Friday, 24 July 2015

Are UK Politicians and Police Commissioners Falling Behind in the Cannabis Debate?


With cannabis once again making headlines following the comments of Durham's Police Commissioner Ron Hogg to effectively decriminalise small, in-home personal cannabis grows; are UK Politicians and his fellow Police Commissioners falling behind in the debate on cannabis legalisation?

Hogg and his Derbyshire counterpart Alan Charles, who has made similar comments have come under attack and been praised in equal measure. Praise in general flooded in from activists and the general public whilst those quick to dismiss the Commissioners comments as 'irresponsible', such as  Leicestershire's Police Commissioner Sir Clive Loader came from those in positions of power and within Government. It's clear that the stances of those in Government are widely in contrast with the mood of the General Public but why when the argument for legalisation is so compelling? 
According to the Institute for Economic Research taxation of a regulated cannabis market in the UK could raise in excess of £900 million whilst £361 millions is currently spent annually on Policing the illegal consumption and sale of Cannabis. The war on drugs both here and across the pond has been a huge failure and an epic waste of resources. In a changing America confusion is added as some states march forward into legalisation whilst others are still handing teenagers seven year jail sentences for possession at a huge expense to the judicial system, the tax payer and ultimately those imprisoned who upon release will be stigmatised, struggle to find employment and become a further drain on the welfare system or spiral into committing further, often more violent crime. A high price to pay for partaking in something much of Joe Public in America and the UK would barely even consider a criminal offence. 

The financial and economical gains to be made have been highlighted by Colorado where cannabis was legalised in 2014. 10,000 people have gained employment in a newly founded cannabis industry in a state that was riddled with crime and unemployment working as growers, harvesters, dispensers and equipment production. Within three months of legalisation crime fell by 14.6%, violent crime was down by 2.4% and assaults down by almost 4%. This inevitably led to savings for a Police Force already stretched in both resources and personal, helping them to concentrate on more serious violent and sexual crime. Counter to the argument that legalisation would lead to a rise in use by young people, actual use fell. Recently the Colorado Police Chief remarked that crime continued to fall and that the Police were back to business as usual, fighting crime. 

It doesn't take a genius to translate the effects of legalisation in Colorado to the streets of the UK. The Government are penny pinching, Police forces across the country continue to be stretched. It makes for a more than reasonable argument to introduce a regulated cannabis market to the UK with economical wins all round. So, whats stopping them?

Much Government rhetoric remains the same, specifically on the issue of health implications. Professor David Nutt was famously forced to resign as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs following his assessment that cannabis was not the harmful drug that at the time the Government touted it was. Alongside his colleagues in 2007 Nutt released his professional findings in the form the the Harmful Drugs Index. 

Tobacco, a legal substance in the UK was found to be more harmful on 'others' and on 'users' than cannabis though I'm sure this statistic is not shocking in itself, the study also found the the UK's most damaging drug by quite some distance was alcohol. Available in every licensed shop, public house and supermarket in the country for as little as 70 pence per litre alcohol scored higher than heroin and crack cocain. In 2013 there were a recorded 8,416 alcohol related deaths in the UK though the number is widely thought to be much higher - this does not factor in the social problems, long term health risks and violent crime associated with alcohol abuse. Cannabis, in contrast has yet to be linked as the defining 'cause of death' in any case, anywhere in the world. 

Research has moved on too. In fact no longer is research into the damaging effects of cannabis the norm, instead research has turned to studying the effects of cannabinoids as treatment for a wide variety of medical conditions with some throwing up interesting results and positive findings. Research has been held back owing to the fact that cannabis is still classed as a schedule-1 drug which many scientific researches are finding as their biggest barrier in establishing possible uses for medical cannabis. Penny Whiting and her team at University Hospitals Bristol have conducted a leading study into treatment of a wide variety of ailments with some positive results. Taken from TIME Magazine: 
Whiting and her colleagues analysed 79 randomised trials, the gold standard in medical research in which volunteers are randomly assigned to take a cannabis-related product or a placebo. The studies evaluated marijuana’s ability to relieve a range of symptoms including nausea from chemotherapy, loss of appetite among HIV positive patients, multiple sclerosis spasms, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, psychosis and Tourette syndrome. Most of the studies showed improvements among the participants taking the cannabinoid products over those using placebo, but in many, the scientists admitted that they could not be sure that the effect wasn’t simply due to chance since the association was not statistically significant.
In various other studies Modern research suggests that cannabis is a valuable aid in the treatment of a wide range of clinical applications. These include pain relief - particularly of neuropathic pain (pain from nerve damage) - nausea, spasticity, glaucoma, and movement disorders. Marijuana is also a powerful appetite stimulant, specifically for patients suffering from HIV, the AIDS wasting syndrome, or dementia. Emerging research suggests that marijuana's medicinal properties may protect the body against some types of malignant tumours and are neuroprotective. Not only this but scientists have confessed to only 'scratching the surface' into the possible uses of medical cannabis. It's clear that future studies are needed in abundance and that red tape preventing such studies should be at least in part removed to allow a better understanding of the drug. Looking beyond the science, anecdotal evidence has thrown up remarkable cases of cancer survivors and epilepsy reversal, such as the well documented story of Jayden in 2014 documentary 'Culture High': 

Nothing can be more detrimental to health than death. The Mexican cartels are the biggest exporter of Cannabis worldwide and it is estimated that more than half of their revenue comes from the production and sale of Cannabis. As part of the global 'War on Drugs' the Mexican Government went to war with the cartels in 2006 and though no plausible figures suggesting a reduction in the export of cannabis exist, estimates set the death toll above 120,000 killed by 2013, not including 27,000 missing. As if that itself isn't ironic enough, out of approximately 30,000 weapons seized in drug cases in Mexico in 2004–2008, 7,200 appeared to be of U.S. origin, approximately 4,000 were found in ATF manufacturer and importer records, and 87 percent of those—3,480—originated in the United States. There are interesting noises to be heard implicating the American Government in arming certain Mexican cartels but that's a story for another day. Legalisation of cannabis would certainly go some way to eliminating high level trafficking and the violence associated with it.

Far from securing our health interests by keeping cannabis on the naughty list are they hindering progress in medical science? In times of austerity, tax increases, lower living standards are the Government failing to see the answer staring them in the face? The growth of economy, the surge in employment, the fall in crime could all lead to a new financial boom and increase their popularity with voters, tax-payers and the wider public. Loosening laws could see the construction industry thrive as hempcrete becomes an ever more viable, sustainable and eco-friendly building material. The possibilities, with the right management, really are endless. In the ever increasing void between the opinions of the public and Government there has never been a better time to seriously reconsider UK cannabis law. That time is now.

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