I’m no great fan of unearned income. But nor am I so steeped in revolutionary fervour that I can’t afford some sympathy for a rich man whose stories of personal tragedy would get less understanding in his club than from the despised and forgotten denizens of our roughest sink estate.

For (Lord) Nicholas Monson has had one son found dead in police custody and another who killed himself after several years of ‘skunk psychosis’, an irreversible condition brought on by smoking too much of this super-strength, genetically modified marijuana.

Naturally, Monson wants to campaign against skunk. He wants tough penalties for its production and distribution, because he doesn’t want the drug to ruin any more young people’s mental health, nor leave their parents mourning.

But his solution has not been to call for action against all marijuana (which is regularly smoked by about five million people in the UK). Rather, he has advanced a more subtle argument: legalise weed, as in some American states, but regulate its strength, price and distribution.

The benefits of allowing the sale and consumption of mild-strength marijuana at current street prices would, he says, be manifold: more business, more tax revenue and more jobs; a dent in organised crime’s armour; and, importantly, an end to skunk psychosis.

I wish him well in his mission. And since ‘Gin Lane’ was torn down by exactly the same means, I note that he has history on his side. But I also draw some lessons from the situation.

Namely: the skunk market would not have evolved so much, had the dealers of weaker, cheaper weed not already been outside the law; its growth has actually been enabled by the over-regulation of risk. By extension, then, the lighter the regulation, the less chance of unintended consequences.

That’s certainly the position of Big Tobacco (which is becoming ever more taboo in such countries as Canada, even awhile the green smokeables are legalised). And not without reason.

You can read elsewhere on Popla about cigarette smuggling and counterfeiting. I would add that, by relentlessly demonising smoking, tobacco’s enemies are creating a culture that holds their law in contempt. Like Britain’s millions of dope heads, its smokers will end up increasing their health risks in an illegal market.

Instead, I imagine a regulation-light country where smoking areas are allowed back inside (at the owner’s discretion, of course, with appropriate ventilation and no compulsion on staff exposure). I foresee rejoicing on psychiatric wards as admissions of kids lost to skunk decline. I want to be able to buy a packet of fags – with branding that I can see – from across a pub bar…

And yes, why not a nice mild joint?

by Michael Finn