18 Sep Asking the government to support Tokepure

Writing to the government about cannabis policy is a very depressing pass-time really, if you get a reply at all it’s usually a variation of the standard letter they send out to everyone. Actually, most of the time unless you write to your own MP letters to ministers are often simply ignored, you are only guaranteed a response from your own MP and even then it may be no more than a “Thank you for your letter” type brush-off.

So with this in mind back in July I sent an e-mail to Baroness Browning – at the time she was in charge of the Home Office – to ask if the government would support Toke pure. I sent it via my MP – Simon Wright (Libdem) – as others I’ve known about who had tried the direct approach were simply ignored.

So I wrote an e-mail to my MP:

<Name, address, phone number, Dear…>

Will you pass the following e-mail to Baroness Browning in the Home Office on my behalf please?

As you will see the cannabis law reform campaign “CLEAR” has adopted a campaign to separate the use of cannabis from tobacco , which would seem an obvious health education message for the government to be putting out to cannabis users. I would like to see this incorporated in the Frank campaign.

Sincerely

The attached e-mail asked a very direct question:

To Baroness Browning
Home Office

Dear Baroness Browning

I am writing to you in order to draw your attention to an initiative from the cannabis law reform organisation “CLEAR” called “Tokepure” ( http://clear-uk.org/tokepure)

Tokepure is a safer use campaign intended to break the connection between cannabis use and tobacco. As you will no doubt be aware most cannabis users in the UK smoke tobacco/cannabis “joints” – hand rolled cigarettes which often contain more tobacco than cannabis and have no filter.

Whatever the dangers of smoking cannabis may be, adding a mix of tobacco to it is only going to make things far worse for two reasons:

1: Tobacco is a known carcinogen.

You will be aware of several large scale studies of the smokers of pure cannabis (for example “Marijuana Use and Lung Cancer: Results of a Case-Control Study” by Taskin et al 2006 or “Marijuana and chronic obstructive lung disease: A population-based study” wan et al 2009) which seem to show cannabis does not lead to lung disease in the way that tobacco clearly does. Although cannabis smoke undoubtedly contains carcinogens, it also appears THC has anti cancer properties (eg Antineoplastic activity of cannabinoids. Munsen et al 1975) which may go some way in explaining this. Therefore the use of cannabis along with tobacco is clearly introducing a level of harm far worse than cannabis alone would cause.

2: Tobacco is highly addictive.

That tobacco is highly addictive – both physically and psychologically – is beyond doubt. As joints contain large amounts of tobacco smoked without a filter, it is clear joint smokers are getting a very large dose of tobacco when they smoke. This leads many cannabis users to become heavily addicted to tobacco and so there is a high risk that they will consume cannabis joints not for the effect of cannabis, but to satisfy a tobacco craving. It is therefore reasonable to assume that cannabis/tobacco smokers will consume more cannabis and more regularly than user of pure cannabis.

Although cannabis may be “habit forming” for a proportion of users (around 10% is a figure often claimed) this dependency is usually mild in nature, certainly when compared to a tobacco addiction.

All smoking is probably dangerous to some degree, so obviously the less smoke breathed in the better. Smokers of pure cannabis without tobacco inhale far less smoke than do joint smokers. Using a vaporiser of course presents no such problems.

Tokepure is calling on the government to run a safer use campaign aimed at cannabis users to encourage them to use cannabis without tobacco. This would seem an obvious health education message to aim at the several million cannabis users we have in this country, I can see no reason why this has not happened before. It is also very easy to use cannabis without tobacco, although it does involve the use of paraphernalia such as pipes or vaporiser. If these devices are regarded as evidence of criminal behaviour it would seem the law is acting to re-enforce dangerous methods of use which is why Tokepure is proposing these devices are no longer seen as incriminating evidence by police.

In closing I would add that recent statements by members of your party – from David Cameron on Al Jazeera TV and from MP Nadine Dorries on “Any Questions” for example – have been really quite shocking in their exhibition of ignorance. We are assured that drugs policy will be evidence based, but I see little sign of that from the present administration thus far.

Will you support the Tokepure initiative and incorporate it into the Frank campaign? I would expect a full and detailed explanation if not.

