Home Affairs Committee - Drugs: Breaking the CycleWritten evidence submitted by Michael Drury (DP050)

1. Introduction

I’m Michael, a student living in Nottingham. I would like to contribute my personal views on the current state of the classification of cannabis. I use cannabis both recreationally and medicinally. I suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Recurrent depressive disorder. Using Cannabis has vastly improved my quality of life since I discovered it and its medicinal properties over two years ago. It helps me relax and manage my depression and also helps with stomach pains, eating habits and nausea. Currently, under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001, cannabis is labelled as a schedule 1 drug that has no medicinal properties, when there is clearly scientific evidence to prove otherwise. The current drugs policy is failing and we need to look at alternative ways of handling drug policy.

2. Is present policy fiscally responsible?

The current policy is doing nothing more than moving a taxable revenue into the hands of criminals and street gangs. It is costing millions of pounds to fund the current policy. The Independent Drug Monitoring Unit (IMDU) report on taxing the cannabis market.1 Estimates a market value between £2.9 and £8.6 billion per annum. This money should be paying for things such as education and national health. An approach similar to the regulation of tobacco and alcohol is the most logical way of reducing crime and helping reduce the budget deficit.

3. Is policy grounded in science, health, security and human rights?

There is now overwhelming scientific evidence that cannabis has many medicinal properties and is one of the safest recreational drug, compared to drugs such as alcohol, tobacco and many over the counter medicines (as shown in the summary of the health harms of drugs).2 It then begs the question, why are all these drugs which are relatively more harmful than cannabis legal, yet cannabis remains illegal. This I believe, is a blatant breach of human rights when we are fed propaganda from our own government, brainwashing people into believing that cannabis is a very harmful drug, with no hard scientific evidence to back it up. It is criminalising innocent people, forcing them to buy from drug dealers, which I believe is the biggest harm of cannabis. Not only does it put money into the hands of organised criminals, it forces anyone that wishes to use cannabis to have to meet these people. They have to trust that the drug dealer has checked the cannabis for things such as mould and spider mites (two things that are very dangerous to inhale). This also leads to things such as dealers crushing glass onto the drug to make it appear more potent and also, some drug dealers won’t even think twice about selling drugs to minors. All these issues are solved by tax and regulation.

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

I believe the current drug policy is fuelled only by social stigma and ignorance. The evidence is clear that decriminalisation is much more effective than prohibition. We have seen it in the past with alcohol and we can see it working in many countries such as the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic many other countries. The evidence is right in front of us and we need to act on it.

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

The ACMD has produced many scientific reports on the harms of cannabis, but the government just doesn’t seem to want to listen.

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

Going back to my second paragraph and the report from the IDMU, millions of pounds are going to waste trying to criminalise innocent, tax-paying people. £500 million is spent every year on the criminal justice system for cannabis alone. £200 million of that is for police costs. This £500 million could be spent, as I said before, on improving our education and National Health Service.

7. The cost effectiveness of different policies to reduce drug usage

We can so that in many countries where cannabis has been regulated or decriminalised, consumption actually decreases. As with the regulation of tobacco and alcohol, giving the government control of who can sell cannabis, where they can sell and most importantly, who they can sell to as opposed to our current policy which allows even minors to buy drugs.

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

I believe that public health should be taken into consideration when drugs policies are concerned, as long as they do not breach basic human rights. A warning label, similar to the ones introduced to tobacco products should suffice. Drugs should be classified by a combination of physical harm, addiction potential and social harms such as cost to healthcare and disorderly behaviour such as the paper written by David Nutt.3 A scientific approach should be the way we classify drugs.

9. The relationship between drug and alcohol abuse

Many people that use drugs have drank alcohol at some point. Despite alcohol being the most addictive, harmful and dangerous drug, people often mix it with other drugs, most of the time not realising the harm they are doing to themselves. A clear message should be issued from the government, explaining the damaging effects of alcohol and mixing alcohol with other drugs. With the current drug policy, this isn’t possible as the government won’t even tell us the real truth about what drugs are more harmful than others.

10. The comparative harm and cost of legal and illegal drugs

The very fact that alcohol, possibly the most damaging drug is legal and cannabis, one of the safest drugs is illegal, really shows that the government is putting out the wrong message about the wrong drugs. Even over the counter medicines have a lethal dose and yet cannabis has none. It is impossible to overdose on cannabis. Nobody has ever died directly from cannabis use, yet alcohol is responsible for over 4,000 deaths per annum. Tobacco is responsible for a shocking 120,000 deaths per annum. What if these 124,000 people were using cannabis instead of alcohol or tobacco? The NHS estimated that around tobacco users cost the NHS £2.7 billion per annum. Alcohol is costing £3 billion per annum. These numbers are shocking and it baffles me as to why these very harmful and very costly drugs are legal, and yet cannabis is illegal. The only cost of cannabis for the government is keeping it illegal, which as I noted before is over £500 million per annum.

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

Legal highs are starting to become more of an issue than the drugs they are supposed to imitate. Mephedrone for example became almost as popular as cocaine and users were not aware of the risks. Drugs like this show how our current drug policy is failing. People are resorting to synthetic drugs just because they are legal, but they could possibly be a lot more harmful. I don’t believe the new approach to legal highs will be effective. As fast as the government bans these drugs, new ones will take their place. It will be a never ending cycle in an attempt to bypass a system that is clearly failing. The government won’t accept that people are going to use illicit drugs. There is no way of stopping this, so they should be focusing on reducing the risks and harms. Drugs should be regulated and sold with warnings of the risks clearly stated on the packaging. It is more important for drug users to know exactly what they are taking and exactly what effects it will have, rather than turning to legal highs.

12. The links between drugs, organised crime and terrorism

Prohibition allows criminals to sell illegal drugs on the black market with no regulation or limits to who they can sell to. Prohibition creates criminals, as we can see from history and the prohibition of alcohol in the United States during the 1930s. The prohibition allows for a black market and the cannabis market is worth between £2.9 and £8.6 billion per annum. This money is allowed to be passed into the hands of criminals rather than the government.

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

With many countries in the EU and 16 US states moving towards decriminalisation, I feel we are far behind in terms of effective drug policy. With the introduction of the national crime agency, hopefully they will realise that drug prohibition is fuelling organised crime.

14. 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)

There is substantial evidence that the current drugs policy simply is not effective in any way. It fuels organised crime, costs the government hundreds of millions each year and criminalises innocent people. Tax and regulation are the logical steps towards freeing up valuable government resources, reducing the harm from the use of drugs and shutting down organised crime. I urge detailed consideration must be given to this issue.

15. Summary

In conclusion, I believe that tax and regulation will lead to a brighter future for our drugs policy and national health. Reclassifying cannabis as a drug with recognised medicinal properties based on scientific evidence is important; this will lead to patients the medicine they need. Tax and regulation moves a £6 billion market out of the hands of criminals and puts it into the government funds, which can help reduce the budget deficit, help improve education and public services while also freeing up the millions of pounds it is currently costing the government to enforce this failing policy. Cannabis that is purchased from authorised vendors rather than drug dealers is will also reduce harm and risk of bad cannabis that is contaminated with things such as crushed glass, dust mites and mould. I hope the government can come to its senses and cleans up its current drugs policy.

January 2012

1 www.idmu.co.uk/taxukcan.htm

2 www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_129624)

3 www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2807%2960464-4/fulltext

Prepared 8th December 2012