Cannabis, a Medicine for All

cropped-trichomescloseup1Cannabis is a herb, a flowering plant. Anyone with a keen eye can see that cannabis behaves and grows like many other plants and flowers. Recently, in the last hundred years or so, cannabis has been given a very bad press, with great government and media attention. However, cannabis has been known to be a medicine for thousands of years with many ancient civilizations writing about its medicinal properties. The debate about the medical use of cannabis, currently a hot topic across the globe, has already been won, and there is a prolific amount of information about the medical use of cannabis all over the internet. You only need to type in cannabis and insert ailment here to find scientific-reviewed studies and anecdotal evidence from patients about cannabis can alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life.

When talking with people, I often find support for medical cannabis; people generally agree that if cannabis can help someone with an illness then they should be allowed to use it. Saying that everyone should be allowed to use cannabis, however, is more of a touchy subject, with many people who are supportive of medical cannabis being less supportive of healthy people using cannabis. I personally find this very strange, and wonder why it is seen as more acceptable to use cannabis if you are ill then if you are healthy.

Cannabis can be used by healthy people as a preventative medicine, and in later articles I will look at its impact on the development of different illnesses. Healthy people often do experience “mundane” health problems like pain, headaches, tiredness and menstrual cramps. Cannabis can be used to alleviate pain in a similar way to how a person would use aspirin or other over-the-counter medicines. It could be argued that this is in fact a safer alternative to aspirin, as cannabis is impossible to overdose on no matter how much of it you take.

Clark French, cannabis activist.

Clark French, cannabis activist.

While it may be true that aspirin does not get you high, cannabinoids like CBD do not get people high either, and could be used as a safer alternative to aspirin. When it comes to getting high, some people use the fact that cannabis is an intoxicating substance as a justification for continuing cannabis prohibition. These very same people often will drink socially and have no problem with the use of strong opiates under medical supervision. Which is quite illogical as both alcohol and opiates have an intoxicating effect, so why should someone be put in prison for their choice of using cannabis instead?

When talking about cannabis as a medicine, I believe it is important to make the point that many healthy people, not just people with long-term health problems, can gain a positive effect from using cannabis. It is really only the current law and stigma which have a negative effect. Cannabis has never killed anyone, but the police certainly have. It is about time that the government legislated to allow people to use cannabis responsibly.

In my next post for the Re:Vision blog, I will talk more in-depth about medicinal cannabis use and the potential for people to benefit from its healing effects: focusing on comparing cannabis with the alternatives that are currently available.

Clark French is a MS patient and a founding Member of NORML UK. He maintains his own blog that you can read here.

Breaking the Taboo – A Review

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Breaking the Taboo, a  documentary made by the son of Richard Branson and other people with less famous dads, and featuring the sublime tones of Morgan Freeman, loosely follows the Global Commission on Drug Policy as its members investigate and report on the impact of drug policy on communities around the world. If you’ve seen a drug war film, you’ll be familiar with many of the initial images of Breaking the Taboo. We see people in wheelchairs crippled by their drug use, people who’ve had relatives kidnapped by cartels. We’re told the US has 5% of the world’s population, 25% of the world’s prisoners. We’re informed that more drug addicts come out of prison than go in.

But the number of former politicians is overwhelming and probably this film’s greatest contribution to an increasingly crowded field. The former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Switzerland and Mexico, as well as the current President of Colombia, all make appearances to explain why we must legalise and regulate drugs. The former President of Switzerland in particular makes a well-worn phrase original again: “You cannot make a war against drugs without knowing you are also making a war against people”. Former US President Bill Clinton at one point says of the drug war, simply: “it hasn’t worked”.

You just can’t win a war against people willing to build submarines to smuggle drugs into your country.

The first half of the film is a quick run-through of the ins and outs of the drug war, from its origins in the 60s, over to the problems in the producer countries, and back to the prison industrial complex in America and the emphasis on enforcement over treatment. It was great to unexpectedly see some time spent on the opium trade in Afghanistan, though I was surprised to see General Sir Richard Dannett, formerly Chief of the General Staff, make a clear link between Western involvement in trying to suppress it and the subsequent strengthening of the insurgency as farmers lost their livelihoods. It was intriguing to learn that it’s actually Russia that is pushing poppy eradication in Afghanistan, much harder than the US (especially considering as the Russian success in reducing the country’s access to heroin has resulted in the rise of krokodil, a homebrew of iodine and codeine which is literally rotting people’s limbs off).

