- between 1974 and 2002 there was a ten-fold increase in people found guilty or cautioned for cannabis offences (1)
- increase in levels of cannabis use in the UK which have only recently dropped off slightly since their reported peak in the mid 90s;(2)
- a drop in the age of onset of cannabis use; (3)
- increased potency in terms of THC levels (4)
- the emergence of imbalanced forms of cannabis containing high levels of THC and minimal levels of CBD (5)
- concentration of cannabis production in the hands of criminal gangs who are also involved in other drugs, people traficking, weapons, counterfeiting and other offences;
- yearly increases in number and quantity of cannabis seizures but without a significant impact on the availability of cannabis in the UK (6)
By any measure, it is hard to view as a success a strategy of prohibition that has seen the substance being controlled become more potent and less safe, be used more widely, by younger people, despite a non-stop policy of crop and drug seizure, arrest and criminalisation of users and producers.
The evidence from the ACPO report on cannabis production is the latest evidence that in addition to prohibition acting as a driver for less safe, unregulated cannabis markets, prohibition and the profits associated with it have concentrated the production and distribution of cannabis in the hands of a smaller number of large producers, controlling the market with increased force, and with crossover to other offending.
Historically, before gaining power, both David Cameron and the Liberal Democrats wanted to reform the law on cannabis. David Cameron, who it is widely accepted had dalliances with at least one controlled drug when younger, endorsed the moving of cannabis from Class B to Class C. Once elected leader of the conservative party is belief in evidence based policy seemed to evaporate and argued instead for Cannabis to return to Class B.
The Liberal Democrat policy historically was for radical reform of drugs legislation, and in terms of cannabis proposed "adopting a policy of not prosecuting possession for own use, social supply to adults or cultivation of cannabis plants for own use." (7)
However, since entering the ConDem coallition, the Liberal Democrats have been silent on this subject, and it will not be a suprise if, when the Government drug strategy is published in October, all mention of cannabis reform is lost.
But even the Liberal Democrat's old, relatively progressive stance is inadequate and by leaving production and supply in an unregulated market, perpetuates the problems in terms of criminal production, unregulated strength and unmanaged supply.
Given the ongoing disaster of cannabis prohibition the need for Government to fully revise the laws on cannabis are long overdue. Cannabis needs to be licensed and regulated to make it safer. Features of a regulated cannabis market would include:
- licensed, registered outlets with staff who receive training on cannabis use and risks
- age-restricted sales to people aged over 18 only
- sliding bracket of taxation on retailed cannabis with higher strength products being taxed at a higher level;
- products labelled to indicate THC and CBD content, with appropriate health messages
- taxation from cannabis sales ring-fenced to fund awareness and treatment interventions
- personal possession of up to three cannabis plants, by persons over 18 no longer a criminal offence
- licence production in UK and overseas, to encourage (for example) Afghani opium producers to produce hashish not heroin.
Given the current resurgent abstentionist climate, the puritanical approach of the Conservatives to drugs, and the apparent willingness of the Liberal Democrats to trade belief for power, it is vanishingly unlikely that any changes will be forthcoming. So in the meantime, it is back to the prohibition hole and time to keep digging. Sanity, anyone?