Monday, 18 January 2010

The question is "how?" not "whether?" on cannabis legalisation

This is a copy of a contribution I have just made to a discussion on the LDDPR group on Lib Dem Act. I'm not sure if I have properly set out my stall on this before so thought it important to put it out there to give an impression on the kind of thing I think LDDPR and eventually the Lib Dems should be advocating.

Original source here:

"My position on this issue is very much one of "better safe than sorry". It is glaringly obvious that the classification of cannabis at Class B or Class C does nothing to increase public safety. The economics and practicalities of the illegal trade in cannabis incentivises the distribution of stronger "skunk" varieties at the expense of the milder, more traditional varieties. This phenomenon arises for the same reason as the expansion of hard liquor in America under alcohol prohibition. It might be debated by some in the drug policy reform movement, but I believe it quite reasonable to assume from the evidence available that skunk brings a higher risk of mental illness than traditional strains (remember it is better to be safe than sorry). Ensuring milder strains are available for sale, and ensuring professional advice is available to guide choices made, should reduce consumption of "skunk" and reduce mental health risks.

More important evidence to consider is the evidence suggesting that there is a sensitive period of brain development in which risk of later psychosis is dramatically increased by cannabis use. If risk of psychosis is massively increased if you are exposed to cannabis regularly before you are 15 and only slightly increased if you smoke before 18, then surely we need to identify ways of restricting cannabis consumption in young teenagers. Currently cannabis use is totally unregulated and rife in teenage culture. Under a controlled and regulated market it would be possible to restrict access to cannabis to those over 18 (or other specified age), and to introduce licensing and taggant technology to improve our ability to deter provision of drugs to children and prosecute those who defy the law.

I have serious concerns about the lack of awareness about the links between cannabis and mental illness in America and other countries where legalisation is being considered. I am keen for any moves in this direction in the UK to reject the Dutch coffee-shop model in favour of strictly regulated sales from pharmacists. I am also hopeful that a licensing scheme could be adopted that would necessitate customers receive drug-specific education on mental health, general health, financial, behavioural and other issues that may arise as a result of drug use. Education on the early warning signs of psychosis in particular would not only allow early intervention in cannabis-induced psychosis, but would increase public knowledge of the condition and allow early intervention in cases of psychosis not related to drug use. Schizophrenia is a cause of not only massive suffering for patients and families, but massive economic costs to the country as a whole. Properly controlling illegal drugs presents an excellent opportunity to alleviate future suffering and reduce these costs.

The great danger in the use of any drug is ignorance, and I hope that a commitment to tackle ignorance will reduce both use of drugs and the harms that drug use and the prohibition of that use currently causes."

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