Home Affairs Committee - Drugs: Breaking the CycleWritten evidence submitted by Darren Eardley ( DP 055)

I wish to contribute my opinion on the subject of drug law which is of immense significance socially but intend to limit my comments to cannabis. I do not wish to give oral evidence owing to mobility problems and the distance involved.

Is present policy fiscally responsible?

I contend that present policy is responsible for wasting huge amounts of money, time and resources within the justice system both within the police and courts which could be far better used, with very little to show for it. The Independent Drug Monitoring Unit have released a report1 which states in section 10.5 on page 24 that “Overall the net benefit to the taxpayer of a taxed and regulated cannabis market could range from £3.4 billion to £9.5 billion per annum, with a best estimate of £6.7 billion per year at recent market levels.”

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

No. As the dismissal of Professor David Nutt from the ACMD clearly showed, whichever political party is in government continues the status quo. The truth must not interfere with policy it seems. Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

The home office is always keen to endlessly repeat that, while cannabis is illegal because they claim it is a dangerous drug (despite the vast majority of scientific evidence to the contrary), alcohol and tobacco are legal because of “cultural and historical reasons”. Slavery could be justified in the same way.

It seems policy is dictated by the press. Politicians seem to fear the press as they view it as having the ear and pulse of the public. Unfortunately as the ongoing Leveson inquiry is showing, the press generally cannot be trusted to be honest or honourable. I am a supporter of a political party called CLEAR (cannabis law reform). One of their many campaigns relates to the incorrect reporting of cannabis related stories whereby facts have been exaggerated, distorted or plain invented. Publications such as the Daily Mail routinely publish damaging lies which have no basis in science or reality. The Press Complaints Commission has shown itself to be ineffective in its treatment (or lack thereof) of this large number of complaints.

Policy cannot be dictated by science at present as the Department of Health’s own report “A summary of the health harms of drugs2 shows that any dangers involved with cannabis use are very modest in comparison with legally available drugs and over the counter medicines and it is well known that cannabis has never caused a single fatality by overdose. In comparison, section 1.5 on page 15 “Substance related deaths” puts the number of deaths caused by alcohol in 2009 as 14,982, those caused by tobacco as 81,400 and does not mention deaths directly attributable to cannabis. I doubt any could be found.

Policy is not dictated by science as the hemp plant which is not psychoactive at all having a very low THC level, but which is probably the most useful plant in the world with thousands of documented uses and products, is lumped in with the psychoactive cannabis plant and so is illegal to cultivate. This low THC plant shouldn’t even be covered by the MODA. This plant needs to be grown industrially in our country again. From a purely financial perspective, reintroducing the hemp plant to industry would be of immense benefit to this country. Some industries may suffer at the reintroduction of a cheaper, superior alternative fibre but it would be cutting away the dead wood and encouraging new growth. Jobs would be created and the economy would be stimulated.

As far as security and human rights, prohibition has created a £6 billion black market in this country with all of the associated harms such as the trafficking of people to tend cannabis farms, the theft of electricity, and destruction of property. The gangs can then use the revenue generated to expand their criminal activities.

I feel so strongly about this subject as for the last 15 years I have been living with multiple sclerosis, a progressive, degenerative incurable condition. Cannabis has anti-inflammatory effects which help MS as the damage caused by this condition is caused by inflammation in the brain. There is a study called CUPID (Cannabinoid Use in Progressive Inflammatory brain Disease) currently underway to see if cannabis can stop MS from progressing and further disabling the sufferer.3 The study will be complete later this year.

Anyone who has to spend time in a neurological department will know that a lot of patients find cannabis to be very beneficial, with none of the terrible side effects which the prescription meds bring. I am currently on a treatment (Tysabri) which has a risk of 1 in 385 for me personally of developing PML (Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy) a potentially fatal brain infection. Even this drug has passed the safety criteria set by NICE!

The medical benefits of cannabis are irrefutable with hundreds of peer reviewed studies documenting the plants efficacy and safety. It is only within the last 80 or so years that we have forgotten how medically useful this plant is. As is often mentioned, Queen Victoria was given a cannabis tincture by her doctor to treat her menstrual cramps. Since the discovery of the endocannabinoid system in the 1990s within animals, science has awoken to the untapped potential of this plant. These chemicals, cannabinoids, protect our bodies and regulate many essential systems among them respiration, reproduction and the immune system. It would be impossible to survive without these chemicals. Mother’s milk contains cannabinoids which help the unborn child to be strong and healthy. It’s THAT safe and essential.

