08 Mar Inside The Mind Of A Hard Line Prohibitionist: Michael Ellis MP

A CLEAR member has been in touch with his MP about the law on cannabis. Of course, this happens on a daily basis but this one is special.

Michael Ellis MP Michael Ellis MP

We’ll call our member ‘Jack Clear’ but his MP deserves no such discretion. I have written to him, asking his permission to publish this correspondence but he has not replied. So be it. As a record of an MP’s discussion with his constituent, it is in the public interest to publish it.

Michael Ellis is a member of the Home Affairs select committee and during last year’s drugs inquiry he revealed himself to be as about as hard line as they come. See here for a review of his behaviour at the inquiry including video .

He is a graduate in Public Law and was called to the bar at Middle Temple in 1993. He practices in Northampton as a criminal barrister usually defending people on legal aid. He has been MP for Northampton North since the general election of 2010.

Judge for yourself from this correspondence how well he deals with the evidence about cannabis. Would you want him representing you in any sort of assessment of facts and evidence?7th September 2012

Dear Mr. Ellis,

I am very concerned about the law on cannabis. It seems to me that a lot of mistakes are being made and that government policy is more concerned with what the tabloids publish rather than the facts.

Every week in my local newspaper there are stories about the police raiding “cannabis factories”. Usually the people they catch are illegal immigrants, who may even be the victims of human trafficking, or ordinary men and women growing a few plants for their own use, often as a medicine. I can’t see that police raids with riot gear, dogs and associated violence is the right way to deal with this.

Surely, the truth is that it’s the law that causes all these problems? Whatever the Daily Mail says, even with the psychosis scare stories, it’s pretty clear that cannabis is much less harmful than alcohol. Why aren’t we allowing people to grow it if they want to instead of creating this criminal market which leads to all sorts of problems? I understand that six million people in Britain use cannabis regularly. Why are we giving this huge market to criminals?

Most people use cannabis without any problem at all. Why not introduce a tax and regulate system? I understand that new research shows this would benefit the UK economy by at least £6 billion per annum. We could have a properly regulated supply chain with no criminals involved, no theft of electricity, no human trafficking, no destruction of property and no disruption of neighbourhoods. Then there would be some control over this huge market. There would be thousands of new jobs, sales would be from licensed outlets to adults only with guaranteed quality and safety. Then our police could start going after some real wrongdoing instead of trying to fight a crime that exists only because of a misguided government policy.

The current policy on cannabis just makes no sense. Please can I ask you to do whatever you can to change it?

Yours sincerely,

‘Jack Clear’

8th September 2012

Dear Mr ‘Clear’,

Thank you for your email regarding cannabis law.

I appreciate you feel passionate about this and think that this is an important debate. Drug use is something currently being considered in the Home Affairs Select Committee, of which I am a member. We have interviewed various drugs experts, Sir Richard Branson and even the comedian Russell Brand (who himself has beaten addiction). I would invite you to look out for the Select Committee report on drugs that will be forthcoming.

I would however like to make clear my opposition to legalising and liberalising our laws on drugs, including cannabis.

There are several reasons for this. Firstly, cannabis is a gateway drug- perhaps the most famous one. It has been shown consistently to be the first drug on the road to addiction to life ruining drugs like cocaine and heroin. By discouraging people society reduces the likelihood that they will fall into that horrendous downward spiral. This drug is however notoriously dependable and people often become addicted when they don’t even realise it.

Secondly, there are serious health issues with regards to cannabis- predominantly mental health issues, which I believe would become exacerbated if we were to legalise this drug. Studies from around the world consistently show a correlation between cannabis use and psychotic illness. It is known to raise the risk of schizophrenia, depression, paranoia and other mental illnesses in some cases by up to 40%. This is even more tragic when people have pre-existing mental illnesses or having overcome a mental illness relapse after becoming dependent on cannabis again. Smoking cigarettes, whilst many may find it unpleasant, does not provide the same harmful mental side effects.

