On Monday 12th October from 16:30-19:00 MPs will debate the Legalisation of the Production, Sale and Use of Cannabis in Westminster Hall. In response to a petition which you can read here (Oh and whilst you have it open - SIGN IT!) the UK Government made their current position on the subject very clear, which you can read in full here
This is a tired response from our Government filled with the usual baseless rhetoric, assumptions, half-truths and misinformation which I am going to challenge paragraph by paragraph with facts, science, evidence and 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 (‘Cannabis Classification and Public Health’, 2008)."
The ACMD, provided the Government with rather more advice, with this statement only appearing on the cover letter. They advised the government that cannabis should be a class-c substance, which the previous labour government under Gordon Brown compltely ignored and made it a class-b anyway. They recommended that more priority be given to health and social based interventions over the current legal ones. They also suggested that a further review be done in 2 years. It never has, of course, subequently, i
n April 2014, Les Iversen, Chairperson of the ACMD and expert in the medicinal benefits of cannabis, stated in a public meeting that "cannabis was no longer an issue for the ACMD because the it had become “politicised” and thus was out of their hands" - How inconvenient to have an expert drug policy group that doesn't feel it can comment on an aspect of drug policy?
A "significant public health issue" is meaningless and needs quantifying. Peanut allergy is a significant public health issue too, but it doesn't mean we prohibit them, and when you think about it, other than drug misuse, I am not aware of any other health issue for which we use the law as our primary approach to?
"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 compelling peer reviewed or widely accepted evidence of cannabis being the cause of any harms, physical, mental or social and it is certain that law enforcement does far more harm to all three.
The two recent questionable studies that our government and the mainstream media refer to when highlighting the 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, in fact, far more and better and more recent evidence showing quite the opposite. The most you could say about the impact on mental health is that unlike most things out there that would have a detrimental impact such as socio-economic background, alcohol or tobacco the only people who are at risk are a tiny minority of the population who have a genetic predisposition for a mental illness and start consuming large quantities of the most potent forms of cannabis by smoking with tobacco from under the age of 16 for many years.
The actual number of admissions (which are not separated from re-admissions) for the serious growing problem of "Cannabis Psychosis in under 18s last year was 38 and 24 the year before that. There are more hospital admissions for that peanut allergy I was talking about!
Nothing at all is mentioned of its benefits which, surely, one would balance against its perceived harms. There is an ever growing wealth of solid, peer reviewed evidence showing its homoeostatic and preventative applications, such as being a neuroprotectant; By being in your system, you are less likely to suffer brain injury in an accident. In addition there are over 200 recognised medical treatment benefits.
In US states where patients can legally access cannabis, between 16% and 25% of MS patients have switched completely from their other medications to cannabis. The average cost to the NHS in pharmaceuticals for MS patients is £30k annually. That equates to a potential 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, without doubt 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 they keep speaking of, that I received as a child (yes, this cannabis nonsense has been going on that long) is that;
"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, nothing to do with the law, of course, it is as illegal there as it is here, but are consuming considerably less alcohol and significantly less "harder" drugs too resulting in huge reductions in harms. They are learning the truth and choosing a safer way of enjoying themselves. We should be so lucky?
We have reduced tobacco smoking in the UK through information, education and regulation and it has worked - We didn't have to ban a single cigarette or burn a single tobacco farm or criminalise a single consumer.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly on this paragraph, exactly 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 the medical profession can only offer palliative care.
In case you have been led to believe that claims about its effect on cancer cells are to be scoffed at, have a look at what the National Cancer Institute have to say about it:
"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."
These comments about revenue are lazy, obvious and completely ignore the real benefit to the UK economy, in line with the experience of every US state and country that has regulated cannabis. The potential revenue added to the savings from the criminal justice system and the savings from the NHS by providing cannabis as a treatment alternative will inevitably be huge by comparison to any costs. We estimate between £7bn and £10bn per year back in the UK economy.
"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 entirely ineffective waste of time and money and does more harm than good.If we really want to reduce harm caused by misuse off all drugs including alcohol, tobacco, sugar and caffeine using 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.
Whilst I am talking of those who get into difficulties, we rarely hear about those who don't; The UNODC published their figures on global problematic drug use in 2013, which showed that only 5%-10% of illicit drug use is problematic (only 2%-4% for cannabis), though based on their definitions of problematic these are likely to be high. So 96-98% of the people of the world who choose to consume cannabis in whatever form or strength will not have any problems! (Remember those peanuts....)
Criminalisation pushes the entire market into the hands of criminals which does far more harm than the drugs themselves ever could as well as putting further life at risk through the lack of quality control. A criminal will only care if you have money to pay, they will not care about quality and the only ID you will need is a £10 note, they will encourage greater consumption and more dangerous options. A licensed and regulated dispensary would lose its licence and business if it didn't.
In 2001, Portugal decided to decriminalise possession of all drugs whilst offering treatment and education to those who require it and the results nothing short of astoundingly. Cannabis consumption has increased by about 2 or 3 %, however they have also seen a reduction of 50% in heroin and opiate addiction, death and overdose and up to 15% reduction in alcohol related issues. Without the threat of a criminal record, people who do have issues with drugs are coming forward voluntarily for help. Oh, and Portugal has an almost non-existent synthetic substitute 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 are a small subset of figures which the government has quoted from the wider subject of drug use and patterns. This does not take into account the related steep rise in use of more dangerous, synthetic legal highs, the most popular of which only exist to get around the law on cannabis and other illicit drugs. It does not mention the sharp increase (32% over last 2 years) in the deaths and addiction from harder drugs and bad quality drugs, which are on the rise in the UK. They say nothing of the increase in prescription drug use to the point where we can be called
. They do not show that cannabis and all drug use in the UK follows a global pattern with our legal approach having no impact whatsoever evidenced by the recent Home Office's own International Comparators report which shows no significant effect on drug use resulting from any form of punitive measure.
I am Political Director of United Patients Alliance. We are a support and campaigning community of over 8000 medical cannabis patients suffering from a range of conditions including; Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia, Crohns/IBD, Anxiety, Depression, Rheumatoid Arthritis, ME, PTSD, AIDS, Epilepsy, Chronic Pain, the list goes on, all of whom have found that various types and strengths of cannabis consumed in a variety of ways has proven to be more effective medicine than their legal and prescribed alternatives, including specifically Sativex, in improving their lives, reducing side effects and treating their symptoms. These patients are forced to either live in unnecessary discomfort and pain or risk dealing with criminals for their medicine and a criminal record for growing it or consuming it.
"We call on the UK Government to legalise access to cannabis. What compassionate society would allow the criminalisation of patients for consuming something with their doctors blessing that helps them manage and treat their illnesses and improve their lives?"
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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