Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Parliamentary Debate on the Legalisation of the Production, Sale and Use of Cannabis




On Monday 12th October MPs will debate the Legalisation of the Production, Sale and Use of Cannabis in Westminster Hall.

In response to the 220000 signature petition which you can read here the UK Government made their current position on the subject very clear, which you can read in full here.
This is a dismissive response from our Government, designed presumably to discourage proper debate and filled with the usual baseless assumptions and misinformation which I am going to challenge with science, evidence and global experience.

"The latest evidence from the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) is that the use of cannabis is a significant public health issue"


A significant public health issue is meaningless without some quantification; Peanut allergy is a significant public health issue too, but it doesn't mean we prohibit them.
In the report this statement was taken fromCannabis Classification and Public Health’, 2008
the ACMD provided significantly more advice; Cannabis should be a class-c substance and not class-B where it is currently. Priority should be given to health based interventions as opposed to ineffective legal ones. A further review should be done in 2 years which never did and last year, Les Iversen, Chair of the ACMD and expert in medicinal cannabis, said cannabis was no longer an issue for the ACMD because it had become politicised and thus was out of their hands. - How inconvenient to have an expert drug policy group that can't comment on drug policy?


"Cannabis can unquestionably cause harm to individuals and society. Legalisation of cannabis would not eliminate the crime committed by the illicit trade, nor would it address the harms associated with drug dependence and the misery that this can cause to families."


There is in reality no evidence of cannabis being the cause of any harms, physical, mental or social whilst it is certain that law enforcement does far more harm in all three categories.
The two studies that our government and the mainstream media use when highlighting harms to mental health, from Professor Robyn Murray and Professor Wayne Hall have both been debunked by the NHS and The Lancet respectively.
There is far more recent research showing quite the opposite. The most you could honestly say about is that unlike most things that have a detrimental impact such as socio-economic background, alcohol or tobacco, the only people who are at risk are a minority of the population who have a predisposition for mental illness and consume large quantities by smoking with tobacco from a young age. Cause for concern and control, but hardly significant. The actual number of admissions for the growing problem of cannabis psychosis in under 18s last year was 38. There are 3 times more hospital admissions for that peanut allergy!
Nothing is mentioned of the benefits of cannabis. There is an wealth of peer reviewed research showing its homoeostatic and preventative applications, such as being a neuroprotectant; You are less likely to suffer brain injury with cannabis in the system. Then there are over 200 medical treatment applications 
In legal US states 16-25% of MS sufferers have switched from their other more harmful medications to cannabis. The annual cost of those medications is £30k. That equates to a minimum saving of £480m just for one condition.
To say that it would not eliminate crime is disingenuous at best. Criminals are only involved in the trade because it is illegal. Legal regulation would take about 80-90% of it out of their hands, which sounds like a great result to me. 


"Legalisation would also send the wrong message to the vast majority of people who do not take drugs, especially young and vulnerable people, with the potential grave risk of increased misuse of drugs."


The message that I received as a child (yes, this cannabis nonsense has been going on that long) is this; "The government don't listen to science or evidence, they haven't got a clue what they are talking about so they must be wrong about everything else too."  That is certainly not the message that I am going to be teaching my children. It is misguiding and it is irresponsible. We need to teach the truth and stop trying to instil fear based on lies. Kids these days have access to the internet you know? 
It is interesting to note that young people in Denmark are consuming more cannabis these days, They are learning the truth and choosing a safer way of enjoying themselves and we have successfully and significantly reduced tobacco smoking and we didn't have to ban a single cigarette or criminalise a single consumer. 
What message are we sending when we prevent children with severe forms of epilepsy, access to a proven treatment for their condition, or criminalise someone for growing and supplying a medicine to terminal cancer patients, for whom our medical profession can only offer palliative care. 

"Despite the potential opportunity offered by legalisation to raise revenue through taxation, there would be costs in relation to administrative, compliance and law enforcement activities, as well as the wider costs of drug prevention and health services."


This completely ignores the real benefit to the UK economy. The potential revenue of between £6-£10Bn added to the savings from the NHS by providing cannabis as a treatment alternative will inevitably be huge by comparison to any costs. 

"The UK's approach on drugs remains clear: we must prevent drug use in our communities; help dependent individuals through treatment and wider recovery support; while ensuring law enforcement protects society by stopping the supply and tackling the organised crime that is associated with the drugs trade. The Government will build on the Drugs Strategy by continuing to take a balanced and coherent approach to address the evolving challenges posed."


The UK's approach to drugs is a costly and ineffective failure doing more harm than good. If we really want to reduce harm caused by misuse of all drugs including alcohol, tobacco, sugar and caffeine then we must use the best scientific evidence whilst educating the public about the real dangers and helping the small number who get into difficulties by supporting and guiding them towards treatment without fear of being criminalised. 
Criminalisation puts the entire market into the hands of criminals putting life at risk through lack of quality controls and the only age ID they will ever need is a £10 note. A licensed and regulated dispensary would lose its licence and business if it didn't. 
In 2001, Portugal decriminalised possession of all drugs whilst offering treatment to those who require it and the results are astounding; Whilst cannabis consumption has increased by about 2 or 3% they have also seen a reduction of 50% in heroin and opiate addiction and death and up to 15% reduction in alcohol related problems. Oh, and Portugal has an almost non existent "legal-highs" market.

"There are positive signs that the Government’s approach is working: there has been a long term downward trend in drug use over the last decade, and more people are recovering from their dependency now than in 2009/10. The number of adults aged 16-59 using cannabis in the last year in England and Wales has declined over the last decade from 9.6% to 6.7%, with cannabis use amongst young adults aged 16-24 and young people aged 11-15 following a similar pattern"


These figures ignore use of other substances such as the steep rise in use of more dangerous, legal highs which only exist to get around the law. It does not mention the 32% increase in the deaths and addiction from heroin and cocaine over the last 2 years. They say nothing of the UK becoming a "A Nation of Prescription Drug Addicts". They do not show that cannabis and all drug consumption follows a global pattern with our legal approach having no impact whatsoever evidenced by the recent Home Office's own International Comparators report.

This response, whilst expected, is very disappointing to all of us. I hope they take the debate itself rather more seriously.

Jon Liebling – Political Director of United Patients Alliance


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