The 60 page report is one of the best overviews and reviews of the emerging global industry from a UK legislative perspective. It’s both eye-opening and somewhat embarrassing. However, it is what it is and the UK is where it is on cannabis & drug reform.
Attempts to control consumption through prohibition do not work and have not done so for many decades. The health issues surrounding cannabis as with all drugs, (alcohol and tobacco included) it is not completely harmless, and no serious advocate for legal reform would suggest that it is, however, it’s left largely unexplored because illegality makes meaningful long-term scientific tests difficult to carry out.
That cannabis is illegal while alcohol and tobacco are not is an accident of history. Cannabis policy reform is not a daring step forwards so much as a righting of historical wrongs, a reversion to what the drug’s status should always have been, had it been treated impartially
‘The analysis we came up with was that smokers of cannabis are about 2.6 times more likely to have a psychotic-like experience than non-smokers. To put that figure in proportion, you are 20 times more likely to get lung cancer if you smoke tobacco than if you don’t. The other paradox is that schizophrenia seems to be disappearing (from the general population), even though cannabis use has increased markedly in the last 30 years. So, even though skunk has been around now for 10 years, there has been no upswing in schizophrenia.’
We know that a person cannot fatally overdose on pot in the way they can on alcohol. ‘You can die binge-drinking five minutes after you’ve been exposed to alcohol. That isn’t going to happen with marijuana,’ says Ruben Baler, a health scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. ‘The impact of marijuana use is much subtler.’
The current government strategy is based around three main pillars:
• reducing demand, particularly among vulnerable youths and/or those involved in the criminal justice system.
• restricting supply by tackling the organised crime gangs which supply drugs through importing them from abroad or growing/ manufacturing them on British soil.
• building recovery in communities through public health facilities and an attempt to understand and tackle the wider social circumstances which propel people to use drugs in the first place.
Transferring principal responsibility from the Home Office to the Department of Health38 would also take away one of the arguments used by opponents of reform: that those who want cannabis legalised only do so because they erroneously believe it harmless. This is, of course, bunkum. It is precisely because cannabis can cause harm that it needs to have appropriate regulations and controls applied. Of course cannabis isn’t completely safe. No drug is completely safe; no human activity, for that matter, is completely safe. But making it illegal doesn’t make it safer.
A 2011 study by the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit (IDMU) estimated that the UK cannabis economy would be worth approximately £6.8bn per annum – just under half the size of the British tobacco industry at the time, and more or less exactly the same as Arcview’s projections for California.
The majority of cannabis campaigners are probably instinctively wary of big business. This is a matter of great personal import to people, and few of them want to see the soul of it sucked out by venture capitalists. But even corporate greed would be a quantum improvement on what we have right now in the UK.
Principle responsibility for cannabis should move from the Home Office to the Department of Health, where the terms of the regulated market can be set to an agenda that protects children and public health, targets crime and safeguards consumer rights. The role of the Home Office itself in cannabis policy must pivot from an enforcer of prohibition to that of a regulatory and licensing body, as it is in the case of alcohol.