Home Affairs Committee - Drugs: Breaking the CycleWritten evidence submitted by Peter Reynolds (DP110)

1. I am Peter Reynolds, a writer and communications advisor, aged 54 and presently resident near Weymouth in Dorset. I was elected leader of the registered UK political party Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR) in February 2011.1

2. I first submitted a paper on cannabis policy to the Home Affairs select committee in 1983.2 All the arguments I presented then remain valid. Since then, the discovery of the endocannabinoid system and thousands more scientific studies have proven the safety and medicinal efficacy of the plant.3

3. My submission to the inquiry seeks to address drugs policy in relation only to cannabis. However, I wish to make one crucial point about drug policy in general. That is that the more harmful, addictive and dangerous a drug is, the more important it is that its availability is carefully regulated by government. Prohibition is a fundamentally immoral policy that creates far more harm both to individuals and society than it prevents. Anyone who is dependent on any drug should be able to obtain safe, clean maintenance doses of that drug in order to prevent harmful withdrawal symptoms and the necessity to indulge in crime or participate in criminal markets. Clearly in the case of drugs such as heroin this would require medical supervision combined with appropriate healthcare interventions.

4. Cannabis is a drug different from any other because of its unique characteristics.

(i)It is substantially less harmful than almost every other drug and even many common foodstuffs as clearly evidenced by the latest NHS information: “A summary of the health harms of drugs”.4 Judge Francis Young of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) describes it as “less toxic than raw potatoes”.5

(ii)It provides remarkable therapeutic benefits, incomparable to any other drug. With the discovery of the endocannabinoid system, science now proves that cannabis is as close to a panacea as any other substance used for medicinal purposes.

5. My response to the call for evidence is structured around the headings used in the terms of reference.

6. Is present policy fiscally responsible?

(i)Present cannabis policy is probably the most fiscally irresponsible policy of all. The very latest, authoritative data on the subject was published by the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit (IDMU) in September 2011 “Taxing the UK Cannabis Market”.6 It shows that present policy gifts a £6 billion market to organised crime and spends £500 million per annum criminalising millions of British citizens to no good effect. It also presents a fully costed and detailed proposal for a tax and regulate policy that would produce a net gain to the UK exchequer of up to £9.5 billion per annum.

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

(i)Present policy on cannabis has nothing to do with any of these considerations. In recent years both the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office have criticised drugs policy in general as being based on ministers’ opinions rather than evidence.

(ii)Julian Critchley, formerly director of of the Cabinet Office UK Anti-Drug Coordination Unit, said in August 2008:

“I think what was truly depressing about my time in UKADCU was that the overwhelming majority of professionals I met, including those from the police, the health service, the government and voluntary sectors held the same view: the illegality of drugs causes far more problems for society and the individual than it solves. Yet publicly, all those intelligent, knowledgeable people were forced to repeat the nonsensical mantra that the government would be ‘tough on drugs’, even though they all knew the government’s policy was actually causing harm.”

8. In fact, government policy on cannabis seems to be principally influenced by three factors:

(i)Fear of the Daily Mail which has conducted a systematic and mendacious campaign against cannabis and cannabis users for more than 10 years. This has included regular and deliberate falsification of scientific research and evidence. A full list of its anti-cannabis propaganda is attached.7 So endemic has this become in Britain that it is commonplace for politicians, other newspapers, police officers and members of the judiciary to repeat Daily Mail scare stories as if they were fact.

(ii)The alcohol industry, whose products are permitted, against all rational, moral and legal considerations, to stand outside the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (MoDA), is understandably concerned about a far safer recreational substance reducing its market share. As it continues to manipulate market forces to create addicts, promote and adjust the palatability of its products to children, there can be no doubt that it has had an improper influence over ministers and cannabis policy.

(iii)GW Pharmaceuticals has been granted an unlawful monopoly of medicinal cannabis. It is engaged in a corrupt and dishonest conspiracy with the Home Office. While the Home Office endlessly repeats that there is “no medicinal value” in cannabis, GW has been licensed to grow up to 20 tonnes per annum to produce its cannabis medicine Sativex. The Home Office refuses even to consider licence applications for similar purposes from anyone else and refuses all FOI requests concerning details of its relationship with GW.