There’s a lot of time spent on the American experience, which I assume to be partly due to America’s historical role in and enthusiasm for the drug war (as one guy who wryly noted: “[America has] more prisoners than China, and they have a billion more people than we do.”), and partly aimed at mobilising an American audience to rally their recalcitrant politicians to stop bullying other nations into dealing with “the drug problem” for them. It is striking to watch the historical footage of Presidents such as Reagan and Nixon talk about the dangers of drugs and what they can do to you, when the current president has freely admitting to using cocaine at college, and the previous one pointedly refused to comment on allegations that he did the same. What a different world we live in from even twenty years ago ago when Bill Clinton had to resort to tenuous legalese in order to pretend he hadn’t used cannabis.

The second half of the film starts moving towards suggested solutions. We see Portugal’s decriminalisation policy and Switzerland’s heroin prescription programme. I actually thought this part was quite weak, especially as the former Portuguese Drug Policy Coordinator talked about creating “clear signs of disapproval for drug use” as he describes the drug panels that users have to face if caught. Recreational use doesn’t get a look-in, though it makes up the majority of use. However, we also see Holland and its notorious coffee shops. Holland’s policy allowing effectively legalised cannabis-trading on small premises has led to Amsterdam being considered to be the cannabis Mecca of the world, but the universal policy of “no hard drugs” hardly deals with, well, all the drugs that aren’t cannabis. I doubt we’ll be seeing MDMA coffeeshops coming to a street near you anytime soon.

This disjointed approach to drug policy, talking about decriminalising a bit here, instituting a rehabilition programme there, leaves one feeling a bit dissatisfied until ten minutes just before the end, when suddenly various of the great and the good, including the serving President of Colombia, call for all drugs – not some, but all – to be regulated like alcohol and tobacco. Now THAT is breaking the taboo. That is moving the debate onward. I hope that as a result of this film, we can keep moving.

I look forward to seeing you on the next march!

For the most part, this film is a great overview of the drug war, although it misses some things. Any mention of Africa, Southeast Asia or the Carribean, for example, despite the major roles all these places play in global drug trafficking routes. Apparently George Bush’s eight years as the leader of the drug war have gone from our collective memories, as the film neatly skips from Clinton to Obama repeatedly. And Morgan Freeman’s narration over sweeping tracking shots of riots and police operations made me feel at times like I was watching the inner workings of Shawshank but without the warming human resolution (though Morgan Freeman’s past Academy Award-winning performances are hardly the producers’ fault).

I’ve seen higher-quality drug war films: Cocaine Unwrapped‘s in-depth study of the cocaine trade brought me to tears, and The Union: the Business Behind Getting High gave the most rational, compelling explanation for how the cannabis industry supports national economies I have ever seen.  But what Breaking the Taboo lacks in cinematic magic, it makes up for in the sheer number of former statesmen and women willing to stand up and say “I fought this war, and I regret it”. Perhaps that, more than anything, will start shattering political and public resistance to what, on watching films like these, should be a very obvious conclusion. Legalise it, legalise it now, and legalise it all.

You can view Breaking the Taboo here.

The Royal Baby and Drug Policy

So, the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant. While I worried about the 15% possibility that she might miscarry and suffer the deflation of a nation, Nick Clegg announced that the Succession of the Crown Bill (which would make the first child of William the heir to the throne, rather than the first boy), which requires letters of assent from all 16 Commonwealth Realms, would be put to Parliament next week. Next week! How remarkably quick for an issue that has a 50% chance of even being an issue at all and would not need to be address for at least two years if it were.

