Opinion: Legalisation of medical cannabis should not mean legalisation of the drug

It has been announced recently that the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has made medicinal cannabis legal for prescription in the UK. Announcing the decision, Mr Javid explained that the current position on medical cannabis was “not satisfactory,” citing recent cases involving children as the reason why medical cannabis could be used “in exceptional circumstances.”

The cases involving children of which refers to were that of Alfie Dingley and, most noticeably, Billy Caldwell. The terrible suffering of these two boys made us sit up and take note, particularly as it made us think about the effects of what could be a new and wonderful superdrug, that of cannabis. So much so, that immediately after the news broke of poor Billy’s plight, the former Conservative leader, William Hague, came out in favour of cannabis legalisation, foolishly stating that the war against the drug is “over.” The Chief Constable of Durham Police, not long after Mr Hague, made a silly mistake in calling for the drug to be decriminalised. Jeremy Corbyn has said that punishing people for illegal possession is “not a good idea.” The Liberal Democrats, although consistent in their approach, have made it clear that they will decriminalise cannabis. Nigel Farage, not a known for his progressive liberalism, has stated in the past that the war on drugs is over, and “some should be decriminalised.”

As we have read and seen in recent weeks and months, Billy Caldwell suffers from an extreme form of epilepsy. The use of cannabis oil is said to alleviate the suffering – the medication was confiscated from his mother on a flight back from Canada from where she got it from. Who could not be moved by the pleas of his mother, desperate for help for her child? On humanitarian grounds alone, it is right that the government looks into the benefits of medicinal cannabis. Nobody would want to see people like young Billy and his family suffer further, even if the benefits are therapeutic.

However, what is concerning is the direction that the debate has clearly taken. The legalisation of cannabis and other drugs as a progressive, liberalising policy will never go away. But what seems to have happened is that the debate has been hijacked by those who seek to legalise cannabis in its drug taking form.

Let’s take the medicinal aspect of the drug first. The law differentiates between the two forms of the cannabis plant: THC, which is the intoxicating part of the drug, is illegal in concentrations of 0.3% or larger. CBD, is the part which is mainly behind the medical benefits of cannabis, although it is worth noting that both THC and CBD have alleged medical benefits. CBD in particular is linked to anti-inflammatory benefit and pain relief. It is this aspect of the drug which is legal in the UK, and was sold on the high street and online, before the Home Secretary’s decision.  Billy Caldwell and many others use THC in greater quantities than the legal limit, which is why Mrs Caldwell had it confiscated at Heathrow, having brought it in from Canada, where THC is a legal drug. What greatly concerns me though is if THC is an intoxicating drug, how do we know fully what its real effects are, if the person who digests it is in a drug induced stupor? Is it possible for the drug to give the impression that it is having the desired effect of alleviating symptoms, without actually having any medical benefit to the patient, as is the case with medical morphine? Are there alternatives to the treatment? What are the side effects? We have seen in the past, as with the thalidomide scandal, that government actions with regard to drugs doesn’t always mean they are safe and have no side effects. Will the drug be carefully licensed, and given to a patient when all other drugs have failed and only for specific ailments, as it is in the US?

However, my main worry is that the medical case for cannabis will be hijacked by those who want to see cannabis, and other drugs, legalised. In fact it already has. In a recent report by the Daily Mail, it came to light that many had seized upon Billy Caldwell’s terrible suffering. It found evidence that Billy’s campaign was funded by Volteface, a think tank which seeks the decriminalisation of cannabis for recreational use. In fact, made claim that the decision to bring the THC oil from Canada was an orchestrated act, designed to highlight the case of drug legalisation, using the medical benefit and poor Billy as a smokescreen for their own propaganda.