(a) Sativex is cannabis with a little ethanol, peppermint oil and propylene glycol added. It is a tincture of super strong, super concentrated 51% THC cannabis. The ACMD has advised the Home Secretary that it should be placed in schedule four of the MoDA. However this has not been done because the Home Office is seeking falsely to distinguish it from cannabis. It is pharmacologically identical to the herbal cannabis from which it is made.

9. Science now proves beyond any reasonable doubt that cannabis is a safe recreational drug and an extremely safe and effective medicine. See the paper: “Emerging Clinical Applications For Cannabis & Cannabinoids”.8

(i)GW Pharmaceuticals released results of recent phase III trials on Sativex stating: “…clinical experience to date has demonstrated that the tolerability profile of this medicine is favourable, with limited relevant adverse effects and—particularly reassuring—the drug does not appear to lead to withdrawal effects if patients suddenly stop using it.”9

10. Health considerations are not at the root of UK drugs policy. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 says that it’s about the “misuse” of drugs “having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem”. Home Office propaganda seeks to present policy as being focused on health but this is a deception. Its real concerns are as set out above.

11. Comparatively, there are few significant health concerns about the use of cannabis by adults. However, there are massive health benefits to be gained from the use of cannabis as medicine. That the Home Office suppresses, misinforms and deceives about the truth concerning medicinal cannabis is a scandal of the very highest order.

12. The most popular Daily Mail scare story about cannabis is that it can cause psychosis. In fact, all expert opinion agrees that there is no certainty of a causal link at all. A 2009 study which looked at all published research on the subject (by definition, not cherry picked) showed that the risk of a single diagnosis of psychosis against lifetime use was at worst 0.013% and probably less than 0.003%.10

(i)Similarly, studies across the world have shown that despite massive increases in cannabis use since the 1960s, the rate and prevalence of schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis are either stable or declining.11

13. There is now a huge body of peer reviewed, scientific research showing the efficacy of cannabis as medicine in a wide range of conditions. It is worth mentioning that Professor Les Iversen, the government’s chief drugs advisor, is an enthusiastic advocate for cannabis as medicine.12

14. As far as security is concerned, the prohibition of cannabis is a disaster. It diverts law enforcement resources. It funds organised crime and terrorism. It has a produced an explosion in illegal cannabis farms, the theft of electricity, the destruction of rental properties and the human trafficking of “gardeners”. It brings the law into disrepute because most people know that it is a false and ridiculous law.

15. For human rights, the prohibition of cannabis is a disaster and an affront to natural justice. That, with no basis in science, millions of people can be criminalised by arbitrary ministerial decisions is more reminiscent of a soviet state than a free society. In what is a shameful indictment of our society and our judicial system, paedophilia and violent assault are regularly treated far more leniently than is someone growing a few cannabis plants for his own use. Similarly, the criminal justice system regularly treats human trafficked “gardeners” as serious criminals without regard to the far more serious crime that they are the victims of.

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

17. In more than 30 year’s participation in the debate on cannabis policy, I have no idea what criteria, if any, the government uses to measure the efficacy of its policies. In fact all the evidence of answers to parliamentary questions is that it doesn’t make any attempt to do so. All that seems to matter is minsters’ opinions influenced by the three improper considerations set out above.

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

19. The government has the very finest quality expert advice available to it on the ACMD but it picks and chooses when to take the advice and if it doesn’t like it, it sacks the experts. It is also evident that ministers are increasingly seeking to populate the ACMD with individuals who are not experts at all but merely puppets for their own opinions.

20. The fundamental principle of the MoDA was that the contentious issue of assessing drug harms should be removed from politicians and given to experts—in exactly the same way the the Bank of England now decides interest rates and the Office of Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) makes other economic determinations. The reality is that ministers have ridden roughshod over the will of parliament as expressed in the MoDA and their influence on drugs policy is dishonest, improper and corrupt.