Sincerely

I think that was fairly clear, it didn’t ask about changing the legal state of cannabis, it simply requested the government run a campaign similar to TokePure. I sent it off and my MP acknowledged receipt of the e-mail (an automatic response from his office) and then sent me a letter

Thank you for your recent email in regards for your support for the CLEAR – cannabis law reform campaign to separate the use of cannabis from tobacco. I appreciate you making me aware of your thoughts on this issue.

As you requested, I have referred your correspondence to Baroness Browning at the Home Office to make her aware of your support for this campaign and have asked her to respond to the points you have raised in regards to this issue. I have enclosed a copy of this letter for your records and as soon as I receive a response I will be in touch with you again.

In the meantime, if I can be of further assistance to you in this or any other matter, please do not hesitate to get in touch

He also attached the letter he sent on my behalf to the Home Office

Dear (space for name to be written in by hand)

CLEAR – Cannabis law reform

I am writing on behalf of my constituent Mr Derek Williams who has contacted me in regards to his support for the “Tokepure” campaign by CLEAR – cannabis law reform.

I have enclosed a copy of an email from Mr Williams that he requested be passed on directly to you. I would be grateful if you could take the time to read through his correspondence and respond to the points he has raised in regards to this issue.

I look forward to hearing your comments on this matter in due course.

I’ll admit to being quite impressed with this, it’s how MP’s should react to such requests from their constituents. Anyway, the weeks passed and eventually at the end of August I get another letter, this time from my MP’s assistant:

I am writing to let you know the we have now received an acknowledgement note form the Home Office in regards to your support for the CLEAR – cannabis law reform campaign.

The Home Office has advised that the issues you have raised are the responsibility of the Department of Health and that our letter has been passed to them for response. As soon as we receive a full response form the Minister we will be in touch with you again.

In the meantime, if we can be of further assistance in this or any other matter, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

This letter was actually seriously interesting news because there has been a big change in the way drugs policy is run with the transfer of at least some elements of policy from the Home Office to the Department of Health. This is a move long resisted by government and now it seems to have happened, albeit very quietly.

Weeks passed again until, on Friday, another letter from my MP arrives

I am writing to you in regards to your support for the Tokepure initiative led by CLEAR, as I have now recieved a response from Anne Milton MP at the Department of Health on this matter. I have enclosed a copy of this letter for your information.

Ms Milton is responding in her capacity as Minister responsible for policy relating to substance misuse. I understand that you will find this letter disappointing, as the minister outlines current policy in relation to cannabis and tobacco but does not suggest the government will support the TokePure initiative.

If this raises any further issues you would like me to take up with the minister, or if I can be of assistance in any other matter, please do no hesitate to contact me again

And the reply from Anne Milton was attached

Thank you for your recent letter to Baroness Browning enclosing correspondence from your constituent… about the TokePure initiative led by CLEAR. Your letter was passed to the Department of Health as it concerns a health matter, and I am replying as the minister responsible for policy relating to substance misuse.

Cannabis is a controlled drug under the misuse of Drugs Act 1971. It has a number of acute and chronic health effects, such as the possibly of developing mental health problems, and remains a controlled drugs for good reasons. This view is based on the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs 2008 report Cannabis Classification and Public Health, which is available at www.homeoffice.gov.uk (enter the document title in the search bar and follow the links)

We realise tobacco is the biggest preventable cause of death in England, causing 80,000 deaths per year. The Government set out its plans to tackle the harms from tobacco and reduce smoking rates in “Healthy Lives, Healthy People; a tobacco control plan which was published on 9th March. The tobacco control plan can be found on the Departments website at www.dh.gov.uk by searching for ‘15513’

The FRANK service aims to highlight the risks associated with using all drugs, including tobacco and cannabis. In addition, the Department of Health has developed an online self-help facility on FRANK to support cannabis users to reduce or stop their use. The Department of Healths drug policy team has responsibility for the medical information and advice that FRANK provides.

When mew information, such as a new report, is received it is considered by both the the senior medical officer and a policy official. If it is then decided that there is adequate information that would be useful to provide through the FRANK service, suitable forms of words are finalised by the Senior Medial Officer.

FRANK has run a number of campaigns targeting cannabis users and there will be a new campaign promoting the service launching in the autumn

Please do contact me again if there are any further concerns.