So, while Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and the UK got their act together for the sake of the soon-to-be third in line to the monarchy, here’s some of the drug laws they have in place:

Country Notes
Saint Kitts and Nevis A Brick Kiln man will have to come up with $15,000 for various drug charges or serve time in Her Majesty’s Prison.Additional Magistrate Janine Harris handed down the stiff fine on Aldre Maynard on Tuesday (July 17) when he appeared before the court and pleaded guilty to three marijuana charges.Maynard was charged with possession of cannabis, cultivation of cannabis, and possession with intent to supply cannabis.”
 Australia “See also: Cannabis in Australia

Decriminalized for personal use in small amounts in the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. It is a criminal offence in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania. Enforcement varies from state to state,[4] though a criminal conviction for possession of a small amount is unlikely and diversion programs in these states aim to divert offenders into education, assessment and treatment programs.[5] With the rapid expansion in hydroponically grown cannabis cultivation, the Australian Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act (1985) was amended in 2006, reducing the amount of cannabis grown indoors under hydroponic conditions that qualifies as a ‘commercial quantity’ or as a ‘large quantity’[5]

Bermuda “The maximum penalty for drug dealing is ten years in jail and/or a $500,000 fine.”
Canada “see Legislation: “Controlled Drugs and Substances Act” [14]
 Jamaica “Cultivation, retail and consumption is illegal. However this is often overlooked and cannabis is sold openly.[50]
 New Zealand “Cultivation, possession or sale of cannabis is illegal.[65] The fruit, seeds, and any other part of the plant are scheduled as Class C substances.Hashish, hash oil, THC, and any other preparations containing THC made by processing the plant are scheduled as Class B substances. In July 2009, a bill promoted by Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei amending the law to permit the use of medicinal cannabis was defeated 84-34 at its first reading, with all members of the ruling National Party voting against it[66].[68][69]
Belize “On July 16, the government of Belize released a press statement announcing the appointment of a committee to evaluate a proposal to decriminalize marijuana possession. The committee – to be headed by a former police minister – was appointed by the Minister of National Security. The proposal in question seeks to remove criminal sanctions for possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana and instead impose fines and mandatory drug education. Currently, possession of less than 60 grams of marijuana is punishable by a fine of up to US$26,000 and/or up to three years in prison.”
 United Kingdom “Cannabis is a Class B drug (moderate risk) in the UK. Possession of less than 3 grams however, is likely to result in mere confiscation and a written warning.”
Solomon Islands “Drug use is illegal in Solomon Islands, and can lead to prison sentences. Swearing is a crime and can lead to large compensation claims and even jail.”
Grenada “Law enforcement agencies in Grenada cooperate well on drug control. They meet regularly to plan joint operations, thereby maximizing available assets. The government opened its National Coordination Center for law enforcement in 2001. Through August 2003, Grenadian authorities reported seizing approximately 40 kilograms of cocaine and 155 kilograms of marijuana. During that period, they arrested 456 persons (21 non-nationals) on drug-related charges and eradicated 3,434 marijuana plants. Grenadian law enforcement authorities seized nearly ECD 300,000 ($115,000) in connection with drug-related cases. The police drug squad has collaborated closely with DEA officials in the targeting and investigation of a local cocaine trafficking organization, which has associations with South American and other Caribbean traffickers.”

So, if it’s going to take a week for the entire constitutional fabric of sixteen states to be rewritten, how long do you think it would take for decriminalise drugs if any politician really wanted to? How many people would that benefit?

Something to think about.

Drug Decriminalisation: a Good Idea, but not Enough

The big story today is the UK Drug Policy Commission report calling for the decriminalisation of small amounts of cannabis and, later, other drugs. The full report, which you can read here, talks about “supporting responsible behaviour”, and “promoting recovery from drug dependence”, and working with local communities and drug users to “take a problem solving approach”.

Which is great. That is definitely so, so much better an idea than the £3 billion we spend every year on prosecuting the drug war. But the number of organisations saying nice things like this is growing by the day. Simply decriminalising users  will not have much effect on the £13 billion lost through drug-related crime each year. And look at the harms table they list!

How many of these harms will be done away with simply by fining drug users instead of jailing them? If we agree that criminalising drug users is a bad idea, why should we civilise (?) them instead?

Nonetheless, I think this report really adds something to the debate. It’s definitely one of the first I’ve seen that says we need to face up to the face that many people use drugs for sane, rational reasons:

[W]e have to recognise that, for many users, drugs bring something to their lives that they value, be it pleasure, relief from pain, enhanced perceptions or performance. This perspective challenges the prevailing wisdom that all drugs are inherently ‘bad’ if used for non-medically authorised purposes.