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

Criminal justice system expenditure on cannabis alone is approximately £500 million per annum.6 This is a disgraceful and futile waste of money. Any responsible Chief Constable and/or elected police commissioner should immediately reduce expenditure on matters related to cannabis to the lowest possible priority.

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

23. Whether it is any business of government to “reduce drug usage” by adults, except as part of a health education programme, is open to debate.

24. It is quite clear that British policy does not reduce cannabis use. Britain has the lowest age at first use of any country in Europe and the highest rate of use by children.13

25. Alternatively, in places where a regulated system of supply exists: Holland, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Portugal, 16 US states and Israel, it is clear that cannabis use is lower amongst children and all health and social harms are reduced.

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

27. Most British people believe that public health considerations should be the most important factor in drugs policy, as do I. The truth, however, is that cannabis policy is actually determined by fear of the Daily Mail, the influence of the alcohol lobby and GW Pharmaceuticals as explained above. The Home Office is engaged in a misinformation campaign to suggest otherwise.

28. As stated by the ACMD in its 2008 report “Cannabis: Classification and Public Health”:

(i)“…strategies designed to minimise its use and adverse effects must be predominantly public health ones. Criminal justice measures….will have only a limited effect on usage”14

29. The relationship between drug and alcohol abuse

30. Alcohol is a drug, probably the most harmful, dangerous and addictive drug that there is, even more so than heroin (maintenance of a heroin habit does not in itself cause physical harm unlike alcohol).

31. It is high time that this false distinction was understood. This very poor choice of language is a sad reflection on the drafting of the call for evidence.

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

33. Whether a drug is “legal “ or “illegal” is an entirely false concept and use of language. It is people’s actions with drugs that are made legal or illegal under law. Most “illegal” drugs are in fact much less harmful than the “legal” drugs alcohol and tobacco.

34. There can be no integrity or honesty in British drugs policy until the unlawful exclusion of alcohol and tobacco from the MoDA is corrected.

35. The links between drugs, organised crime and terrorism

36. The cannabis market in Britain is worth at least £6 billion, which the government has abandoned to organised crime.15 Illegal cannabis farms produce poor quality, immature cannabis, often with human trafficked labour and provide funding for other crime and terrorism—all a direct result of current policy.

January 2012

1 Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR): www.clear-uk.org

2 An Unaffordable Prejudice. A submission to the Home Affairs select committee. P J Reynolds, 1983.

3 Endocannabinoid system. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endocannabinoid_system

4 A summary of the health harms of drugs. NHS, 2011. www.nta.nhs.uk/uploads/healthharmsfinal-v1.pdf

5 Findings of Fact, Francis L. Young, DEA, 1988. www.ccguide.org/young88.php

6 Taxing the UK Cannabis Market, M.J. Atha, S.Davies, IDMU, 2011.

7 The Daily Mail Reefer Madness Archive, D.Williams,CLEAR, 2011.

8 Emerging Clinical Applications For Cannabis & Cannabinoids. A Review of the Recent Scientific Literature 2000–11, NORML, 2011.

9 Phase III data on efficacy and tolerability of Sativex. GW Pharma, 2011.

10 If cannabis caused schizophrenia-how many cannabis users may need to be prevented in order to prevent one case of schizophrenia? Hickman et al. 2009. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2009.02736.x

11 Assessing the impact of cannabis use on trends in diagnosed schizophrenia in the United Kingdom from 1996 to 2005. Frisher et al, Keele, 2009. www.ukcia.org/research/keele_study/Assessing-the-impact-of-cannabis.pdf

12 Bringing cannabis back into the medicine cabinet, Prof. Les Iversen, 2010.

13 European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. www.emcdda.europa.eu/

14 Cannabis: Classification and Public Health, ACMD, 2008.

15 Taxing the UK Cannabis Market, M.J. Atha, S.Davies, IDMU, 2011.

Prepared 8th December 2012