08 Oct Cannabis is Neither ‘Harmless’ Nor ‘Dangerous’
These are two straw man arguments. Both advanced in order that they can be knocked down by the organisations putting them forward.
On the one side we have the tabloid press, the Daily Mail and, the broadsheet-sized tabloid, the Daily Telegraph, both strongly reinforcing their reputation for sensationalism and incompetent reporting of science. They say that because cannabis is ‘not harmless’ it must never be legalised or decriminalised and policy on it must not change. (This is, of course, based on the mythical idea that some credible campaigner said cannabis is harmless – can we know who this person is please?)
On the other side we have the well respected drug reform charity Transform which says because cannabis is “dangerous” it must be controlled and regulated.
Obviously, CLEAR prefers Transform’s position but both of these arguments are false. Neither of them deal honestly with the evidence and neither of them properly advance the cause of reducing the harms of cannabis and cannabis policy.
At these extreme positions, on both sides, there is some truth. If you’re in your 20s or older, using cannabis without tobacco, even daily, then it is pretty much harmless. In fact there is good evidence to show it may even be beneficial. If you’re 14 and you’ve been sucked into the ‘stoner‘, ‘wake ‘n’ bake‘ culture and you’re hitting the bong all day long, every day, then, yes, you’re in danger.
There can be no doubt that present UK policy on cannabis actually maximises harm, both of the drug itself and the consequences of prohibition and a criminal market. The vast majority of the harm caused is by the criminal market. It is what allows children access, promotes high THC/low CBD ‘moonshine’ weed, violence, human trafficking, dangerous cannabis farms causing fires and destruction of property, lack of access to sensible harm reduction advice, criminalisation of over one million people, etc, etc. David Cameron, Theresa May and all their predecessors as prime minster and home secretary, bear a heavy responsibility for the massive harm they have caused to millions of people by their misguided policies. That burden must be shared by the tabloid press which has also caused so much harm – but we should have been able to rely on our political leaders to do the right thing. Instead they have succumbed to the press scaremongering and prejudice and preferred their own comfort rather than taking the correct but difficult decisions.
Transform is now opposing the regulation model introduced in Colorado, despite the fact that it has been a resounding success with falling crime rates, massive new tax revenue and no evidence of any increase in harms from cannabis itself. The Transform model is based on a soft left, anti-commercialisation, anti-business model that retains scaremongering and exaggerating the harms of cannabis at its core. Thus, its advice is what Uruguay has taken and will soon implement nationwide.
Of course, there is one other massively important factor which is missing from all of this. In fact, I’d say it’s more important than any other factor and that’s the enormous benefit to be gained from the medicinal use of cannabis. Transform has always opposed legalisation for medicinal use alone because it doesn’t fit with its overall model – in my view a dreadful betrayal of those in pain, suffering and disability, more than a million people in the UK alone using cannabis as medicine. Recently, the tabloids have been happy to pick up the stories of dramatic results with cannabis treating cancer and epilepsy precisely because they are sensational. The sick truth is that is their scaremongering about recreational cannabis use that is preventing our cowardly politicians from allowing it as medicine.
The only purpose of any drugs policy must be to reduce harm. Factored into that equation on cannabis must be the enormous benefit it offers as medicine.
We must start immediately, without any more delay, by permitting doctors to prescribe cannabis. Such prescriptions can be immediately filled by allowing the importation of Bedrocan from Holland – safe, government regulated, high quality medicinal cannabis.
Thereafter, the model that CLEAR advocates for full legal regulation is set out in “How To Regulate Cannabis In Britain“. It’s different from Transform’s model in that we are not proposing a quasi-socialist, anti-business regime. We embrace the benefits that properly regulated, commercialisation of cannabis can bring. The fantastic creativity, enterprise, new jobs and new businesses coming out of Colorado is a good thing and should be celebrated, not strangled by nanny state, over regulation.