Home Affairs Committee - Drugs: Breaking the CycleWritten evidence submitted by Miguel da Silva [DP016]

My name is Miguel da Silva. I am a freelance radio presenter from Southend-on-Sea. I have been living and working in the UK since 1988, having moved here from the Netherlands.

I would like to contribute to the home affairs committee’s enquiry into drugs, addressing the issue of cannabis.

I believe that the current classification of cannabis as is wrong especially when compared to the harm other legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco cause.

I myself am a cannabis user. I came into contact with cannabis in the Netherlands when I was 14 years old and since then I have been a regular consumer.

Using cannabis has not acted as a gateway drug to harder drugs such as heroine or cocaine for me. Although I have experimented with cocaine, ecstasy, magic mushrooms, and LSD, this was not due to the fact that I used cannabis.

When I first started using it, it was primarily for recreational purposes, but in the past three years it has been for medicinal reasons.

I suffer from chronic back pain, and I have arthritis in both my hips and lower spine. I also have fibromyalgia which causes me great discomfort, insomnia, and extreme tiredness.

I have been prescribed various prescription drugs such as codeine, pregabalin, and diclofenac, to help manage my health problems. As a result of taking these medications I have had to overcome an addiction to codeine as well as having to cope with serious side effects of the various drugs I had to take.

In the past three years I have slowly been replacing the prescription drugs with cannabis and the pain relief I get from cannabis is more direct, and I have no side effects to deal with.

Currently the Home Office has given a licence to a company to grow cannabis and to manufacture a medicine called Sativex. This medicine is an extraction of the active ingredients of cannabis. This medicine has gone through all the necessary stages and tests and is now available on prescription to MS sufferers. The only problem is the cost of the medicine and the fact that many NHS trusts will not authorize it to be dispensed.

The fact that the Home Office has allowed this company to manufacture this product and at the same time insisting publicly that cannabis has no medicinal value makes no sense.

Is the present policy fiscally responsible?

I believe that the current costs of prosecuting people who grow a small amount of cannabis plants for personal use is contributing to the high cost of enforcing the law. The cost of investigating, locating, arresting, and jailing these small-time growers is counter-productive and is not justified when it comes to the small-time grower.

In many European countries medicinal cannabis is already available as an option to and this brings medical relief to thousands of people. In the USA many states are allowing medicinal cannabis to be home grown or purchased through cannabis dispensaries. Although this goes against federal law, small-time growers are generally left alone providing they have a licence to grow medicinal cannabis.

In the UK the political party CLEAR has drawn up the report “Taxing the UK Cannabis Market” which states the financial benefits to the UK economy were cannabis to be legalized, regulated, and taxed. I would suggest you read it.1

Is the current policy grounded in science, health, security and human rights?

I believe that the current policy with regards to cannabis is formed by the opinion of some elements of the press such as the Daily Mail. These papers have an enormous influence on public opinion, but with regards to cannabis it is not based on science and evidence. It is based on sensationalist scaremongering.

Even politicians such as Gordon Brown were convinced to change cannabis from a class C drug to a class B based on pressure from certain tabloids. Many politicians are afraid to be seen to discuss changing the current drug laws out of fear that the tabloid press will destroy their reputation.

These tabloids exaggerate the harm cannabis does through sensationalist and inaccurate information.

I would like to draw your attention to an NHS report which is the most up to date and authoritative evidence available to date.2

This report clearly states that the harm caused by cannabis is very modest when compared to alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs, over the counter medicines, and even energy drinks.

The prohibition of cannabis has created a criminal market which is worth £6 billion. The criminals behind this market have only one goal, which is to sell to anyone who wants it. The only ID a criminal needs is a £20 note. These criminals have no qualms about setting up cannabis factories in residential properties using illegally obtained electricity, using Vietnamese people who have illegally been brought into the country to look after these factories, and using their profits to fund more crime.

The harm these criminals do is totally disproportionate to the harms of cannabis itself.

There is now overwhelming evidence about the effectiveness of cannabis as a medicine. There are hundreds of scientific studies that prove the effectiveness of cannabis in the treatment of MS, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, depression, and a wide range of other conditions. I myself have experienced the result of using cannabis as a medicine for my own health problems. I believe it is my basic human right to use this medicine without the fear of being arrested, charged, and possibly being jailed for using a plant that relieves my health problems. This report is the most up to date research on medicinal cannabis and I would like to draw your attention to the report and its findings.3

The criteria used by the Government to measure the efficacy of its drug policies

I believe that the current and previous governments have used two things as a criteria with regards to drug policies. The losing of votes and the pressure of the tabloid press. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was setup to protect the health of the people, but currently it is being used as a means to gain political standing and votes.

Members of the governments’ advisory committee have time and time again proven with scientific facts that cannabis is nowhere near as harmful as some legally available drugs such as alcohol and tobacco, and yet these are available from almost every supermarket and off-licence. When the reports from the advisory commission are looked they are ignored by the government because they “think” they know better.

The independence and quality of expert advice which is being given to the government

The government has on many occasions been given the right advice from the right people with regards to cannabis, but have chosen to ignore this and sack those members of the advisory committee simply because their findings did not match the beliefs of the government. I refer you to the case of professor David Nutt.

Whether drug-related policing and expenditure is likely to decrease in line with police budgets and what impact this may have

According to the “Taxing the UK Cannabis Market” report by the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit (IDMU) the current expenditure for the criminal justice system on cannabis alone is £500million and of that £200million is for the police costs.

The current illegal cannabis market is worth around £6billion per year and I believe that by legalizing, regulating, and controlling cannabis a big share of this money would go to the government by way of taxes. This in turn would help to reduce the deficit the current government is faced with.

