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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Thursday 27th December 2012

Sometimes it is a bit tricky to sustain my stance of ignoring all anniversaries and annual events. Christmas is easy since I am an atheist so it has no religious significance and I am not a pagan so I see no need for a festival intended to encourage the sun to return.

New Year should be straightforward as the change is based purely on the arbitrary numbering system used to mark the passage of days and I realise that there is no difference between one minute to midnight on 31st December and one minute passed midnight on 1st January. That said, I do recognise that the list of events that will be labelled as having taken place in 2012 will soon come to an end. Given how significant many of those events have been, I thought I’d indulge in a little review of the year as far as the topics of interest to this website, poisonous plants and psychoactive substances, are concerned.

The Olympic and Paralympic Games stand out as the major feature of the year. The incident of interest here concerns the cross-country cycling races at Hadleigh Farm in Essex. As this picture , copyright Steve Fair  used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, shows the land adjoining the track had Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort, growing on it.

Hadleigh Farm Olympics cross-country cycling

The reaction on Twitter, Facebook and various blogs was nothing short of hysterical. People were ‘horrified and ashamed’. They felt it was ‘shocking’ and ‘dreadful’ and many seemed to feel that all the good work of the games was being undone by allowing these images to appear on international television. Neil Jones captured some of the Tweets on his excellent Ragwort Hysteria blog.

Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort,

Jacobaea vulgaris, common ragwort,

As always, the prejudiced ignorant believe they know better than the fully informed. Many people wondered why nothing had been done when, of course, the needs of the race had been balanced with the needs of the site. I found these pictures of volunteers who helped ready the track showing that ragwort was removed where it was considered necessary.

My long-term ‘To Do’ list includes a visit to the Olympic Park in London when it re-opens to the public as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in July 2013 to see how many poisonous plants are included in the natural planting of the grounds.

Mention of Queen Elizabeth brings us, of course, to her Diamond Jubilee celebrated throughout the year. I note it because HM has succeeded, for another year, in keeping Prince Charles from the throne. Before 2012, we knew that Charles espoused many crank remedies and practices, most notably believing the NHS should waste money on homeopathy, but what was confirmed in 2012 was that he regularly goes beyond what is supposed to be the accepted conduct for British royals and seeks to influence policy.

On the poisonous plants in the news front, 2012 was an oddity because of what wasn’t reported. I saw no news stories about people being horrified to find they had Datura stramonium, known as jimson weed or angels’ trumpet,, growing in their gardens. As I wrote in October, I don’t know if the plant was not seen this year or whether the wealth of stories available through the summer meant the media didn’t have room for ‘silly season’ fillers.

Datura stramonium is, of course, a psychoactive plant and causes most harm when people experiment with its hallucinogenic properties so it brings us to the main events for this year all of which are concerned with drug control policies.

There is reason to think that, in twenty years’ time, or possibly just a decade, we will look back at 2012 and see it as the year that change began to happen.

Cannabis sativa, marijuana

Cannabis sativa, marijuana

The Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) produced its long-researched report suggesting that a thorough examination of existing drug policy should be undertaken. Though the Prime Minister dismissed it, without it seems reading it, the Deputy Prime Minister called for its recommendations to be implemented suggesting it will not go away as easily as David Cameron hoped.

In the USA, the November elections brought changes in the law concerning Cannabis sativa, marijuana, in Colorado and Washington state meaning that personal possession of small amounts is no longer against state law. It remains to be seen whether there will be a direct clash between state and federal law and it will be quite late in 2013 before all stages in production from seed to product become legal.

And two major documentaries looked at the harms caused by drug policies. ‘Breaking the Taboo’ looked at the global situation regarding drug policy and the voices calling for change whereas ‘The House I Live In’ concerned itself with the USA and, particularly, the thriving industry that is the state and federal incarceration system where even low level drug offenders find themselves jailed for a very long time and then pretty much excluded from all chance of not re-offending by the conditions they face on release.

Catha edulis, khat

Catha edulis, khat

At the time of writing, over half a million people have viewed ‘Breaking the Taboo’ during its month of being freely available on YouTube. ‘The House I Live In’ due to its limited cinema release has, probably, been seen by far fewer people but that could change if it is broadcast by the BBC during 2013 and if, as it deserves, it wins the Oscar for Best Documentary.

I’ll finish this highly subjective review of the year by looking at another event that, like reports of angels’ trumpet in UK gardens, didn’t happen. When I last wrote about Catha edulis, khat, I said that the report from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) was due ‘within the next few weeks’. Though no firm date has ever been given, the ACMD has, in the past, indicated that it would present the findings of its latest review on this subject during 2012.

The failure so to do may be no more than an indication of the under-resourcing of the ACMD at a time when it is attempting the impossible task of keeping up to date with the emergence of new psychoactive substances or it may be that someone has decided that the report should not appear so close to the disagreement on drug policy between David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

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