29 Jan The Campaign For Recreational Cannabis – A Discussion about Direction


Prohibition is a big, dumb, and very expensive failure. It is brutal. It puts prejudice before people. The “war on drugs” is responsible for more death, destruction and despair than it has ever prevented. History has shown that prohibition creates far more problems than it solves. In the 21st century we should expect far better solutions from our policymakers and governments.

The above is the first principle of CLEAR’s Aims and Objective statement. Ending the prohibition of cannabis is our overall objective although it isn’t our most urgent aim, that being to make cannabis available under the direction of a doctor to people who need it as a medicine. We see the campaign for medicinal access as separate from and entirely different to the campaign for recreational use.

However, the recreational campaign is important. So the question is; how do we go about it? What form should it take?

What Is “Recreational Use” And How Would A Legal Regime Work?

Recreational use means using cannabis for the enjoyment of the combined effects of the drugs the cannabis plant contains, known as “getting stoned”.

CLEAR has a document which outlines the basic arguments of how a legalised regime could work: The CLEAR plan, the main objectives of which are:

1. To minimise all health and social harms of cannabis, particularly the involvement of organised crime.
2. To protect children and the vulnerable through age restrictions, responsible retailing, health education and information.
3. To maximise the therapeutic and medicinal benefits of cannabis.
4. To promote quality, safety and the development of cannabinoid science.

The Campaign’s Image

Bernie Hazy – The terrible stereotype of a cannabis user as portrayed by the Mentor Foundation in 2004

Recreational cannabis use has an image problem and the cartoon above from the Mentor drugs advice agency in 2004 of “Bernie Hazy” ( now deleted from the Mentor site) was a particularly nasty example of the stereotype often presented as being “typical” of cannabis users. In truth of course people from all walks of life use cannabis, including judges, police, sportspeople and all manner of professionals as well as normal “hard working” men and women.

So our first job is to rid the cannabis campaign of this terrible and inaccurate image. That means presenting a professional looking campaign fronted by articulate people. This doesn’t mean parading stuffed suites in front of TV cameras, but it does mean spokespeople being articulate and well informed who don’t look like they’ve just woken up after a heavy night.

It would also be good perhaps to associate cannabis use with activities such as sports and fitness pastimes where cannabis use is widespread, rather than the just the usual areas of music based subcultures. After all, cannabis users do win Olympic gold medals!

Cannabis user Ross Rebagliati who won gold in the 1998 Winter Olympics

Where We Are Now

The traditional “legalise cannabis campaign” has taken the form of demos where people paraded through the streets toking away. In the past these have been huge with tens of thousands taking part, but they had no real effect and perhaps only served to re-inforce the stereotype.

Perhaps it can be argued that the way to fight bad laws is through open defiance, the only way to do this being to publicly use cannabis and there are still some organisations which think this is the way to go but there are two big problems with this tactic:

The first is these events consist largely of young people; of course they do, young people are far more likely to demonstrate than older people. But do we want to promote cannabis as something young people do?

The other problem is cannabis smoking itself, or more specifically the smoking of tobacco filled joints. It’s hard to imagine a more damaging way to promote the use of cannabis than by showing the world how it’s entwined with the use of tobacco. This really is a no-no now.

An important element of the recreational campaign for CLEAR has to be a safer use campaign – which we call “TokePure” along with support for measures designed to prevent young people (children and young teenagers) from using cannabis.

So what is left? How can we demonstrate for the right to use cannabis if everyone has to be over 21 and using vape pens?

No change will happen unless we can convince politicians of the need to change and this isn’t simply a matter of logical argument, it has to be a media campaign of some sort. How can we involve a lot of people in doing this?

Why Do We Want Cannabis Law Reform?

Even more perplexing is just what is it that we want to see; why do we want cannabis law reform? That isn’t the daft question it sounds because there are two possibly incompatible reasons.

In the green corner we have the “freedom of choice” argument: The government has no right to tell me what I can put into my body. In the red corner we have the “harm reduction” idea, based around a proper regulation and control of the trade. Can these two concepts be brought together? Arguments about this fundamental difference of approach have dogged the cannabis law reform movement for years.

Of course we all want to end the violence and exploitation associated with the underground nature of the trade, that’s a no-brainer. But what do we want to replace this underground trade with?

The Spectre Of “Big Cannabis”

Do we want a full blown commercial trade? This is starting to emerge now with the creation of the “Marley Natural” company; expect to see branded products, advertising and so on. Colorado is leading the way with this.

Prohibition has failed to restrict cannabis use and so one reason to support a legal regime is to reduce the level of use by having the highest level of control over the trade. The argument goes this can be done by creating a non-commercial regime, with no advertising, no branding, no promotion. If someone wants to use cannabis they can do so, it could be purchased from specially licenced outlets but there would be no branding or marketing. Home growers may only share their product for free. This is the basis of the system in Uruguay and supported by Transform for example.

The prohibition campaign in the US is now focusing on commercialisation – what they call the growth of “Big Cannabis” – akin to “Big Tobacco”. As they would have it Big Cannabis is an industry keen to grow the consumer base and profit from drug induced misery. Is commercialisation a threat or an opportunity?

Is cannabis use generally something society should encourage, simply allow or discourage? While the aim of a commercial supply industry is to encourage cannabis use, the stated aim of UK drugs policy claims to be to reduce all drug use as far as possible. Which is morally, socially or practically the desired choice?

Cannabis Use Is Changing

One of the big developments in Colorado is the growth of non-smoking methods of using cannabis. Principally this means vaping and edibles, a development which is perhaps inevitable given the increasing “down” on smoking.

It is arguably more important to have consistent doses (and THC/CBD ratios) with edibles than with raw smoked cannabis and this means properly made concentrates with known strengths and potencies. Vape pens using concentrates are likely to be the most popular toking method and again this probably means large scale manufacture of cannabis oils. The only practical way to do this is by large scale industrial production, which means commercialisation.

So the questions we need to discuss are really simple, if somewhat overdue:

How do we rid cannabis users of the terrible and inaccurate stereotype?

How do we actually campaign?

What sort of regime do we want – full commercialisation good or bad?

It is worth bearing in mind something really important: it is because of the prohibition of the recreational use of cannabis that everything else is also prohibited. Medical use and all the other things cannabis can offer (which are legal now, but highly curtailed) and of course spiritual use all become easily possible with the end of the prohibition of cannabis for recreation. All these other things can happen even if the recreational use is highly restricted with draconian laws.

There is a huge prize to be won, a prize which would benefit the whole of society. We do have to get this right. Please help CLEAR to grow its recreational cannabis campaign. We want to hear your views.