If the government were to simply admit that actually, nice people take drugs, I imagine a tsunami in drug policy would ensue.

To my mind, though, arguing for decriminalisation in today’s hurrah-for-Uruguay climate is liking arguing for civil unions for gay people. It made sense when we were first talking about gay rights. But with so many nations with full same-sex marriage, and many who originally brought in civil unions “upgrading”, many LGBT activists views them as so 2008. Civil unions are now just a sop. So it is with decriminalisation.

The UKDPC admit that the case for regulation is already being made by others, but states that the evidence is lacking for its efficacy:

We appreciate that some will argue that the risks of the commercialisation of controlled drugs could be contained with careful regulation and that our position does nothing to deal with the negative consequences of the current system in places such as South or Central America, Central and South-East Asia or increasingly parts of Africa. It also would not address existing problems with drug contamination and unpredictable dosage levels. But our assessment is that such a change could lead to some hugely negative unintended consequences, and
should be treated with caution.

 

It is mildly disappointing that a commission which makes such points as

…there can be no serious challenge to the fact that we have inconsistent control and regulatory frameworks governing the availability of different psychoactive substances. The separation between these drugs and the illicit ones is entirely artificial and historical. In a world where policy could be made without reference to current behaviour and past decisions, that separation would probably not exist.

can then go on to deny that leaving that framework in place poses a major obstacle to effective regulation of drugs, “soft” or otherwise.

But it is true that we don’t yet know concretely what effect the legalisation of drugs would really have on states. It is this which makes the fact that Washington, Colorado and Oregon are holding referenda on the outright legalisation of cannabis after successful experiments with medical marijuana, which stand a reasonable chance of winning, so exciting. Because maybe if one area, somewhere, will just take that step, and prove that the world won’t end, we can stop discussing “minimal civil penalties” and “drug treatment referral panels”, and start talking serious drug law reform.

Why is Regulation of Drugs Important?

When you woke up today, it was probably on a bed that didn’t collapse in the night because the manufacturers had made it from poor quality materials. When you went last went food shopping, none of the food you bought made you sick because the supermarket had thrown away all the out of date stock. If you’ve taken a public taxi, then you probably ended up where you wanted to go and didn’t get ripped off because all licenced taxis have to have visible meters fitted. All of these measures designed to keep you safe, healthy, and able to make your own financial decisions, are the result of government regulations. There’s a lot of talk about how “bureaucratic red tape” slows down business and gets in the way of the consumer, but do you really want to go back to the good old days of “mad cow disease“, when farmers were feeding infected dead cows to live cows and managed to kill 166 people in the process? This is why control and regulation of drugs are important for users, not just communities. Not because the government should be able to use the system to stop people taking drugs, but because drug users shouldn’t be risking their health, or possibly lives, because unscrupulous dealers have a direct financial interest in compromising the quality of their products.

Bureaucratic red tape ultimately stops everything falling apart.

Some cannabis activists have vehemently objected to any suggestion that the law should have any say in who sells what to whom. Some people believe that cannabis should just be decriminalised, because cannabis doesn’t kill anyone, and therefore no regulation is needed. But all drugs are psychoactive substances, it’s not really about whether they kill people or not, they all alter your consciousness. And even if something is harmless, the circumstances in which it is produced can be terrible. Trousers aren’t going to kill you, but the children making them in sweatshops in Indonesia might be happier if they didn’t have to work twelve hours a day to make them for us. So we should recognise that much of the time regulation is a good thing. When you get down to it, it seems the issue for many people is that the current laws regarding alcohol and tobacco are inconsistent and they object to the idea that cannabis will be subject to the same inconsistent regulation. In many places, you can smoke in the open air, but not drink, and you can drink indoors but not smoke! To argue that alcohol and tobacco should be regulated the same as cannabis really means that as reformers we should be supportive of a change in the alcohol and tobacco laws as well.