During the debate into Proposition 64 in California, it became clear that part of the legalisation process would include access to marketing and advertisements, a strong sign of the intentions of big business wishing to capitalise on a new market. George Soros, with his strong links to the big pharmaceuticals, wants to legalise cannabis. Richard Branson, who’s Virgin Group brand wishes to seize upon any opportunity to privatise the NHS, also wants to legalise cannabis. There’s not much evidence to say that these people wish or will profit personally from the marketing or sale of cannabis, but it makes you wonder about their actual motives.

The argument for medical cannabis is nothing but coarse propaganda. It is why images of suffering children are used to promote its cause. This is the case whenever the lobby groups want you to rush to emotional judgement rather than rational thinking. It is why we want to open the borders when we see dead children washed up on beaches. Or, why we want to bomb Syria when we see children foaming at the mouth after a chemical attack, or why the media wants you to blame Donald Trump when you see children in cages on the Southern border of the US. Children are always used for propaganda purposes.

But people should not use this as a rush to judgement when considering the case for cannabis legalisation. The medical case is used to make you think cannabis is safe. If it helps a boy overcome his epilepsy, then it must be ok? Wrong. Cannabis is not a safe drug. The Royal College of Psychiatrists have stated that there is a growing link between cannabis use and serious mental illness. Their leaflet, which describes in detail the effects of cannabis on the human body, lists many mental disorders, from depression to the irreversible health problems of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

The pamphlet makes clear, “There is now sufficient evidence to show that those who use cannabis particularly at a younger age, such as around the age of 15, have a higher than average risk of developing a psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.” This is a staggering claim. Why would we wish to introduce this kind of substance, readily available, marketed and advertised, to young people? Yes, alcohol has depressive qualities too, but this is not an argument to introduce yet another dangerous substance to the masses. The pamphlet also makes it clear that the drug is not “peaceful.” Drug fueled violence by people high on cannabis is extraordinarily high. Because of its extremely powerful effect on the human brain, many people are seriously unhinged after they have smoked it. There is a growing correlation between violent crime and cannabis use.

In an interview with the Independent, the Chief Constable of Durham Police, Mike Barton waded into the debate, making the ridiculous assumption that the law “isn’t working.” Firstly, it is deeply disappointing that somebody holding an unelected position would wish to let his bias be known. Not only that, is it not irresponsible for a Chief Constable to say something as serious, knowing that it would give the impression to would be cannabis users, that his police force is soft on the issue? Notwithstanding that, it is clear that there is defacto decriminalisation of cannabis. In 2016, arrests for cannabis possession were down 46%, despite cannabis use being largely consistent. Overall, cannabis possession was effectively decriminalised in the 1970’s when magistrates declined to send people to prison for the possession of the drug. Since then, addiction and use have increased. Those caught in possession are often let off with a “cannabis warning,” which is similar to that of a police caution but is not recorded. Indeed, Durham constabulary’s own figures put 127 arrests for cannabis possession, but only 28 actual charges. I would argue that not only has the “war” on cannabis failed, there hasn’t really been one in the first place. The fact that many people (including those in public life) freely admit to smoking cannabis or taking drugs and then face no police action, surely highlights this point. Admit to committing a burglary or robbery, and the police would have a different approach.

But it appears that not just billionaires, politicians and police officers are in favour of decriminalisation. The Adam Smith Institute recently published its own bulletin, absurdly called the “Cannabis Dividend.” In it, it makes two separate claims. One being that the legalisation of cannabis would be worth £1bn to the treasury (an estimation) and the other being that criminal gangs would not sell cannabis.

Let’s take each of these points in turn. Firstly, that legalisation could be worth up to £1bn to the treasury. According to their website and publications, they base this assumption on a 2011 study by the Independent (really?) Drug Monitoring Unit, which estimated a regulated, cannabis market could be worth £6.8bn. It also uses figures from the Institute of Social and Economic Research, which modelled a scenario based on estimated use of cannabis alongside the potency of THC in the drug, and came up with a figure of between £750 and £1.05bn, lovingly appealing to those whose minds are not made up on the issue in a country desperate for extra revenue. However, is this cost outweighed by the costs of NHS resources dealing with the increase in mental health cases as described earlier? We have seen this at work, as is the case with alcohol, with the revenue taxes raised not covering the increased health costs. The Adam Smith institute bases their revenues on estimations. The problems with alcohol are fact. The increase in revenue (as small as it is), is not worth the risk of legalisation in terms of human cost, and is not a sufficient argument for it.

