wonderful may be under threat.

The reason for mentioning CND today is that just a week before the start of this conference dedicated to condemning the use of certain chemicals because of the damage they are said to do to society, a story emerged about another chemical, not condemned by the CND, that seems to be doing damage to the UN itself.

Joseph Torsella, the U.S. ambassador for management and reform at the UN, took his colleagues to task for the amount of alcohol they consume. Like all organisations, the UN’s budget negotiations tend to be protracted and go on long into the night. It seems that some delegations can only sustain themselves for such sessions by having booze present in the committee rooms. Others, it appears, do their drinking before the meetings and render themselves unable to attend. This report from Slate cites one incident where a delegate became ill during a meeting after drinking so heavily.

So while one part of the UN is busy seeking to bring an end to all use of certain psychoactive substances, other parts are showing all the signs of being problem users of alcohol. Given that the UN drug control regime is, in part, about reducing the damage done to poor countries by their involvement in the drugs trade you’d think there would be some concern about the damage being done to poor countries by the UN representatives spending freely on booze to help them through their work.

The other non-April Fool is also about strange priorities for spending limited resources. Since the 2010 election, public services in the UK have been under substantial pressure. The need to reduce spending has resulted in fundamental changes to the level of service provision.

On 20th March, the BBC reported that police officers would no longer visit every person reporting someone as missing. Presently, every one of the 900 or so reports each day of a missing relative or friend is dealt with by an officer going to the person who made the report for more information. The new idea is to determine whether a person is ‘absent’ i.e. just not where they were expected to be or truly missing.

Concern has been expressed that a frequent truant might be treated as ‘absent’ based on past form when they have, in fact, been abducted. But, tough times require hard choices so this move may be worthwhile if it demonstrates a determination by the police to reduce the waste of limited resources.

If.

‘If’, because the day before this announcement the BBC was just one media outlet reporting that Crimestoppers, ‘an independent charity helping to find criminals and help solve crimes [sic]’, was distributing ‘scratch and sniff’ cards to households impregnated with the scent of Cannabis sativa, marijuana, to enable members of the public to identify houses being used as cannabis farms.

As above, Crimestoppers is a charity and, like all charities relies on donations. It didn’t take long for pro-legalisation pressure groups to start asking where the money for this campaign came from and pointing the finger at Crimestoppers’ core corporate sponsors. It emerged, however, that this particular campaign had been financed directly – with grants from a number of police forces.

The notion that members of the public would walk around their streets, notice an odd smell and pull out their ‘scratch and sniff’ card to see if their suspicions were confirmed would be laughable were it not for the evidence of the problems that might be caused.

In 2008, the Mail Online reported that an elderly couple in Bristol had had their home raided by police while they were on holiday because they had Phlox subulata, moss phlox, a plant with an aroma similar to cannabis, growing in their garden.

The idea that the police can’t afford to properly investigate every report of a missing person but can afford this ridiculous stunt should be an April Fools’ joke. But, sadly, it is not.

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