Anne Milton

I wasn’t really disappointed by this response, it’s pretty much what I expected. The minister didn’t address the question I asked and in part replied with the standard letter sent out to all cannabis enquiries (the red section). It’s worth noting in passing that the ACMD report she used to justify the present policy was the one which advised keeping cananbis at class C, advice which was ignored by the last government. In any case, I hadn’t asked about the legality of cannabis, so there was no reason to include this section anyway.

So while I have nothing but praise for my MP I really do despair at the mindless way the government is dealing with drugs policy. Of course, the reply outlining the way information is received and acted upon sounds reasonable, but of course it isn’t really true. The Dept of health is fully aware of the tobacco/cannabis connection and the very much greater health risk tobacco poses compared to cannabis. Fact is they chose not to communicate this information to cannabis users. We know that now because of a Dept of Health document this blog reviewed a few weeks back: ‘A summary of the health harms of drugs’

So I’ve replied to the minister via my MP

<address, telephone, Dear…>

Many thanks for passing on the reply to my request for a harm reduction campaign aimed at cannabis users from the minister. You are right, I did find the letter disappointing, I find it an amazing abdication of responsibility as the Dept of Health are in possession of information about the health risks of cannabis and tobacco which they are withholding from cannabis users. I would argue that withholding information like this is needlessly endangering lives and is thus totally unacceptable for what is supposed to be a public health policy.

I attach a reply for Anne Milton MP which I would like to ask you to pass on to her for further consideration.

Thanks for your help

Sincerely

And the letter to Anne Milton

Dear Ms Milton

Thank you for your reply to my request that you run a harm reduction campaign aimed at cannabis users designed to break the connection with tobacco sent to my MP on 5th September, he has forwarded your reply to me.

I note you say

When new information, such as a new report, is received it is considered by both the team’s senior Medical Officer and a policy official. If it is then decided that there is adequate information that would be useful to provide through the FRANK service, suitable forms of words are finalised by the senior Medical Officer”.

As you are no doubt aware, just such a report was published recently which is directly relevant to the issue of cannabis and tobacco. The report “A summary of the health harms of drugs” was issued by the Department of Health in August 2011 and has this to say about cannabis:

  • no cases of fatal overdose have been reported
  • no confirmed cases of human deaths

Regarding cannabis and cancer, the department of health report states

  • no conclusive evidence that cannabis causes cancer

I therefore fail utterly to understand your refusal to advise the users of a drug which does not kill and as far as you can tell does not cause cancer to avoid using it in combination with one known – as you accept in your reply to me – to cause 80,000 deaths a year and which is also strongly addictive. This would appear to be at best negligent and at worse deliberately endangering lives by withholding vital information from the people who need it; the cannabis users.

The NHS report also has this to say about cannabis and smoking

  • Studies of the harms associated with cannabis use are limited by confounding as many users smoke tobacco as well as cannabis, or use tobacco as vehicle for smoking cannabis resin.

Clearly then you are aware of the confounding effects of mixing cannabis with tobacco with regards to quantifying the risks associated with cannabis use. Again, from a public health point of view failing to address this is both illogical and inexcusable.

Please note this is a request for a specific harm reduction campaign, not a request for the legal regulation of the cannabis trade. I am not questioning here the logic of including cannabis as a “controlled” drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act – or the illogicality of not doing so for the vastly more dangerous drug tobacco. However it would seem to me that your cannabis policy is not driven by science or even a desire to protect public health, but rather to support a political agenda. I therefore request in the strongest terms that you reconsider your reply to me and draw up a campaign similar to “Toke Pure”. It is clearly by far the most important harm reduction measure you could run for cannabis users, not to do so is to needlessly endanger many lives.

Sincerely“A summary of the health harms of drugs” – http://www.nta.nhs.uk/uploads/healthharmsfinal-v1.pdf

Tokepure – http://clear-uk.org/tokepure/

So we’ll see what happens – if anything. Although you rarely if ever get anywhere with ministers it is worth doing this sort of thing, if nothing else she is now aware of CLEAR and TokePure. The more they are made aware of both, the better.

Please get writing to your MP, keep it polite and friendly and above all keep it short and well focused – don’t write whole essays and demand nothing less than a revolution. If you do write to your MP, don’t forget to include your address and contact phone number.

Update 19th November 2011