THE POISON GARDEN website      Arum maculatum berries on a Cannabis leaf 


This free script provided by JavaScript Kit

Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Monday 13th May 2013

I don’t know if anyone will read this. That’s not the paranoia of the lonely blogger. I just haven’t decided whether I should publish what I’m about to write and I know I won’t be able to make a final decision until I’ve finished writing. I’m facing the conundrum about how to criticise a blatant self-publicist without adding to the publicity they are seeking.

Previously, I have written about Peter Hitchens’ shameless promotion of his own book and, on that occasion, the response I got encouraged me to write more about it the next day. But I wondered, at the time, if it was a wise thing to do and the fact that Hitchens' book has been pretty much of a failure doesn’t completely allay my fears about promoting tosh when criticising it.

What I have in mind, today, is nothing to do with Hitchens. It concerns a new book ‘Hash’ by Wensley Clarkson. Clarkson describes himself as ‘one of Britain’s most knowledgeable writers re the underworld’ basing that claim on being a journalist for over 35 years.

Cannabis sativa, marijuana

Cannabis sativa, marijuana

(Normally, I would give a link to the origin of that claim but Clarkson’s website is about the most peculiar thing I’ve ever seen and I don’t think anyone would be grateful for being directed to it. There is a video running as the background thus making the text just about impossible to read. I’d nominate it for one of those ‘worst websites’ sites but that would be providing extra promotion.)

The Mail Online, and I assume the printed Mail on Sunday, gave Clarkson over 3,000 words with which to promote his new book. The beginning of the headline - ‘Britain's marijuana mafia’ really tells you all you need to know about the article and the book that is being promoted.

The full headline reads more like the sort of thing seen in ‘Hello’ or ‘OK’;

‘Britain's marijuana mafia: Two million users, £6bn worth of trade and 30,000 deaths. A leading author meets the men (and women) feeding the UK's terrifying addiction’

The book is, apparently, about those people who make their living by supplying an illegal substance and, of course, if the substance weren’t illegal these people wouldn’t be able to make their living selling it. But I’m not concerned with the central theme of the book and I do know that people who prefer making money illegally to working for a living would find an alternative crime. Instead, I want to look at a couple of things in that headline.

For the Mail any use of an illegal substance has to be ‘addiction’. But the six letters ‘addict’ do not appear anywhere in the article and references to consumers of Cannabis sativa, marijuana, are to ‘clients’ because the piece is written about the supply side of the business. Reference to ‘addiction’ is the fault of the headline writer and no blame attaches to Clarkson on this specific point. Its use is, of course, to appeal to the prejudices of Mail readers in the way the ‘News of the World’ used to headline its titillation pieces.

Cannabis sativa, marijuana

Cannabis sativa, marijuana

The other problem with the headline the mention of ‘30,000 deaths’ does stem from Clarkson’s text. He writes;

‘It is also carcinogenic. The British Lung Foundation says smoking three joints a day causes similar damage to smoking 20 cigarettes a day. That would suggest that up to 30,000 people a year contract cannabis-related cancer.’

I’ve written about The British Lung Foundation’s claims about cannabis and cancer so I won’t rehearse the arguments that say the link between cancer and cannabis is somewhere between strongly disputed and disproved. The evidence is a very long way from supporting the notion that 30,000 cases of lung cancer per year are attributable to cannabis. But, in any event, 30,000 cases are not 30,000 deaths. Survival rates for lung cancer are poor, especially longer term, but around 1,500 of that mythical 30,000 would still be alive ten years after diagnosis. So, the Mail is wrong to take Clarkson’s 30,000 cases and make it 30,000 deaths in the headline.

Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of reaction on Twitter to the piece and equally unsurprisingly but nonetheless depressingly, some of that reaction was rude and abusive. I saw the response, polite but condemnatory, from the mainstream reform organisations and individuals so I didn’t go looking for the abusers.

Cannabis sativa, marijuana

Cannabis sativa, marijuana

This morning, someone I follow retweeted this from Mr Clarkson;

‘Probably only way to stop hash underworld is to legalise cannabis, ironic considering pothead threats I've had all day’

Mr Clarkson is, of course, right to say that though, as above, you would expect an unknowable proportion of large-scale cannabis dealers to turn to other forms of crime. But, his piece for the Mail makes no mention of this, frankly, obvious conclusion. It would have had a lot more force if written from the view that the government, by refusing to reconsider its position on cannabis, is responsible for these crimes. With 3,000+ words at his disposal you would have thought he could manage one sentence about the only solution to the problem.

That is not an argument the Mail would be likely to support so you are left to wonder if Mr Clarkson was willing to set aside his belief in a change in the law rather than sacrifice the chance for self-promotion offered to him in return for a piece that fits the Mail's agenda or whether his Tweet was just to try and deflect the criticism he had received. Unfortunately, the promotional copy on Amazon is too brief to determine whether the book does have a legalisation message at its heart and Mr Clarkson’s own website doesn’t have anything other than an image of the cover. The publisher’s website only has the text used by Amazon so that is no help.

I have no reason to doubt the truth of what Mr Clarkson said in his Tweet so it appears that this is another instance of someone being afraid to say what they really believe for fear of damaging their own interests. We usually see that from former government ministers.

The problem about writing pieces like this is, it turns out, not the conundrum I began with about promoting a desperate self-promoter. Rather it is the profound feeling of sadness that I’m left with. I always say that conmen and scammers wouldn’t keep doing what they do if there was nobody stupid enough to fall for their schemes. The limitless hypocrisy of the Mail reflects more on the gullibility of those people who continue to buy it than on the paper itself.


Hi , just read your blog post with interest. I too have just read this book. My opinion is that there are a lot of good facts and interesting information in the book for those who are not au fait with the production and distribution of this product but quite a few glaring errors such as:

The prices he gives for UK home produced hashish (£20 a quarter oz) £20 a gram more like for stuff like that.

