Home Affairs Committee - Drugs: Breaking the CycleSupplementary written evidence submitted by Peter Reynolds (CLEAR) (DP110a)

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 submitted written evidence to the inquiry on 10 January 2012.2 Since then I have written to the committee on three occasions raising various points of concern as a result of which the clerk to the committee invited me to prepare this further submission.

3. I have conducted an analysis of the written evidence submitted to the inquiry. Of 171 submissions, 137 or 80% are in favour of reform/opposed to prohibition; 34 or 20% are in favour of the status quo/prohibition. I trust that this very substantial majority, though clearly a simplification of a complex issue, will weigh very heavily when you come to form your recommendations.

4. Clearly, those who have submitted evidence to the inquiry are self-selected but this should not mean dismissal of the weight of their evidence. On the contrary, this is fundamental to the British democratic process. Whatever the turnout in elections, it is the majority that prevails and while responsible government must give consideration to those who have not expressed an opinion, the views of those who have bothered to advance their case must outweigh those who have not.

5. I very much hope you will call me to give evidence to the committee. I have been working on evidence-based cannabis policy for more than 30 years and although I cannot claim any scientific or medical qualification, my experience and knowledge is, I believe, as wide and as in-depth as any other witness you could call.

6. I am the elected leader of what is now the largest membership-based drug reform group that has ever existed in Britain. CLEAR currently has more than 10,000 registered supporters and our website receives nearly 90,000 page views every month. Of the written evidence submitted to the inquiry, 49 submissions, 29% of the total, cite CLEAR evidence, which is a convincing testimony to the work my party has done in the past year.

7. Cannabis is the most widely used prohibited substance in Britain. According to the most up to date research, 30% of all adults use cannabis in their lifetime, more than three million people use cannabis at least once per month and we currently consume more than three tonnes of cannabis every day.3

8. 99% of all cannabis users do so without suffering any ill effects or causing any harm to society, yet the UK government spends more than £500 million per annum on the criminal justice system for cannabis alone and ignores the £6—£9 billion net gain for the exchequer that a tax and regulate policy would provide.3

10. Much of the oral evidence so far heard by the committee on cannabis has been inaccurate and misleading. A false and incomplete picture has been painted. If the committee wants to hear the full story about cannabis in Britain, it should call me to give evidence.

11. The most glaring omission from the oral evidence to date has been about the medicinal use of cannabis. Modern science now provides conclusive proof of the efficacy of cannabis as medicine in a wide range of conditions.4 British policy is in an hypocritical lock between an unscientific and absurd denial of the medicinal value of cannabis and an almost certainly unlawful monopoly of cannabis as medicine granted to GW Pharmaceuticals. The new sentencing guidelines5 and a recent Appeal Court decision6 recognise the medicinal value of cannabis and make a nonsense of the official Home Office policy.

12. The committee invited Mary Brett, Kathy Gyngell and Peter Hitchens to give evidence en bloc. This is akin to inviting the BNP and the EDL alone to give evidence on immigration. These three individuals are advocates for the most extreme prohibitionist views. To balance this, the committee must invite equivalent oral evidence from the opposing point of view.

13. In her oral evidence, Ms Gyngell said “skunk causes psychosis”. This is the most blatant misinformation which the prohibitionist lobby repeats on a regular basis in the full knowledge that it is not supported by the scientific evidence which universally recognises that no causal link can be proven between cannabis use and psychosis. Furthermore, despite massive increases in cannabis use since the 1960s, the rate and prevalence of psychosis is stable or declining.7

14. Mr Vaz said in advance of the first oral evidence session that “We hope this will the start of a balanced, well-reasoned inquiry” and later that “Hearing from those personally affected by drugs use is essential to our inquiry”. Where then is the evidence from the millions of British citizens who use cannabis non-problematically, particularly the hundreds of thousands who use it as medicine? Professor Les Iversen, chair of the ACMD, is a passionate advocate for cannabis as medicine. When is evidence on this important subject to be heard?

15. I am concerned that the inquiry may appear to be extremely biased in its selection of witnesses which, together with a sprinkling of celebrities, suggests it is designed to placate public opinion, rather than to be a serious examination of the issues.

16. I am concerned at the oral evidence given to the committee by Professor Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of GPs, particularly her assertions that cannabis causes oesophageal and lung cancer I have written to Professor Gerada, asking her for evidence to support her claims and providing her with evidence that contradicts what she said.8 She has not replied despite reminders.

17. I am also concerned at recent public statements by the Royal College of Psychiatrists which takes a campaigning position against cannabis without regard to the evidence. Dr Owen Bowden-Jones recently announced that “cannabis is a dangerous drug and can cause severe psychological problems”, a statement which is simply not supported by the evidence. Professor Sir Robin Murray is notorious for continuing to advance his COMT gene theory despite it being disproved by other scientists on several occasions.9 This absolutist position is unscientific and does not represent a consensus. For instance, Dr Trevor Turner, former vice president of the college is on the record saying “I don’t think it causes mental illness. I have never seen a case of so-called cannabis psychosis.”

