If I gave you a day, could you get hold of a bag of cannabis? I bet you could, either by yourself or through a friend. The cannabis industry in the UK is estimated to be worth £6.8 billion with the only legal access given in 2006 to MS suffers being allowed to use a strain called Sativex, but not through the NHS, at an average cost of £500 per month for treatment. This cannot be right and should not be allowed to continue as we lag behind some of the western world in giving people who can benefit from the drug access to it. Should the Labour Party policy be the introduction of medical marijuana for use of those in pain or that will benefit from it or should it be too slowly legislate for it to be legalised – that for me is the question.
There has been a historic, systemic failure in drug policy in the UK with Parliament crippled by outdated misconceptions of what it is and who uses it. I could paint some picture of old granny pot just giving it to her friends to help with their arthritis but no – I will tell you that most is smoked by young and middle aged people in their living or bed rooms in front of the TV watching the same shows you enjoy. It is not some seedy underworld. It is everywhere.
January 2014 saw the first legal sale of Cannabis in Colorado and the shift change of nearly a century of recreational drugs policy in the United States. The state government raised over $150 million in 2016 in tax income in a state of 5.5 million people which gave them the ability to rebuild schools and raise educational standards across the state. This is just one example of where it has been done but the proliferation of countries and states following suit is just growing with time, even though Trump is in the White House.
The Adam Smith Institute released a report in November 2016 on how the UK deals with cannabis and the effect it has had but with Brexit et al it did not end up as main stream news nor even a corner on page 6. It stated that UK drug strategy “has failed in its core aims to prevent people from using drugs, manufacturing drugs, and to put a stop to the crime, corruption and death that is taking place on an industrial scale around the world”. It is a damming conclusion on a near century of drugs policy that has failed at every turn.
The report goes further and says that the only workable solution to the problems of crime and addiction in the UK is to modernise the legislation and legalise the class B drug. Legalising cannabis would take the trade out of the hands of violent gangs who use young, often BAME, teenagers to distribute it and other harder drugs. The probation of cannabis has systematically since before the second world war entrenched poverty and widened a social divide that has discarded those who have fallen into a life of crime they did not choose. Although given the level of scepticism about it in Westminster it is highly unlikely that full legalisation would happen before they legislated for its use medicinally so this should be the first aim.
Arguments against legislating for the use of medical marijuana range from being socially prude to adverse physical and mental effects to it being a gateway drug into not just other drugs but a different life style. Firstly, the public support the legalisation of medical marijuana 72% to 15% in a poll realised last November. Secondly, cannabis can have adverse effect much like alcohol but the proven positive impact it can have on thousands – if not millions – far exceeds it. Thirdly, as previously stated, if you take it out of the hands of the gangs you change the nature of the market people who use cannabis operate in – you take it out of the darkness and into the light and clear it up.
The Labour Party has been bold in the past in Lambeth 2001 and the Cannabis Warning Scheme which gave police the ability to confiscate and not arrest people caught with small quantities of cannabis. Initially it received approval from over 83% of local people, local law enforcement and politicians from both sides giving it a good chance of success. But it was a half-way house that didn’t save the local police time or money although by the end of the programme it had support in the press and the public. It reflects what we have seen in places like Durham with the Labour Police and Crime Commissioner mandating his police force to ignore cannabis related crimes that do not harm people or property. Laws are only worthy of being called laws if they are universally enforced and the recreational consumption of cannabis is not – the prohibition makes a mockery of the legal system.
The last of the Labour front bench to present an open opinion on the issue was Paul Flynn in calling for the liberalisation of the laws surrounding medicinal cannabis. He was backed up by a poll suggesting that 85% of MPs of all parties believe this and yet he was slapped down. The current party line on the issue, like many, is shaky at best without any rounded thought being given to the subject. Canada is about to become the first of the G7 to fully legalise cannabis with the United States doing so bit by bit – we should lead the charge in this country and call for the legalisation of medicinal cannabis – it is not only the sensible thing to do, but the right thing to do for those who would benefit from using it to alleviate their suffering and start us down the road to legalisation.