When it comes to the age of consent, it’s important to remember that the age of consent is not related to any form of scientific research into harms but the age at which you are deemed legally able to make your own decisions for yourself. So this public argument about when  various drugs do and do not damage your developing brain seems to be irrelevant. It therefore seems fair to say that, within reason, certain (probably the “soft” ones) drugs like cannabis should be commercially available to over 18 year olds without restriction but from licenced production facilities which are subject to regular inspection in the same way that the sale of food is regulated and inspected, and that what you produce in your own home and give to your friends is your own business. I don’t mind taking the risk of eating a cake that a friend has made me, but I don’t want the kebab shop down the road to be doing whatever they want in their kitchen. In the same way, I’m sure that most canabis users are happy to consume whatever their friend grew in their garden but are dissatisfied with street dealers selling them herbs with ground glass in – a tactic they often get away with because of the lack of regulation. Harder” drugs are a trickier issue, but well covered in Transform Drug Policy Foundation’s publication, Blueprint for Regulation

The Blueprint for Regulation

But what about the children?! Well, what children do below the age of 18 not in the public eye is also generally considered at the discretion of parents and medical professionals – parents are allowed to give their children alcohol in the home under supervision, and medical professionals can prescribe whatever they want to anyone of any age, they can make those decisions in their own judgement. Doctors have the power to give Prozac to five year olds, yet they don’t! Such laws seem to be a good way of ensuring a balance between the rights of adults to alter their own consciousness and to raise their children as they see fit, the responsibility the government has to public health, and the desire that I hope we all have to not have nine year olds wandering around drunk or high.

The challenge is to set the bar so that it is low enough to keep people safe but not high enough that people will turn to a black market – we can see that with alcohol, which doesn’t have a black market, and the government’s efforts to stop people from smoking, which is prompting a significant black market of people importing knock-off tobacco from abroad and selling it under the counter. That’s what should be the challenge. Where to set the bar. That we’re arguing over whether there should be a bar at all and seeing people being killed or ruined in the process is a travesty. Whether you’re a Tory or an anarchist, nearly everything in your life, from your clothes to your spice rack, are subject to safety regulations that you, the consumer, benefit from. It is unfair to non-problematic drug users that they cannot be protected under the same legislation.

Update: Re:Vision in the News – Our thoughts on Mexxy

Mancunion Matters, 2nd May, 2012.

“Manchester drug experts and activists are warning people against the result of the government’s temporary ban of the legal high methoxetamine, or MXE.

The government invoked new banning powers and for the first time used a temporary class drug order (TCDO) to forbid the supply of the legal high.Methoxetamine, with street name mexxy, MXE, ROFLCOPTER, was banned at the end of March for up to 12 months after a recommendation from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which assessed the drug in less than 20 working days.

Michael Linnell from Manchester-based drug and alcohol charity Lifeline expressed doubts about the new powers deployed to prohibit methoxetamine, a ketamine analogue.“It is almost the worst system in the world that you could possibly have”, he said.

Anyone caught making, supplying or importing the drug will face up to 14 years in prison and unlimited fine.During the period of 12 months, the ACMD will look into the risks associated with the drug and decide whether to permanently prohibit it.

“I think it highly unlikely that they are going to turn around after a year saying we can have that one, it can stay legal,” said Mr Linnell.

Mr Linnell says that 15 different types of new substances that are currently making it into the country are raising concerns about the risks associated with their use.“What will now happen is the ACMD will look at it for a year. In the meantime, it will be replaced by something far more dangerous.“You squeeze the bubble somewhere and it pops up somewhere else you don’t you,” he said.

Sarah McCulloch, chair of Re:Vision Drug Policy Network, said: “While the government announcing an intention to conduct proper research into the effects and potential harms of a drug is much more preferable to a reliance to knee-jerk reactions and hyperbole, no-one had really heard of mexxy before the government banned it.“

By banning mexxy, it suddenly has allured to people wanting to know why it was banned, and more people will now probably use it than would have done if the government had left it to the more obscure corners of the internet.”

The process started after mexxy was wrongly linked to the death of four people. The ACMD later said that there were no confirmed deaths related to methoxetamine in the UK.However, a referral letter from the Minister for Crime Prevention and Anti-Social Behaviour and a recommendation from the ACMD to Home Secretary Theresa May followed. This resulted in the temporary ban.

The Crime Prevention Minister Lord Henley said: “Making this drug illegal sends a clear message to users and those making and supplying it that we are stepping up our fight against substances which are dangerous and ruin lives of victims and their families.”