Which of course leads onto their second point, that the regulation of cannabis would take the away the criminal element, an argument so ill conceived that it borders on sheer ignorance. However, take the concept of “regulation.” This effectively means the licensing and use of cannabis for taxation purposes. In no terms does this argument make it “safe.” Tobacco is regulated but is not safe. Sugary drinks and fast food are also regulated and are linked to long term health defects. These, as well as alcohol, are advertised in the mainstream, and do great damage to our bodies because of that reason. It is not therefore an argument to encourage a further, dangerous substance on impressionable minds. One of the great paradoxes of this debate is how much liberals despise the multinational corporations selling us junk food and becoming irate at the terrible exploitation of people in the Third World who work for these companies, but yet are happy to endorse the taking of the drugs – fuelling the demand and creating the gang warfare we see in South America and other places around the world.

As far as the supposed removal of the criminal element is concerned, this is demonstrably untrue. Regulation does not mean that people outside of big business will not be interested in the distribution of it in an attempt to make money. In 2016, it was estimated at £31bn was lost to the treasury because of the sale and distribution of illicit wine, beer, cigarettes and diesel. These are all regulated products, free to the criminals to get their hands on. It is almost a complete safe bet to say that cannabis would go the same way. Furthermore, some users of the drug will seek out more potent and more toxic strains of it, meaning that the criminal suppliers will seek to sell that at a profit, therefore gangs will never go away. The only way to eradicate criminal gangs from drug dealing, is to cut off the supply. The only way to do that is to deal severely with the drug users. Caving into their addictions, will not stop the criminals.

Legalisers like to point to the reduction in crime in Portugal and other places around the world. This works as a statistic only, but the reality is untrue. Crime is caused by law. If there was no law, then there would be no crime. If you no longer take into consideration the crimes of cannabis possession, then the crime statistics will automatically fall. This statistic can therefore be manipulated because there is no way in telling, with any amount of accuracy, what the crime figures would look like if cannabis was still illegal. In other words, countries like ours, which have taken a far softer approach to cannabis possession, have seen its usage increase alongside the overall crime rate. Other countries, like Japan, who take a hard line both morally and criminally to cannabis use, do not. As we have seen recently, relaxation of the drug possession laws in San Fransisco has led to a rise in cannabis use amongst all people, especially that of the poorest and youngest, because of its normalisation as a result of advertising. Drug use in the city has increased overall, due to the fact that the police have decided not to enforce the drug laws, as a result of a reclassification of heroin possession as a “misdemeanor.” Reports of needles on the streets has risen by 2194%, with a Department of Health spokeswoman declaring the use of drugs in the city “a crisis.” Those who wish to say that legalisation or decriminalisation will definitely lead to a reduction in overall drug use need to examine the catastrophic results in this liberalised utopia.

Despite this, it is clear that there is a growing and considerable force behind the cannabis legalisation lobby. I accept that I am in a minority (or am I?) when I say that I want people to consider what legalisation means and the what the devastating effects are of the drug, and the chance we would take if we were to legalise it.

This lobby is made up of big business ready to cash in on people’s’ misery, as it has done in California. On a smaller scale, could it be that the middle classes wish it to be decriminalised because they themselves want to follow their hedonisms, free from blame or prosecution? Those who wish it to be legalised, such as the Royal Society of Physicians, use the falsehood that prohibition has failed. However, professions such as these are the ones with memberships made up of the left wing bohemian student types, who wish to pursue this cause because they see it as a rebellious conviction against the moral conservatives who they think hold them back. Little do they know that actually they have a very strong political and financial endorsement. My question is this; who will oppose them?


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