Home Affairs Committee - Drugs: Breaking the CycleWritten evidence submitted by Chris Bovey (DP101)

I am writing in response to your call for written evidence for your new inquiry into drugs. I wasn’t going to bother initially, since it seems the Government never listens to a common sense approach when it comes to drugs, but then I decided if we don’t make our voice heard, then there is even less chance of the Government acknowledging their policy is not only disastrous, (which I suspect they already know) but also very unpopular.

Recreational substances have been used throughout the ages; clearly some of these substances have more potential for harm if they are misused than others. In the UK, two of the more dangerous and addictive recreational substances, alcohol and tobacco are legally available for adults to buy through licensed premises that are subject to strict regulations laid down by the government. It is clearly madness that safer substances such as Magic Mushrooms and cannabis, are not permitted by law to be sold via a similar regulatory framework.

I have used these substances occasionally since I have been a young adult. I am not mental, I have a good income, pay tax, have kids, etc, and cause no harm to others. Like most pot smokers, I don’t smoke huge amounts of cannabis. I put it to you the typical pot smoker does not fry his brains every day getting wasted on cannabis, just as most alcohol users don’t get blind drunk each time they have a drink. The mashed up hippy smoking pot is not a typical cannabis user, just as the wino lying in the gutter is not a typical drinker.

In my circle of friends, I should say an awful lot of them use cannabis. They do so, presumably, because they know the Government are not telling the truth when they say it is dangerous and they enjoy the effects. If you allow people to drink alcohol, because they enjoy the effects, then why not let people legally use cannabis, because they enjoy the effects? Aside from being morally wrong in not allowing grown adults to use a plant that is safer than other legal alternatives, it is a complete waste of tax-payers money. According to the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit the Exchequer would save in the region of £6.7 billion if prohibition of cannabis were ended.1

Us grown adults genuinely feel patronised by the Government because of these laws. When we hear politicians talking nonsense about the evils of cannabis, we just laugh at you and think you are a bunch of idiots; why? Because we know it’s not true. For example, we are told cannabis is much stronger now then back in the 80’s when people such as, Jacqui Smith and David Cameron were smoking it; this is simply not true, strong cannabis has been around for years; I certainly remember smoking some very strong White Widow that came in from Brixham when I was a naughty teenager and very nice it was too! Moreover, if cannabis sends you mad, although the most comprehensive study from Keele University2 said it does not, then where are all the mad people? How come cannabis use has gone up, yet levels of psychosis remain stable? I know enough people who smoke cannabis regularly to know it certainly doesn’t cause psychosis; I accept people already with underlying issues should not smoke cannabis, but then again, neither should they drink alcohol.

As a regular visitor to The Netherlands, where cannabis has been since the 1970s sold through licensed coffee shops, I can tell you The Netherlands is a very nice country, with great infrastructure and very good levels of government services, which I’m sure any Committee Members who have been to The Netherlands, would agree. If Holland manages to run (some would say better than the UK), even though, shock, horror, they let people buy dope through a taxed and regulated market, then I don’t see why the UK should suddenly come to a standstill if we were allowed to do the same. In fact, interestingly enough, The Netherlands has lower usage of cannabis than in the UK.3

More importantly, usage of cannabis in NL is lower than in UK amongst minors, precisely because there is a strict policy in The Netherlands that the coffee shops are not allowed to sell to under 18s and they face strict sanctions if they are ever caught doing so (ie, they get closed down if they do it twice). The penalties are so severe that no Dutch coffee shop will sell cannabis to minors, as it is just not worth their livelihood, in fact, I noticed a number of coffee shops in Amsterdam have someone on the door that ID every person that comes in, even if you are nearly 40 like me.

Cannabis policy is becoming increasingly liberal in many other countries such as Spain, where marijuana-growing co-operatives are allowed, or Portugal, where possession is decriminalised or Belgium where one plant and small amounts is permitted. Switzerland and Czech Republic are also very liberal on cannabis; Switzerland is about to change the law to allow up to four cannabis plants per citizen. All these countries mange to function perfectly normally, the main difference I’d imagine is they save a fortune in policing daft laws prohibiting cannabis and freeing up their police services to get on with the job of actually investigating more serious crimes.

The UK’s laws on cannabis are an absolute joke. There are millions of cannabis users in the UK who simply ignore them anyway and there are huge criminal gangs making billions in tax-free profit to fill in the supply and meet the demand. Some of these gangs are also involved in far less unsavory activities such as human trafficking and harder drugs. Many of these gangs are using illegal immigrants from countries like Vietnam, who if they get caught, the tax-payer will spend hundreds of thousands of pounds in prosecuting, imprisoning and finally deporting them. Of course, the people at the top are seldom caught and those at the bottom are often as much victims of this ridiculous war on some drugs that will never ever be won. I’d rather you spent the money I pay in tax on hospitals than jailing cannabis growers. I’d also rather legally buy taxed and regulated cannabis from legitimates sources, as one can in The Netherlands, than buy it from the criminal black market.

Finally, and I feel most importantly, there are also the medicinal qualities of this wonderful plant. Although, I’m not a medicinal user myself, I do know people with conditions such as MS or Crohn’s disease that are unable to function without cannabis. It is vital these cruel laws are changed so people in pain can have access to the only medicine they know that can alleviate their suffering. I implore you not to listen to the nonsense and lies peddled by the prohibitionists like Peter Hitchens and the Daily Mail. Listen to the Government’s own drugs adviser, Prof Les Iversen, who is on the record as saying cannabis is “one of the safer recreational substances” and more importantly, listen to the millions of voting cannabis users out there, who would just like to be able to buy small amounts or grow a few plants without fear of arrest and prosecution. Start treating the electorate as adults, save billions of pounds and who knows, you might even find a huge swathe of the population showing you some respect for once. Tax and regulate is the only sensible way forward.

I thank you in advance for taking the time to read this and look forward to hearing the Home Office Select committee has urged the Government to take a more sensible approach on drugs.

January 2012

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

2 http://www.ukcia.org/research/keele_study/Assessing-the-impact-of-cannabis.pdf

3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annual_cannabis_use_by_country (referenced to the United Nation World Drug Report at the bottom).

Prepared 8th December 2012