By David Osland
David Cameron got ‘off his head’ on cannabis as a 15-year-old at Eton and continued getting off his head on cannabis until he reached his mid-twenties. And confessing something like that publicly is no small admission from a former Tory prime minister.
Ludicrous as Britain’s drugs laws are – and ridiculous as it is that Labour has not embraced even decriminalisation – cannabis remains a Class B drug.
It is what the law calls ‘a controlled substance’. While custodial sentences are now vanishingly rare, simple possession is theoretically subject to a five-year prison sentence.
Yet millions of Britons smoke the stuff, and millions more did so when they were younger. Many 1960s experimenters are already collecting their pensions.
On any sensible yardstick, this should be the proverbial no biggie, even for the blue rinse set at a provincial Conservative Association.
Cameron’s stoner period commenced in 1982. It was around that time that I spent a night in the cells after a particularly narcotically-enhanced and somewhat enthusiastic Christmas party was raided by the drug squad.
A small bag of grass was found in my pocket, leading to me being released with a caution. Not a conviction, true. But it did stay on my criminal record for six years, which was unhelpful for a young man looking for his first proper job.
Eton didn’t go as hard on Cameron as the cops went on me. His only penalty was to be ‘gated’, public school slang for the withdrawal of privileges including the right to leave the premises.
As far as we know, the police were not involved. The duration of the punishment was just a week or so. It was little more than a slap on the wrist.
All of this brings me to the case of another 15 year old who experienced a brush with drugs laws, and was treated incomparably worse than either David Cameron or David Osland, despite being more innocent than either of us were.
The case of black schoolgirl Child Q has made national headlines. In December 2020, she was wrongly accused by teachers at a school in Hackney of cannabis possession.
While the school has not been named, its identity is well known in the borough, where I live. Let’s just say it ain’t Eton College.
The Metropolitan Police were called, and subjected Child Q to a strip search, despite the knowledge that she was menstruating. Her parents were not informed by the school or the officers.
A safeguarding report into what happened concluded that “racism was likely to have been an influencing factor in the decision to undertake a strip search.”
Legal proceedings have been launched on her behalf against both the school and Met. Hackney’s Labour mayor Phil Glanville has called for the head teacher’s resignation, and demanded the police come up with a plan to prevent a recurrence.
Local MP Diane Abbott, along with Labour councillors and activists, attended a recent demo in support of Child Q outside Stoke Newington police station.
However, the sense of outrage remains palpable, particularly among Hackney’s sizeable black community.
But that leaves us with the question of the disparity of the fates of a posh boy at Britain’s top public school, a white working-class youth like I was 40 years ago, and a black girl at a state school in what remains a deprived part of inner London.
The moral for Child Q is, surely, if you’re going to be falsely accused of spliffing up, make sure you get falsely accused at Eton.
Not that they let girls study at Eton anyway, but that’s another story.
David Osland is a member of Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP and a long-time left wing journalist and author. Follow him on Twitter at @David__Osland
Image: Hackney graffito, c/o Mike Phipps
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