He described how one of the small eggs of caramelo hash burst its cling film wrapping just as the smuggler was reaching the end of his run and how the smuggler 'almost died' this is laughable

He also states that many people have died from hash packages coming open in smugglers stomachs, again laughable

In the end section of the book he conflates marijuana with hashish when discussing the Mexican tunnel to the States, Mexico is not known for hash production , It is known mostly for low grade , high volume cannabis production

The writing style is lurid, tweaked for  Daily Mailers, the cover is sensationalist again for those who find this sort of thing exciting. nearly every spliff smoked is 'massive' etc.

These glaring errors lead me to doubt the credibility of the rest of the book. A lot of it feels like facts lifted from Google and the internet stitched together with a threadbare narrative in which he ever so conveniently meets all these characters.

I am sure there is some truth in this book , but he lets himself down with a lurid style and schoolboy errors that lead me to question his credibility

I am about to read Mr Nice by Howard Marks as I am interested in comparing the two books.



Submit a Comment

You can send comments via the contact page but please be sure to say what blog entry you are commenting on.

Follow @thepoisongarden on Twitter

Full Entries


Saturday 20th August 2016 Sunday 6th March 2016 Wednesday 3rd February 2016


Saturday 28th November 2015 Friday 27th November 2015 Monday 17th August 2015 Wednesday 15th July 2015 Friday 26th June 2015 Thursday 25th June 2015 Thursday 30th April 2015 Wednesday 29th April 2015 Wednesday 11th March 2015 Tuesday 3rd March 2015 Saturday 28th February 2015 Sunday 22nd February 2015

November 2014


Monday 24th November 2014 Saturday 8th November 2014

October 2014

September 2014

Wednesday 24th September 2014 Monday 1st September 2014

August 2014

Tuesday 26th August 2014 Saturday 16th August 2014 Tuesday 5th August 2014 Friday 1st August 2014

July 2014

Sunday 27th July 2014 Wednesday 23rd July 2014 Sunday 13th July 2014 Sunday 6th July 2014 Tuesday 1st July 2014

June 2014

Wednesday 25th June 2014 Tuesday 24th June 2014 Sunday 22nd June 2014 Monday 9th June 2014 Wednesday 4th June 2014

May 2014

Monday 26th May 2014 Sunday 18th May 2014 Wednesday 14th May 2014

April 2014

Sunday 13th April 2014 Saturday 5th April 2014 Thursday 3rd April 2014 Tuesday 1st April 2014

March 2014

Monday 31st March 2014 Tuesday 25th March 2014 Friday 21st March 2014 Monday 17th March 2014 Sunday 16th March 2014 Tuesday 11th March 2014 Thursday 6th March 2014 Wednesday 5th March 2014 Saturday 1st March 2014

February 2014

Thursday 27th February 2014 Monday 24th February 2014 Wednesday 19th February 2014 Monday 17th February 2014 Thursday 13th February 2014 Monday 4th February 2014 Monday 3rd February 2014 Saturday 1st February 2014

January 2014

Thursday 28th January 2014 Thursday 23rd January 2014 Friday 17th January 2014 Wednesday 15th January 2014 Monday 13th January 2014 Thursday 9th January 2014 Tuesday 7th January 2014 Wednesday 1st January 2014

December 2013

Monday 23rd December 2013 Friday 20th December 2013 Tuesday 17th December 2013 Friday 14th December 2013 Thursday 12th December 2013 Sunday 8th December 2013 Wednesday 4th December 2013 Sunday 1st December 2013

November 2013

Friday 29th November 2013 Wednesday 27th November 2013 Tuesday 26th November 2013 Friday 22nd November 2013 Monday 18th November 2013 Friday 15th November 2013 Thursday 14th November 2013 Sunday 10th November 2013 Thursday 7th November 2013 Wednesday 6th November 2013 Friday 1st November 2013

October 2013

Thursday 31st October 2013 Sunday 27th October 2013 Wednesday 23rd October 2013 Monday 21st October 2013 Friday 18th October 2013 Friday 11th October 2013 Wednesday 9th October 2013 Tuesday 8th October 2013 Monday 7th October 2013 Tuesday 1st October 2013

September 2013

Monday 30th September 2013 Saturday 28th September 2013 Friday 27th September 2013 Monday 23rd September 2013 Sunday 15th September 2013 Monday 9th September 2013 Sunday 8th September 2013 Tuesday 3rd September 2013 Sunday 1st September 2013

August 2013

Tuesday 27th August 2013 Sunday 25th August 2013 Monday 19th August 2013 Friday 16th August 2013 Tuesday 13th August 2013 Friday 9th August 2013 Friday 2nd August 2013 Thursday 1st August 2013

July 2013

Saturday 27th July 2013 Sunday 21st July 2013 Wednesday 17th July 2013 Monday 15th July 2013 Saturday 13th July 2013 Friday 12th July 2013 Thursday 11th July 2013 Wednesday 10th July 2013 Tuesday 9th July 2013 Saturday 6th July 2013

June 2013

Friday 28th June 2013 Tuesday 25th June 2013 Friday 21st June 2013 Thursday 20th June 2013 Wednesday 19th June 2013 Saturday 15th June 2013 Sunday 9th June 2013 Saturday 8th June 2013 Saturday 1st June 2013

May 2013April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 blog June 2012 blog May 2012 blog April 2012 blog March 2012 blog February 2012 blog January 2012 blog December 2011 blog November 2011 blog October 2011 blog September 2011 blog August 2011 blog July 2011 blog June 2011 blog


The POISON GARDEN website is not connected with Alnwick Garden Enterprises Ltd and/or The Alnwick Garden Trust.