It’s well documented that people have been using cannabis for thousands of years, so in perspective, prohibition is the ‘blip’ in history.
The global prohibition of cannabis is an American invention. It was spread around the world by a very aggressive, American foreign policy. Historically, the resistance to that American moralising model was called The British System by the rest of the world. The British System is a fairly simple premise, if someone has a problem with drugs, you take care of them, you look after them. That premise was based on the fact that as soon as you criminalise people, you marginalise them, you push them to the fringes of society, and they are not able to get help. At that time, if someone had a problem with drugs they would be treated as a patient that required help rather than a criminal that needed to be imprisoned but, eventually, the Americans won.
In 1971 the Misuse of Drugs Act (MODA) was enacted. The MODA was based on the American style of prohibition and at that time there were 1,046 drug addicts in the UK. From that point, when ‘organised crime’ was gifted that entire business, that number increased by more than 33,000% to over 350,000 within 2 decades. Simple cause and effect. We have created the problem we have now, through policy. We have gone from the prescription pad controlling the drugs market, to 15 year olds with knives & guns on city streets. But it doesn’t have to be like this. We can revert to treating drugs as a health problem and not a criminal one. Addiction spreads because it’s in the interest of organised crime to recruit new customers, to recruit new dealers in new locations, that’s the reason drug addiction increased by more than 33,000% in 2 decades, but it doesn’t have to be like this.
Now, it’s not just me saying this, there are many professional organisations around the world, such as the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) – a group of police, ex undercover operatives, intelligence service, military and a range of figures from the criminal justice system joining together, with civilians, to raise awareness of the failed, dangerous and expensive pursuit of punitive drug policy, and whose mission is to reduce the multitude of harmful consequences resulting from current drug policies and to lessen the incidence of death, disease, crime and addiction. These are people who have fought on the frontline of the ‘war on drugs’, who have witnessed the devastating results of punitive drug policy, the suffering, the vulnerable people that get caught in the middle, just like any other war. Personally, I believe these people are significantly more qualified on this subject than politicians but unfortunately, it appears the politicians believe themselves to be the authority.
Not everybody wants to get high, some people just want to get better, without living in fear of persecution and prosecution. Some people are illegally alive on the Isle of Man due to successfully self-medicating with cannabis and beating cancer – legally, they may be dead. Many people enjoy an illegally improved quality of life due to self-medicating with cannabis – legally, their only option would usually be heavily medicated with pharmaceutical drugs, which invariably cause other medical problems further down the line.
Apart from pharmaceutical, alcohol & tobacco companies, most drug dealers are actually nice people, who sell to a small group of people or who get it in for their mates at the weekend or for a festival and most people who use drugs, do it non-problematically. So, is decriminalisation of cannabis in the public interest? Should taxpayer money continue to be used to fund the arrest & prosecution of Isle of Man residents for using cannabis? Let’s not forget that 10% of arrests on the Isle of Man are for possession of cannabis so that must consume a good chunk of the modest constabulary budget. I think if we’re honest, it’s clear that both ethically and morally, those funds should be redirected to dealing with serious crime.
Let’s not forget that cannabis can legally be prescribed in the UK & Isle of Man, although in reality it’s impossible to obtain, Skunk (a variety of cannabis vilified by the media) is grown in huge greenhouses in the UK for GW Pharmaceuticals by British Sugar (who export 95 tonnes of cannabis a year) and cannabis is decriminalised in 39 countries / territories across the world plus at least 40 states in USA. As you can see, many other countries across the world recognise cannabis as a medicine whilst the Isle of Man continues to treat cannabis users as criminals who should be prosecuted and sometimes locked in a cell for a long period of time, at significant cost to the taxpayer. Is it right that we continue to ruin people’s lives for using cannabis?
Whilst writing this article I was contacted by a desperate mother. Her teenage son has suffered from a myriad of mental health conditions for a number of years which have slowly worsened over time. Despite exhausting all other options such as lifestyle changes, prescription pharmaceutical drugs, counselling, his condition did not improve, and his mental health continued to decline. Having conducted hours of research they came across a number of stories that indicated cannabis had been effective at helping others with similar conditions so with no other options in sight and after a number of suicide attempts, they decided to try it. It helped, particularly with suicidal thoughts which dissipated immediately and a noticeable reduction in stress and anxiety, resulting in a calmer, happier son. Recently, having visited friends (who provide a support network) he was driving home late at night and was pulled over. The police found 2 x pre-rolled joints in his car and the total cannabis content was estimated at less than 1g /£20. He was open about his medicinal cannabis use and admitted to passing a joint to one of his friends. He was subsequently arrested for possession and due to passing a joint to a friend the police are also pursuing a drug dealing charge. He is currently on bail awaiting a court date. He has ceased using cannabis and his mental health has seriously deteriorated as a result. A criminal record will result in the loss of current employment, limited chances of future career prospects, unable to travel to a number of other countries, unable to obtain a mortgage, run a business, just to name a few of the ramifications – is this really in the public interest? Should public money be used to fund the cost of arrest, prosecution, possible incarceration and the subsequent government support that would be required for this young person due to the fact they use cannabis? Over the years this could exceed £100k when taking into account the reliance on government benefits & support due to the lack of job opportunities, ability to borrow etc – money that could certainly be put to better use.
It is time to join the rest of the world and accept that prohibition is not only ineffective and expensive, but that decriminalisation could help protect vulnerable people and support public health? It would also generate savings, which could mean more resources for health, harm reduction and other public services, so, what are we waiting for?
Whilst many theoretically support change, very few are willing to stand up and actually make it happen. Why? One can only assume it’s a fear of something terrible happening as a result of their decision. But when we think about it, what’s the worst that could actually happen? Some people are worried that we might upset the UK, but, both Guernsey & Jersey have changed their laws regarding cannabis, without upsetting the UK. Some people think that it could encourage cannabis use but let’s face it, the data emanating from countries that have decriminalised cannabis does not support that theory. In fact, the data actually shows that citizens in decriminalised countries consume cannabis at rates equal to or less than those who live in countries where the possession of cannabis remains a criminal offence. It’s also very important to remember that cannabis is assessed as immensely less harmful to those that use it, and to others, than alcohol. Various other rankings also concur that cannabis use is significantly less problematic for individual health than either tobacco or alcohol. So, if people replaced alcohol or tobacco with cannabis, we would actually see an overall improvement in general health & wellbeing. A poignant example of why immediate change is so important, especially when the result will save lives & prevent harm and suffering – homosexuality.
I’ll leave you with a statement made by our Chief Minister in January 2020. I’ve only had to make a few, minor amendments and hope that this amended statement will also be made in 2020…
’That there was a time when consensual sexual activity between men (people consuming cannabis in the privacy of their own homes) was seen as a criminal activity, warranting raids, searches and prosecution.
’And this was only in our recent history.
’Before that, many of our countrymen were convicted as criminals, simply for loving another adult (a plant). Many more lived in fear. Afraid to be honest about their identity to their friends, family and work colleagues.
’Forced to feel a sense of shame about who they were. We will never know the hurt our past laws may have inflicted on our own people. How many suffered; how many perhaps took their own lives and how many left their island never to return?
’The Bill before us today tries to right this historic wrong.
’It gives an automatic pardon to men & women convicted of homosexual activity (using cannabis) that would today be legal.’