25 August 2010

So This is What a Sucessful Policy on Cannabis Looks Like!

The ACPO report on Cannabis Policing "Three Years On" makes depressing reading. It looks at the way that the UK cultivation of cannabis has changed over the past three years and should represent compulsory reading for anyone who believes that the prohibition of cannabis has been a success. These developments over the past three years, considered alongside the developments over the past thirty plus years, highlight just what a disaster the prohibition of cannabis within the Misuse of Drugs Act (and before that the Dangerous Drugs Act) has been. The policy has seen:
  • between 1974 and 2002 there was a ten-fold increase in people found guilty or cautioned for cannabis offences (1)
  • increase in levels of cannabis use in the UK which have only recently dropped off slightly since their reported peak in the mid 90s;(2)
  • a drop in the age of onset of cannabis use; (3)
  • increased potency in terms of THC levels (4)
  • the emergence of imbalanced forms of cannabis containing high levels of THC and minimal levels of CBD (5)
  • concentration of cannabis production in the hands of criminal gangs who are also involved in other drugs, people traficking, weapons, counterfeiting and other offences;
  • yearly increases in number and quantity of cannabis seizures but without a significant impact on the availability of cannabis in the UK (6)

By any measure, it is hard to view as a success a strategy of prohibition that has seen the substance being controlled become more potent and less safe, be used more widely, by younger people, despite a non-stop policy of crop and drug seizure, arrest and criminalisation of users and producers.

The evidence from the ACPO report on cannabis production is the latest evidence that in addition to prohibition acting as a driver for less safe, unregulated cannabis markets, prohibition and the profits associated with it have concentrated the production and distribution of cannabis in the hands of a smaller number of large producers, controlling the market with increased force, and with crossover to other offending.

Historically, before gaining power, both David Cameron and the Liberal Democrats wanted to reform the law on cannabis. David Cameron, who it is widely accepted had dalliances with at least one controlled drug when younger, endorsed the moving of cannabis from Class B to Class C. Once elected leader of the conservative party is belief in evidence based policy seemed to evaporate and argued instead for Cannabis to return to Class B.

The Liberal Democrat policy historically was for radical reform of drugs legislation, and in terms of cannabis proposed "adopting a policy of not prosecuting possession for own use, social supply to adults or cultivation of cannabis plants for own use." (7)

However, since entering the ConDem coallition, the Liberal Democrats have been silent on this subject, and it will not be a suprise if, when the Government drug strategy is published in October, all mention of cannabis reform is lost.

But even the Liberal Democrat's old, relatively progressive stance is inadequate and by leaving production and supply in an unregulated market, perpetuates the problems in terms of criminal production, unregulated strength and unmanaged supply.

Given the ongoing disaster of cannabis prohibition the need for Government to fully revise the laws on cannabis are long overdue. Cannabis needs to be licensed and regulated to make it safer. Features of a regulated cannabis market would include:

  • licensed, registered outlets with staff who receive training on cannabis use and risks
  • age-restricted sales to people aged over 18 only
  • sliding bracket of taxation on retailed cannabis with higher strength products being taxed at a higher level;
  • products labelled to indicate THC and CBD content, with appropriate health messages
  • taxation from cannabis sales ring-fenced to fund awareness and treatment interventions
  • personal possession of up to three cannabis plants, by persons over 18 no longer a criminal offence
  • licence production in UK and overseas, to encourage (for example) Afghani opium producers to produce hashish not heroin.

Given the current resurgent abstentionist climate, the puritanical approach of the Conservatives to drugs, and the apparent willingness of the Liberal Democrats to trade belief for power, it is vanishingly unlikely that any changes will be forthcoming. So in the meantime, it is back to the prohibition hole and time to keep digging. Sanity, anyone?


Anonymous said...

Yes, decriminalisation or even legalisation should be the direction of policy. I think we all know someone who uses it, or has used it; and it seems quite hip nowadays for politicians, world leaders etc - to imply in some coded way that they have used it in the past. Does this mean there is a broad acceptance of its use...? Probably so, but politicians seem to be nervous about the debate and only generally refer to it when the party line asks, or when they want some credibility with electorate...!
So this would suggest it is a bit like talking about sex, people do it, accept it but yet are embarrassed about it. Surely if it was decriminalised or legalised it would make things safer for the user and stop most of the crime involved in the producing and selling of it. Perhaps our politicians should look at other places around the world where they take a more pragmatic stance in relation to its use.
Finally,if it was legalised and not decriminalised it could taxed and this could contribute in a big way to the drug & alcohol treatment budget, or anything else that is needed in a time of austerity. So come on ‘world leaders’ tell us the truth you did inhale, or if you didn’t you had an acceptance of its use.

A resident of Hackney

Derek Williams said...

Hi Kevin

I've only just found your blog, so welcome to the blogosphere or whatever it's called!

You wrote

By any measure, it is hard to view as a success a strategy of prohibition that has seen the substance being controlled become more potent and less safe, be used more widely,

I really must protest at your use of the word "controlled" in the context of the policy toward cannabis - or any other prohibited street drug actually.

Yes, I know politicians and the police call prohibition "control", but that is no more than deception because "control" is the one thing prohibition is not.

People who write intelligently about drugs policy should never join in this deception and never refer to prohibition as drug "control" or to prohibited drugs as "controlled substances" without adding the prefix "un".

Drug control means nothing less than controlling the trade because that is the only way a substance can be controlled.

As regards the future, it's going to be interesting to see how they plant to fund an increase to this already bloated and expensive failure of a policy. The brick wall of financial reality is very real, very hard and approaching fast. Keep the faith.


KFx said...

Hi Derek

We've had this discussion before - and while I acknowledge the philosophical rightness of your position but because drugs listed under the Misuse of Drugs Act are specifically given the collective noun "Controlled Drugs" I'm using the term in that context. I agree that the process of control is a failure.

Hope you are well!


inabsentia said...

I've been enjoying reading your blogs but I have to say that you're a bit wrong about LibDem policy.

You forgot to mention their policy of "In the longer term, seeking to put the supply of cannabis on a legal, regulated basis, subject to securing necessary renegotiation of the UN Conventions." That dates back to 2002, alongside what you quoted.

Of course, having policy is all well and good but pretty meaningless if not implemented. But if the coalition roles were reversed and this were a 5/6 LibDem Government, things would be very different.