The terrible and very cruel hypocrisy here is that while cannabis is currently illegal and carries penalties for possession etc, the Government allows GW Pharmaceuticals to grow tonnes of high THC skunk for profit. This is in effect a government protected monopoly, enforced by the police and courts. According to anecdotal evidence, many people I have spoken to do not want GW’s drug Sativex. It is expensive and people seem to prefer the herbal plant itself. It also seems practically impossible to get funding for the prescription of Sativex. So quite often patients are forced to grow the plant for themselves which carries the risk of arrest, job loss or a criminal record, or to buy from the streets where contamination, quality and having to deal with criminals are just a few of the problems.

Here is a link to NORML’s (National Organisation for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws) summary of research on the medical applications of cannabis—http://norml.org/component/zoo/category/recent-research-on-medical-marijuana

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

I’m not sure what criteria the Government uses. Number of people in pain denied effective and safe treatment?

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

I think that the Government IS getting the right advice from many sources. It just does not seem to be listening.

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

According to the IDMU’s report “Taxing the UK cannabis market” £500 million is spent every year on the criminal justice system for cannabis alone of which £200 million is for police costs. If cannabis were regulated police budgets would not be so inflated, and the police could spend their valuable resources stopping violent crime and antisocial behaviour.

The cost effectiveness of different policies to reduce drug usage

A cursory glance at the cost effectiveness and social benefits of drug policies in Portugal is quite sufficient in answer to this question. HIV infection rates in decline, drug use in decline, crime rates in decline. Under the present illegal market in this country it is easier for children to get drugs than alcohol as ID is not needed with dealers. Paradoxically it seems that the more draconian the drug law, the higher the rate of drug use. Look at America.

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

I feel that health consideration should play a major role in the formation of government drugs policy. The Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971 is concerned with the misuse of drugs “having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem”. I feel that the main problem with cannabis is caused by its very illegality. If this plants use and sale were to be regulated and controlled, a lot of the harms that people associate with cannabis would no longer exist. Cannabis is not at present a controlled drug. There is no control, except by criminals.

The relationship between drug and alcohol abuse

Alcohol is a drug, a very addictive and destructive drug which causes massive social harm. Anyone who has had experience of living around an alcoholic will tell you it can ruin lives. The MODA should apply. Alcohol IS a gateway drug. It is far too cheap and the social damage it causes is gigantic.

The comparative harm and cost of legal and illegal drugs

It is the legal drugs alcohol and tobacco which cause by far the most harm to society. Again, the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971 should apply.

The availability of “legal highs”

The drug trade seems to be like the game whack-a-mole. Prohibit one drug and the manufacturers/chemists reconfigure the chemical structure and there you go—a new drug which is outside of the law pops up, on the streets, with unknown effects, dangers and consequences. Prohibition does not work. It does not achieve its desired outcome. It just makes criminals of people who are not criminals. Again, the press have a major share of the blame here. As shown by the mephedrone debacle, public fear can be whipped up easily and the Government feels it needs to be seen to be tough on crime. This is counterproductive.

The links between drugs, organised crime and terrorism

By prohibiting cannabis and drugs in general, governments around the world have abandoned an estimated 450 billion pound industry to criminal gangs. Remember Al Capone? He and his ilk were created by the prohibition of the production and sale of alcohol. Prohibition still doesn’t work.

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

Is the UN single convention working? When other countries develop their own strategy for dealing with drugs, why not Britain?

Whether detailed consideration ought to be given to alternative ways of tackling the drugs dilemma, as recommended by the Select Committee in 2002

Obviously I feel other alternatives should be included in the discussion. Apparently so did you—10 years ago. Will the Government pay any attention this time? Public opinion is shifting and the Government needs to catch up. I feel that control, regulation and honest education should be seriously considered and implemented.

Summary

Policy must be grounded on scientific evidence, drug use should be approached in terms of health, Government policy should take this lucrative market out of the hands of criminals and it should stop making criminals out of honest people. Present policy is fiscally wasteful and causes damage to society. Reindustrialise the low THC hemp plant and remove it from the MODA. Medical cannabis must be implemented and made available for prescription through GP’s as a matter of urgency. The MODA should apply to legal drugs as well as illegal. Alcohol and tobacco are very harmful socially. Alternative ways of dealing with the cannabis market should be considered and implemented. We as a society need control of this matter.

January 2012

1 http://clearuk.org/wpcontent/uploads/2011/09/TaxUKCan.pdf

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

3 http://sites.pcmd.ac.uk/cnrg/cupid.php

Prepared 8th December 2012