Thursday, 13 December 2007

Can't Stop The Pot

The government has responded to the petition to legalize cannabis on the No. 10 website. Here is their response in full, followed by why I think that it's a pile of shite. I have numbered the paragraphs for reference, the rest of the text is as produced on the No. 10 site.

(1) The Government has no intention of legalising cannabis and regulating its control. In response to the Home Affairs Committee report on The Government's Drugs Policy: Is It Working? in 2002, it stated that "We do not accept that legalisation and regulation is now, or will be in the future, an acceptable response to the presence of drugs" and that includes cannabis. Supply and possession of the drug are and will remain illegal.

(2) The Government considers that cannabis is a controlled, illicit drug for good reasons. It has a number of acute and chronic health effects and prolonged use can induce dependence. Most cannabis is smoked and smoking, in any form, is dangerous. Even the occasional use of cannabis can pose significant dangers for people with mental health problems, such as schizophrenia, and particular efforts need to be made to encourage abstinence in such individuals.

(3) Legalising cannabis would run counter to this country's international obligations as a signatory to the relevant United Nations Conventions on drugs and there is no prospect of unilateral action.

(4) Legalisation would also run counter to the Government's health and education messages. The message to all - and to young people in particular - is that all controlled drugs, including cannabis, are harmful and no one should take them. To legalise the possession of cannabis for personal consumption would send the wrong message to the majority of young people who do not take drugs on a regular basis, if at all, with the potential risk of increased drug use and abuse.

(5) The Government's objective is to reduce the use of all illegal drugs - including cannabis - substantially, not to encourage increased consumption due to more ready access to increased supply. While our drugs laws cannot be expected to eliminate drug use, there is no doubt that they do help to limit use and deter experimentation.

(6) The Prime Minister announced on 18 July that, as part of the consultation to review its drug strategy, the Government will also consider whether it is now right that cannabis should be moved from Class C back to Class B under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

(7) There is real public concern about the potential mental health effects of cannabis use and, in particular, the use and availability of increased strengths of the drug, commonly known as skunk. In these circumstances, the Government is considering whether it is necessary to toughen the penalties relating to cannabis possession to complement its education and treatment programmes.

(8) The Home Secretary has therefore asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which advises the Government on drug issues, to again assess the medical and social scientific basis of the classification of cannabis. This review will take into account the fact that there are stronger forms of cannabis that may cause more harm.

(9) The Government will consider carefully the Advisory Council's findings, expected next spring, before making a final decision that will be consistent with its aim of reducing the harm caused by drugs and ensuring that people - and especially young people - are well aware of all the risks.

(Incidentally, if you want more ammunition to fire at the government, I recommend that first link)

So let's summarize:
(a) Cannabis has acute and chronic health effects eg. addiction, lung problems, schizophrenia.
(b) Legalization runs counter to international obligations.
(c) Legalization would send the wrong message.
(d) Government objective is to reduce use.
(e) No doubt that drugs laws limit use and deter experimentation.
(f) Skunk is more available now.
(g) Government aim is to reduce harm and raise awareness of risks.

Tackling those one at a time:
(a) Health effects: while there is no doubt that cannabis can have negative effects on health, this is true of a whole host of perfectly legal activities such as drinking, driving, diving, skydiving, surfing, motorcycle riding (deadly, that, both my grandads died in bike accidents), yachting, mountaineering... the list goes on. Why is it that it's okay when it's an "extreme" sport, or a day-to-day activity to get to work that it's legal, but when it's a mind-altering recreational drug, that suddenly becomes a problem? I never saw a notice anywhere that said SURFING KILLS.

(b) International obligations: I believe that the Netherlands manages to avoid this by making cannabis illegal but not actually enforcing the law, and explicitly stating that it won't. Anyway, I suspect that invading Iraq ran counter to a few international obligations. If HMG can do it to kill a million Iraqis, they can do it for cannabis.

(c) Laws should not be made to "send a message", they should be made to accomplish stated outcomes. If it could be shown that legalization would reduce use (like it did in the Netherlands), would the government still be ideologically opposed to legalization? If so, why? That would run counter to their practical aims to reduce use and therefore harm. Anyway, lawmaking based on "sending messages" is really code for "we don't want the tabloids disapproving".

(d) I simply don't believe that. If the government's objective was to reduce use, then they would have seriously investigated, and possibly trialled, legalization. Evidence from the Netherlands shows that after a short spike, usage falls to levels below pre-legalization levels.

(e) Bollocks. Cannabis has always been considered counter-culture and edgy precisely because of its illegality.

(f) It is not at all obvious that cannabis is vastly stronger now than it ever was, nor that most users are actually smoking the strong stuff. Furthermore, there is good reason to believe that the rise of skunk is due to the illegality of the drug, and the requirement to make more money per plant on the part of producers due to the criminal risks involved in production. If cannabis were to be legalized, firstly, the strength could be controlled, preventing legal skunk from being sold, and second, the demand-for-supply of skunk (if that makes sense) should actually go down since production would no longer be illegal, and cultivation would not need to be done in secret.

(g) What better way to raise awareness of the risks of cannabis than to emblazon "CANNABIS CAUSES SCHIZOPHRENIA" on every packet in every newsagent? The harms associated with drinking and smoking are well-understood and often discussed, because they are legal.

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