If the status quo is maintained, the cost to the criminal justice system will only increase putting more pressure on the government’s total expenditure.

The current system is simply to throw money into a bottomless pit without any real gain. So I do not believe that police budgets will go down which in turn means less police on the street dealing with real crime.

The cost effectiveness of different policies to reduce drug usage

As I stated in the previous paragraph, the current system is not cost effective and therefore a new approach needs to be taken.

Evidence from countries such as Portugal, Holland, and the USA shows that where cannabis availability is regulated the use actually decreases, particularly in children.

The current attraction to cannabis by youngsters is simply because it is illegal and to do something illegal is fun. I have done it in my early teens, and so have most of my friends.

The extent to which public health considerations should play a leading role in developing drugs policy

Health should be at the heart of drugs policy. In the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 it says that misuse of drugs have sufficient harmful effects to constitute a social problem. Based on this the government is not concerned with the health aspect but it wants to prevent a social problem.

I believe that with regards to cannabis health should be the most important factor and current legislation does not protect health. Street cannabis is often made heavier by the dealers by adding ground glass, and similar things simply to make more profit from the sales. By increasing the weight of an eighth of cannabis with dangerous products they will make more profit.

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is not protecting the health of those that buy cannabis from street dealers. If cannabis were to be legal and fully regulated quality of the product can be assured with no risk to the health of the user.

The relationship between drug and alcohol abuse

Alcohol is also a drug, although most people don’t see it as such. It alters peoples’ perception of reality and makes them do and say things they would normally not do. Alcohol abuse is also the cause of countless disturbances in any town centre on a Friday or Saturday night.

It is also at the centre of the breaking up of families, violence perpetrated by the user, and mindless vandalism.

It is one of the most harmful drugs on the planet and yet it is legally available.

From a harm point of view alcohol and cannabis are at totally opposite ends of the spectrum.

Cannabis use does not create violence, in fact it makes people relaxed and violence is the furthest thing on their mind. They may engage in a wanton massacre of a bag of crisps or a bar of chocolate, but violence towards other people is not even considered.

The comparative harm and cost of legal and illegal drugs

The legal status of drugs is not the problem. It is what people do whilst under the influence of drugs that are illegal or legal under the current law.

It has been scientifically proven that many illegal drugs are less harmful than legally available drugs like alcohol and tobacco.

It makes me wonder why alcohol and tobacco are not covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 as they clearly cause more social problems than illegal drugs like cannabis.

The availability of “legal highs” and the challenges associated with adapting the legal framework to deal with new substances

The availability of so called “legal highs” are in all honesty making a mockery of the current drugs policy. Decisions on banning these “legal highs” is done by knee jerk reactions on the basis of what the tabloid press are publishing about these drugs and are not based on scientific or medical data.

Many of these “legal highs” are manufactured to mimic the effects of illegal drugs. One of these “legal highs” is called Spice and it is supposed to be a synthetic form of cannabis. It is manufactured to avoid the laws against cannabis and has been proven to do more harm than actual cannabis.

The “legal highs” are easily available on the internet and anyone can buy them. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is not protecting these people and due to the hasty reactions of the government it goes underground creating more profit for criminals

The links between drugs, organised crime and terrorism

The illegal cannabis market in the UK is currently estimated at £6billion. This is income the government has handed to the criminals on a plate.

Illegal cannabis factories are producing cannabis of very poor quality, using human trafficked labour from countries like Vietnam, and the profits are invested in other crime and terrorism. All of this is a direct result of the policy the government currently enforces.

Whether the UK is supporting its global partners effectively and what changes may occur with the introduction of the national crime agency

Many countries have already decriminalized cannabis for medicinal use. These include Finland, Israel, Mexico, Holland, Spain, USA (12 states), Luxembourg, and Switzerland. Many of these countries are making their own policies outside the UN Single Convention, policies that are based on scientific facts and not tabloid scare scaremongering. I believe this would give the UK the right to make its own policies with regards to cannabis decriminalization and making medicinal cannabis available as an option to GP’s.

Whether detailed consideration ought to be given to alternative ways of tackling the drugs dilemma, as recommended by the Select Committee in 2002 (The Government’s Drugs Policy: Is It Working?, HC 318, 2001–02) and the Justice Committee’s 2010 Report on justice reinvestment (Cutting crime: the case for justice reinvestment, HC 94, 2009–10)

The current way in which drugs is handled from a legal point of view is seriously flawed. Cannabis should be made legal for medicinal use and small amounts should be allowed for personal use (medicinal or recreational).

People should be legally allowed to grow up to six cannabis plants for their own medicinal/recreational use. This should both be legal when planted outdoors and indoors with use of artificial lighting.

The whole cannabis market should be regulated from the supply to the sale in outlets such as they exist in Amsterdam. Personal growers should get a licence from the Home Office to grow their own plants. Large scale grows that supply the sale outlets should also be licensed so that the whole market is taken out of the hands of criminals.

Doing this will generate tax income and will create thousands of new jobs. This will all help in reducing the deficit the government is currently trying to reduce.

Summary

I believe that the only way forward is to legalise, regulate and tax the cannabis market. Cannabis itself is far less harmful than legally available drugs such as alcohol and tobacco and can bring medical relief to thousands of people.

Get the market out of the hands of criminals and you can control every aspect of this market as well as reaping the financial benefits.

It really is time for a different approach.

January 2012

1 http://clear-uk.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/TaxUKCan.pdf

2 www.nta.nhs.uk/uploads/healthharmsfinal-v1.pdf

3 http://norml.org/component/zoo/category/recent-research-on-medical-marijuanahttp://norml.org/component/zoo/category/recent-research-on-medical-marijuana

Prepared 8th December 2012