I do feel strongly that we as a society should not just punish the use of drugs but do everything we can to rehabilitate offenders and reduce their dependency and addiction.

I regret that we may have to agree to disagree on this issue, but I appreciate you taking the time to convey your views and write to me. If there is anything else I can be of assistance with please do not hesitate to contact me again.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Ellis

9th September 2012

Dear Mr Ellis,

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my previous email, however I am concerned about some of the issues you have raised regarding cannabis.

You have mentioned the popular theory that cannabis acts as a gateway to harmful drugs such as cocaine and heroin. The American Medical Association made the following report in 2003:

“Alternatively, experience with and subsequent access to cannabis use may provide individuals with access to other drugs as they come into contact with drug dealers. This argument provided a strong impetus for the Netherlands to effectively decriminalize cannabis use in an attempt to separate cannabis from the hard drug market. This strategy may have been partially successful as rates of cocaine use among those who have used cannabis are lower in the Netherlands than in the United States.”

The fact that the cannabis market is in the hands of illegal drug dealers instead of government regulation is what causes the increased probability that a cannabis user will try other drugs. Furthermore, it is believed that 85% of cannabis users do not use hard drugs. If cannabis were truly a gateway drug, shouldn’t this number be a lot smaller?

You also mentioned that there were mental health issues which could become exacerbate following the legalisation of cannabis. While it is agreed upon by both scientists and advocates that cannabis should not be used by those with a pre-existing mental health condition as it may accentuate the symptoms, the belief that the use of cannabis increases the risk of a psychotic illness in those who have no prior mental health issues has been found to be flawed. Additionally, new evidence suggests that small doses of medicinal grade THC can be beneficial to sufferers.

Also, I must express how disappointed I am with your comment regarding the use of cigarettes Mr Ellis. Although it is accepted that tobacco does not cause mental health issues, the use of cigarettes killed approximately 81,400 in The UK in 2009 according to the NHS. Considering that there has never been a single death attributed to cannabis, I urge you to re-consider before shining tobacco in a brighter light.

Finally, I feel that your response implicitly suggests that cannabis is an addictive substance. Time and time again it has been scientifically proven that the potential for addiction to cannabis is far lower than alcohol, tobacco, or even caffeine. Those that oppose a reform to cannabis law often use statistics for teenagers in rehabilitation as evidence that that this substance is in fact addictive. However, let’s consider the following scenario.

A teenage boy is in court facing charges for possession of cannabis. The judge tells the boy that he can be rehabilitated for addiction, or he will go to prison.

If you were in this situation, what would you do? I guarantee the vast majority of people faced with this situation will opt for rehab, not because they are addicted, but because they do no want to go to prison.

I hope that you will appreciate the arguments I have made here, and that you may wish to further research cannabis so that you may see why the government’s own drug advisers, as well as drug advisers from around the world have been saying for years that possession of cannabis should have no criminal penalty attached to it.

If you find the time to do so, please read some of the information provided on the website of Cannabis Law Reform (http://clear-uk.org/).

Also, The Union: The Business Behind Getting High, is a fantastic documentary about why cannabis was made illegal, why it is still illegal, and why the law should be changed. It is based in The US and Canada, but it is still relevant to our laws here.

Yours sincerely,

‘Jack Clear’

10th September 2012

Dear Mr ‘Clear’,

Thank you for your reply.

As I said in my original email I feel we will have to agree to disagree on this matter.

With regards to what you have said about gateway drugs, I do not think the simple fact that cocaine use by cannabis users is lower in the Netherlands than the United States means that cannabis is not a gateway drug. There are many more factors that need to be considered.

I do also understand that there is debate about the effect of cannabis on mental health. However, with the advent of increased strength cannabis this problem is said to be worsening.

As to your final point I would say that I have never suggested to you that rehabilitation is not a good option. On the contrary I believe strongly that rehabilitation is important – but society can focus resources on rehabilitation without decriminalising a drug that destroys lives and families.

Thank you again for taking the time to write to me. If I can be of assistance in any further matter please do not hesitate to contact me again.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Ellis