18. The recent British Lung Foundation report “The impact of cannabis on your lungs” is an example of how prohibitionist propaganda is dressed up in scientific disguise.10 Its headline claim, that cannabis is 20 times more likely to cause cancer than tobacco, is based on one tiny study of fewer than 80 patients11 and was roundly condemned as inaccurate in the European Respiratory Journal six months after it was published.12 Much larger, more rigorous studies have reached exactly the opposite conclusion 13, 14, 15 yet this apparently reputable and responsible charity is prepared to distort evidence and use it as propaganda in the most shameless fashion. The report has been widely traduced by experts, including Professor David Nutt, but the scaremongering headline claim was widely publicised and contributes to the vast amount of misinformation about cannabis in the media.

19. The danger with opinions expressed by medical professionals is that they may be accepted as fact, even though the individuals may be isolated in their profession. In Britain, uniquely, almost all scientists and doctors who recognise the tremendous medicinal benefits of cannabis are under contract to GW Pharmaceuticals and there is a conflict of interest in them providing evidence in support of generic or non-GW products. I would urge the committee to call independent, expert witnesses such as Professor Lester Grinspoon, emeritus professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School or Professor Raphael Mechoulam, professor of medicinal chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. There are literally thousands of doctors and scientists throughout the US, Europe and Israel that would give very positive evidence of the safety and efficacy of cannabis as medicine.

20. The most popular scare story about cannabis relates to mental health and the committee has already been subject to the hysteria promoted about this by Kathy Gyngell and Mary Brett. I urge the committee to examine the facts about hospital admissions16 for mental and behavioural disturbance related to cannabis and for those in treatment for cannabis as recorded by the NTA.17 These reveal that an average of 750 people are admitted to hospital each year and that about 14,000 are in treatment, at about 7% of all those in drug treatment, a stable figure that is not rising as anti-cannabis campaigners claim. While each one of these cases is an individual tragedy, public health considerations recognise that this is a relatively small problem which would be better dealt with by education and healthcare than by the huge financial and social cost of criminalising so many British citizens. The fact is that based on hospital admission and NTA statistics adjusted for the number of regular users, any individual is six times more likely to experience mental health problems associated with alcohol than with cannabis.18

21. Recently, at the Leveson Inquiry, Gordon Brown was asked about the reclassification of cannabis back up to class B in 2009 which was directly against the advice of the experts on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. He admitted under oath that this was on the basis of “…views that I hold personally and I hold them quite strongly and I may say that probably I used my position to persuade members of the government who were not as keen on that policy as I was.”19 I submit that this is an entirely improper way to make such decisions in government. It directly contradicts the will of parliament as expressed in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and I call on the committee to censure Mr Brown for his conduct.

22. Thank you for the opportunity to submit this further evidence and I ask once again that the committee should call me to give oral evidence.

References

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

2. Home Affairs Select Committee. Inquiry into drugs policy. Submission from Peter Reynolds, 10 January 2012: http://www.clear-uk.org/clear-submission-to-the-home-affairs-select-committee/

3. Taxing the UK Cannabis Market, M J Atha, S Davies, IDMU, 2011. http://clear-uk.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/TaxUKCan.pdf

4. Emerging Clinical Applications For Cannabis & Cannabinoids. A Review of the Recent Scientific Literature 2000–11, NORML, 2011. http://norml.org/component/zoo/category/recent-research-on-medical-marijuana

5. Medicinal Use Of Cannabis Recognised As Mitigation. P J Reynolds 2012. http://www.clear-uk.org/medicinal-use-of-cannabis-recognised-as-mitigation/

6. Astonishing Appeal Court Ruling On Medicinal Cannabis. P J Reynolds 2012. http://www.clear-uk.org/astonishing-appeal-court-ruling-on-medicinal-cannabis/

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

8. Professor Clare Gerada, Chair, Royal College Of General Practitioners. P J Reynolds 2012. http://www.clear-uk.org/professor-clare-gerada-chair-royal-college-of-general-practitioners/

9. COMT; Another Wrong Result For The Reefer Madness Hype. D Williams. 2011. http://www.clear-uk.org/comt-another-wrong-result-for-the-reefer-madness-hype/

10. The impact of cannabis on your lungs, British Lung Foundation 2012. http://www.clear-uk.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/The-impact-of-cannabis-on-your-lungs-BLF-report-2012.pdf

11. Cannabis use and risk of lung cancer: a case-control study. S Aldington et al, 2008. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18238947

12. Doubts about the role of cannabis in causing lung cancer. R A Sewell et al 2008. http://erj.ersjournals.com/content/32/3/815.long

13. American Thoracic Society. “Study Finds No Link Between Marijuana Use And Lung Cancer.” ScienceDaily, 26 May 2006. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/05/060526083353.htm

14. Marijuana use and cancer incidence. S Sidney et al, 1997. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9328194

15. Association Between Marijuana Exposure and Pulmonary Function Over 20 Years. Pletcher et al, 2012. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?volume=307&issue=2&page=173

16. The Facts About Cannabis, Alcohol And Risks To Mental Health. P J Reynolds 2011. http://www.clear-uk.org/the-facts-about-cannabis-alcohol-and-risks-to-mental-health/

17. Statistics from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System. 2011. http://www.nta.nhs.uk/uploads/statisticsfromndtms201011vol1thenumbers.pdf

18. The Best Evidence About Cannabis And Mental Health. P J Reynolds, 2012. http://www.clear-uk.org/the-best-evidence-about-cannabis-and-mental-health/

19. The Leveson Inquiry, Transcript of Morning Hearing, 11 June 2012. http://www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Transcript-of-Morning-Hearing-11-June-2012.txt

Prepared 8th December 2012