Colin Grant

The debt I owe to cannabis

Through my father’s small-time drug dealing, marijuana funded my education

‘Good for mental hygiene’ was the description that Bunny Livingston, one of the original Wailers, pictured above with Colin Grant, gave to cannabis use

Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Jeremy Hunt have all admitted that they tried cannabis as young adults. Neither the admission nor the THC psychoactive component of the drug, which makes you high, seem to have done them much harm in their pathways to successful careers in parliament. But a new governmental war on drugs is afoot which some fear may lead to unexpected consequences, and not just for those who ply their trade on street corners or draw up on Deliveroo-type scooters to supply cannabis as if it were a takeaway curry.

I wouldn’t bet on everyone getting caught up in judicial dragnets, though; I imagine that middle-class consumers will still largely avoid censure and that the police and the Crown Prosecution Services will continue to target working-class suppliers. These are the dealers who in popular imagination are gold-toothed sultans of bling, whose illegal entrepreneurship is a brief pit stop in the expected pipeline of their lives from school to prison. But for a little bit of good fortune, that trajectory might easily have been mine.

Sociologists assert that in terms of life chances — in education, employment and health — it’s best not to have been born black. My parents, Bageye and Ethlyn, left Jamaica for England in 1959. Early on, I recognised that they had a wealth of cultural capital that differed from our Irish and English neighbours in Luton. Ethlyn’s Jamaicanness was often expressed in her fierce belief in manners (it wasn’t qualified: you either had ‘manners’ or you did not) and in education. Captivated as a child by Tom Brown’s School Days, she remained enthralled as an adult by the British private school system. As far as I could make out, Bageye’s identity as a Jamaican was revealed in a love of ‘style’ and devotion to the company of his spars (friends), especially when it was fuelled by rum’n’coke and a draw of herb (marijuana).

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