Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Lib Dems Weed Policy is Muddled but Essentially Right

The Lib Dems general election policy to legalise marijuana in the UK, is in many ways a sensible approach to dealing with the issue of possession and small scale cultivation of the drug. As the Lib Dems point out, prohibition has failed to reduce usage of cannabis and the fact that it is illegal means that it causes wider problems for society.

What is the point of criminalising people, who otherwise are perfectly law abiding citizens, just because they want to get high? Furthermore, the illegality of cannabis in the UK makes it an attractive money spinner for criminal gangs, and being on the black market, we are missing a stream of taxation which could be used to fund educational programmes about cannabis use and feed other spending areas such as health.

Many other countries around the world are moving towards legalisation. The US are implementing cannabis legalisation on a state basis, and by all accounts this has been a big success in reducing cannabis related crime and providing a handy income stream for state governments. More and more US states are moving to a legalised, licenced approach to weed.

So far, so good. But the Lib Dems also want to grade and limit the THC (which is said to be responsible for psychiatric problems in some people) content in cannabis, which I think is misguided. Grading is fine, people should know how strong any particular strain of weed is, but I can’t see the point of limiting the strength. This is what was reported about the policy on Buzzfeed:

‘The Liberal Democrats would appoint an independent regulator for the cannabis market and reduce the harm of the drug by requiring it to include lower levels of the active component THC and more of the harm-reducing CBD element.’

This is in response to the sometimes hysterical reporting in the right wing media, I dare say, about a variety of cannabis known as ‘skunk.’ The THC levels in skunk is generally higher than more traditional varieties, but not always, and higher in CBD.’

As far as I can tell, skunk was developed in the Netherlands by cross breeding different types cannabis plants to obtain high THC levels. The practice is now widespread around the world.

In my experience the skunk on sale in the UK, is nowhere near as potent as that which can be bought in the Netherlands, although it is generally a bit stronger than more traditional cannabis varieties, but some of the traditional types can be equally as potent. In the Netherlands this much stronger skunk is legal just like other types of cannabis, but was not graded in strength the last time I was there.

Surely, this is a more sensible approach to what the Lib Dems are advocating for the UK? Whilst grading the potency of different types of cannabis for users is sensible, banning the higher strength varieties would immediately create an illegal market in them. Thus negating one of the benefits of legalisation, in the ending criminal involvement in supply. The market may well be smaller than what it is now, but it would still exist and may well be more daringly attractive, particularly to younger people.

The Green Party’s general policy is to have a similar model to the Netherlands in terms of licensed outlets, but I don’t think the grading of the strength of cannabis is stipulated, but maybe it should be.

With more evidence of the health benefits of cannabis emerging all of the time, like this research from Australia, which found THC improves the memory and learning in older mice and could help reduce dementia in humans, it makes no sense to prohibit it. Trails on humans will begin later this year.

Cannabis has a psychoactive affect but even the strongest varieties are nowhere near as strong as drugs like LSD, or certain types of mushrooms, but it is clear that small minority of people can have psychiatric problems with these type of drugs. But this is a health and education issue, not a criminal one, and cannabis is fairly easy to come by in the UK, even though it is illegal, so people will use it anyway. Better to have the situation regulated. 

The Lib Dems are on the right lines here, but they shouldn’t water down the idea to placate the Daily Mail. If it is right, then let’s do it properly. 

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