Programmes like Cannabis Cafe prove taking drugs is fine ⁠— but only if you’re privileged

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Programmes like Cannabis Cafe prove taking drugs is fine ⁠— but only if you're privileged

There is not much I find less entertaining than other people under the influence. Either I’m forcibly reminded that someone’s having a better time than me, or I’m forced to endure them finding themselves hilarious when they are, in fact, unbearable.

So what a treat is on its way with High Society: Cannabis Cafe, a two-parter that begins next week. Channel 4 flies a load of people out to Amsterdam and takes them to a coffee shop, as fixed-rig cameras capture their first-time buzz.

It’s not exactly cutting-edge – it’s hardly difficult to get hold of a bag of weed, anyone who has been on a stag do has probably had a wilder time and I question the judgement of anyone who allows cameras to film them as they are stripped of their inhibitions – but that’s not why this leaves a bitter taste.

The show, which uses whimsical music and a First Dates-style format (but with a grandma smoking a vaporiser), is one in a long line of programmes that treat casual drug use with a flippancy afforded only to the privileged.

Maureen in High Society: Cannabis Cafe (Photo: Channel 4)

There was Drugs Live with Jon Snow and Dr Christian Jessen for the “clinical trial” approach, and ITV’s Gone to Pot for anyone who wished to see what would happen if Pat Butcher sparked up a zoot with Christopher Biggins.

According to Channel 4, the participants of High Society are “flying in the face of UK drug law” (how valiant). They are in a controlled environment, the health risks are low and they are partaking in a country where it is not illegal.

For those who stay at home and “fly in the face of UK drug law”, the penalties are far more serious. Cannabis is a Class B drug so, in theory, anyone who is caught in possession can be charged with five years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both. In reality, a black person is nine times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs by police than a white person, which might explain why the former make up 20 per cent of drug convictions.

The media’s presentation of drug use as an alternative lifestyle choice is harmless enough if you were, say, one of the many white, middle-class, middle-aged people smoking weed at Bob Dylan in Hyde Park last month, confident that the police would leave well alone. Less so if you are an unfairly targeted demographic – no young black men feature in the first episode of High Society – or someone who is seriously ill and fighting for the right to access medicinal cannabis.

The show is reality TV under the guise of “experiment” and latches on to the legalisation debate for relevance. Entering that debate calls for research and critical thought, but the attempt at balance here is box-ticking and simplistic. Some people have a great time in the café, others do not, and the viewer learns – and is challenged – very little.

Sade and Sashelle in High Society: Cannabis Cafe (Photo: Channel 4)
Sade and Sashelle in High Society: Cannabis Cafe (Photo: Channel 4)

Two ex-drugs wardens give it a go and when one feels unwell, he concludes that he is “vehemently against cannabis”. Which is a bit like me decrying anybody else enjoying a glass of wine because the first time I got drunk it resulted in me vomiting two litres of White Ace cider around Leicester city centre. The show is insufficiently informed to wade into a topic as sensitive as drug legalisation on a platform as far-reaching as prime-time TV.

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The benefits that could come from legalisation are obvious to me: purer-quality substances, safely controlled, administered and consumed; a dignified understanding of addiction; a reduction in crime; and the opportunities for increased tax revenue, to name a few. Not everyone agrees, but it’s a discussion that demands depth of consideration, not to be used as a flimsy hook for an entertainment programme.

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