Home Affairs Committee - Drugs: Breaking the CycleWritten evidence submitted by Stephen Simpson (DP033)

I am Stephen Simpson. I am 45 years old and until being made redundant recently, as a result of cuts in the Public Sector, I have enjoyed a very successful career as a Lecturer in Further Education having been graded as “outstanding” for the latter half of my career. I feel I must exemplify, with my experiences and recently found knowledge, not only the inefficacy of the current UK drugs policy but moreover, the damage it causes.


Policing cannabis use is expensive, dumb and futile.

Prohibition hands over the control of cannabis to the black market and fuels organised crime.

Creating a regulated and taxed cannabis market would create income for UK economy

Cannabis has many, many medicinal benefits that every human should have the right to.

It is the prohibition of cannabis that causes a social problem and therefore should be removed from the Misuse of Drugs Act (MoDA) schedule.

Decriminalisation would allow true, unbiased information to be to be given and users who encounter health problems to seek help without fear of the law.

It is immoral that one is encouraged by advertising, to consume alcohol which is known to be at least twice as harmful as cannabis and yet be prosecuted for possessing cannabis.

Prohibition of Cannabis cause more harm to the convicted individual than using the drug would.

I recommend adopting those policies of our EU partners such as Portugal, Spain, Holland—they work, ours don’t.

1. The incarceration of a person in UK prisons has a cost in excess of £40k per annum; our prisons are currently over populated instigating the creation of new prisons with each new prison place costing £119k. There are thousands of Vietnamese “gardeners” in our prisons, most of whom have been duped by organised criminal gangs into believing they were coming to the UK for a better life and instead have been held against their will and forced to look after crops of cannabis. Based on the presumption that 4% of police caseload relates to cannabis offences, and an annual police budget of £4.8 billion (2010–11), the cost of policing cannabis is in the region of £200 million. Ending prohibition of cannabis and creating a regulated taxed market would remove the supply from criminals and inject an estimated £7+ billion into the UK economy from tax alone (“Taxing the UK Cannabis Market.” Independent Drug Monitoring Unit; August 2011). It would remove the smuggling of humans for this purpose and rid the recent spurge of electricity theft and damage to property caused by criminal cultivation. It would allow a regulated quality controlled supply without contaminants and unknown risks. It would create many new jobs in many different sectors. It would allow money to be injected into reducing harm and giving people true hard facts and unbiased information instead of scaremongering and lies which will undoubtedly lead to only one thing—no confidence in the government, as if there wasn’t little enough already. More and more people are using cannabis every day because more people are realising the truth, both first hand and anecdotally.

2. For many years we have been told of the harmful effects of cannabis and how dangerous it can be. I, like many, simply believed these warnings from the government and the media, yet now we discover that all these warnings such as “cannabis caused schizophrenia” are simply not true. The fact that there is a link between cannabis use and psychosis is correlative not causative in that psychiatric patients are far more likely to use it. It is indeed the case that some “psychiatric patients are using cannabis to self-medicate eg people with schizophrenia, or its symptoms, may use cannabis to cope with the negative symptoms associated with schizophrenia, or to suppress the side-effects of antipsychotic medication.” (“A Summary of the Health Harms of Drugs”. Dept for Health, Augyst 2011). There are now over 100 peer reviewed studies which demonstrate the effectiveness of cannabis as a medicine for many ailments eg Alzheimer’s Disease, Chronic Pain, Cancer, HIV, Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis to name but a few (Emerging Clinical Applications For Cannabis & Cannabinoids. A Review of the Recent Scientific Literature, 2000–2011; NORML.org; 2011). Surely it is against human rights that we are denied what is in many experts opinion, the closest substance we have to a panacea. It is in fact true that some over-the-counter (OTC) and Prescription Only Medicines (POMs) are far more dangerous to health than smoking cannabis but they don’t come under the MoDA.

3. I find it morally inexplicable that I am able to go to a Pharmacy and buy Paracetamol which is potentially lethal yet I am forbidden from possessing Cannabis which I know will not harm me, regardless of how much I take. I am utterly disgusted at the fact that my GP will gladly prescribe Opiates for my back pain, which are well known for their side effects, but I am not allowed to use cannabis which is far more effective in pain relief and production costs are a fraction of that of the POMs. “A direct comparison of alcohol and cannabis showed that alcohol was considered to be more than twice as harmful as cannabis to (individual) users, and five times more harmful as cannabis to society” (Study: Alcohol Is “More Than Twice As Harmful As Cannabis” NORML.org; 2011) I find it morally inconceivable that I am able to buy and consume as much alcohol as I wish, as often as I like, without question, when it is a well known fact that it is very dangerous and can lead to many serious health problems. What is even more reprehensible is that we are encouraged to do so with clever advertising and marketing techniques.

4. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 states that “it is the duty of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to inform and advise ministers in question on measures to be taken, whether that means changes to the law or not”. This is not what is happening in reality. In 2003, Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) chair, Les Iverson states “The main problem is that cannabis has been classified incorrectly for nearly 50 years as being an extremely dangerous drug, but it doesn’t fit that level of hazard.” In 2009, ACMD’s chief, Prof David Nutt was dismissed from duty after doing his job and advising the re-classification of cannabis. It appears that the Home Office is acting contrary to the MoDA. Is there any point having these advisors for MoDA if they are not going to be heeded? This action will only have the effect of encouraging future advisors, employed by the Home Office, to ignore their true findings and tell ministers what they want to hear for fear of dismissal. A true independent advisory committee is essential.

5. The MoDA 1971 is concerned with the “misuse” of drugs “having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem” the only social problem surrounding cannabis is the unjust law which makes it criminal. Millions of people use cannabis every day without causing any social problem nor harm to themselves or others. Cannabis has a very low addiction rate, it is said that 9% of users become addicted however, these people are already pre-disposed to this form of addiction and would have inevitably become addicted to something whether cannabis or alcohol or whatever, coffee is far more addictive—cannabis is extremely difficult to “misuse” and should therefore be removed from the MoDA Schedule.

6. It is blatantly obvious, even to us mere mortals, that prohibition does not work. You only have to look at the statistics to see that since the reclassification of Cannabis from Class C to a Class B that its use has indeed increased. The cost of prohibition is dumb, it doesn’t work and very often the penalty for the crime causes far more harm to the convicted than using the drug will. We should also be looking at our European Union partners as examples of good policy and practice. Ten years ago the Portuguese Government responded to widespread public concern over its serious drug problem by rejecting a “war on drugs” approach and instead decriminalised drug possession and use. It further rebuffed convention by placing the responsibility for decreasing drug demand as well as managing dependency under the Ministry of Health rather than the Ministry of Justice. With this, the official response towards drug-dependent persons shifted from viewing them as criminals to treating them as patients. It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the problem far better than virtually every other Western country does.

7. My Story

(a)As a child I was extremely active and adventurous, partaking in many sports such as rock climbing and canoeing until injuring my back in an accident as a teenager. Since then I have been plagued with back pain which gradually worsened with age, often unbearable and regularly resulting in time off work. Over the years I have taken many different POM and OTC medicines, some of which do indeed provide some relief. However, I soon learned that those which provided the greatest relief came with the greatest price in terms of side effects. On one occasion I had to be prescribed medicine for the gastrointestinal problems caused by the anti-inflammatory drug, Diclofenac.

(b)I discovered the effectiveness of Cannabis whilst on a trip to Amsterdam in 2008, I had pulled my back whilst lifting luggage and was later recommended to try it for pain relief. To my amasement, it actually worked. I have used cannabis ever since and as a result I have been able to take up weight training and scuba diving, something I once could only dream of. It is without doubt that cannabis changed my life and as a result I will continue to use it indefinitely.

(c)During the following years I purchased cannabis on a regular basis from both people I knew and many that I had never met before or have since. Each time the quality and weight was likely to be different, often it comes still wet as dealers make more money that way. Even more commonplace is bud that has been harvested too early which inhibits the production of the anti-psychotic component, cannabidiol (CBD), the effects of which are self explanatory. I also learned that some growers, during the flowering phase, sprinkle broken glass or particles of fibreglass onto the crop which becomes encapsulated within the flower as it grows thus adding a significant amount of weight without detection from most users. With all this in mind I decided to grow my own crop to avoid contact with dodgy street dealers and to ensure I had continuous access to an affordable, non-contaminated, organic supply of medicine. In 2010 I was convicted of production and possession of Cannabis and now have a criminal record. Despite this my employer decided that due to my excellent work record to continue to employ me and issued me with a warning. One year later, following the cuts in funding and an organisational restructure, my whole department was made redundant. Now, due to my convictions, I find it impossible to gain employment in Education and Training—the UKs policy on drugs has destroyed my career, my pension, my future and is denying the education system an excellent teacher. Admittedly, I knew it was illegal and knew the consequences if caught, however I, like millions of other users know first-hand the benefits of cannabis and for this reason will continue to use it indefinitely, despite the law—not even a prison sentence will stop me using it.

January 2012

Prepared 8th December 2012