Prior to the ban, you could buy little methoxetamine pills from head shops or online from over 200 UK-based websites.“The head shops are no longer selling methoxetamine. If you as a person had a lot of methoxatamine for your personal use, you can quite happily go on and use it. It is the supply that this temporary class order is supposed to stop”, said Mr Linnell.

He said that MXE rose in popularity due to shortage of ketamine, the third most popular illegal drug in the country.“They changed the legislation in India and most of our supplies were coming from India where it was still legal.“

Methoxetamine became popular among already existing ketamine users because of shortage. Methoxetamine is similar and most people say it is longer acting and more intense than ketamine.”

In the UK, ketamine was legal until 2006 when in the included in the Misuse of Drugs Act as class C drug.

“Interestingly, since 2006 the use has doubled. Banning actually increased the use,” Mr Linnell said.“They are already ketamine analogues on the market that seem to be replacing it. The real danger is the development of an illicit market. There are so many different analogues that are potentially far more dangerous.”

According to the November 2011 Global Drug Survey, 4.2% of the 7,700 respondents in the UK reported using methoxetamine in the last year.About 2.4% reported using methoxetamine in the last month.

Ms McCulloch said: “Prohibiting production and supply likely means the purity of the drug will plummet, as did the purity of mephedrone after it was banned, endangering the safety of users.“While a temporary ban, which refrains from punishing users, is better than immediate criminalisation, what we”re still seeing is the effort to criminalise substances as they become popular is driving people to use far less well-known and researched ‘designer drugs’, for which no-one knows the risks. Only proper control and regulation is going to protect the public and the individual.”

In light of new government powers to temporary ban legal highs and experts’ concerns about users’ safety, MM sought the opinion of the user.

Two MXE users agreed to talk to MM. The interviews will follow later this week.”

Original Link

Submission to the Home Affairs Committee Drug Inquiry

As many of you know, the Home Affairs Parliamentary Select Committee is currently holding an inquiry in the state of UK drug laws. As part of the Written Evidence stage, the Re:Vision Drug Policy Network submitted a memorandum that we are now allowed to release for everyone else to view as well.

We responded in each of the categories that the Committee suggested were areas of inquiry: the scientific evidence, the effects of drug laws on public health, human rights, and proposed alternatives. Our focus in the memorandum was on putting forward unapologetic arguments for the total repeal of Prohibition and the compelling and overwhelming evidence that the current regime harms, rather than promotes, science, public health, human rights. We further argued that the government should have no interest in non-problematic private drug use (for example, we don’t send the police to break down the doors of private homes on the basis of tip-offs that people have been drinking alcohol with our friends – but we do have officers in most Local Authorities on call to deal with noisy and antisocial neighbours). We concluded by putting forward the Transform Drug Policy Foundation’s Blueprint for Reform as a model for a drug which policy might be more appropriate.

Essentially, we don’t believe that we are advocating policies, approaches, or models that don’t already exist in some form. We already regulate the food we consume, the medicines we use, the and the behaviour of inconsiderate or violent people. Our current drug policy is actually the *exception* in history, and Re:Vision’s stance is the historical norm. In no other area of public policy does our government continue to wage a futile campaign opposed by most professionals in the field which has such a counter-productive effect on its stated aims. Sometimes, when we’re writing these things, we just can’t quite believe that the Home Office still maintains that people will be safer in a world where the many of the drugs they or their loved ones use are produced by organised criminals, mixed with contaminants by unregulated vendors, and sold in dangerous places made more dangerous by a cat and mouse game with the police that can never end by its very nature. We hope that you agree (if you don’t, you may find this helpful).

This was the first policy submission that we wrote by inviting individual members of Re:Vision to contribute to different sections, and the results we think are an accurate representation of the opinions of many young people in the UK on drug policy. We hope that the Committee Inquiry will subsequently benefit!

You can read our submission here.

Update: Re:Vision in the News – Manchester activist condemns Operation Broadley

Cannabis crackdown across the North West ‘waste of money and police resources’, says Manchester activist

A Manchester activist is condemning the police crackdown on cannabis that saw the destruction of more than 17,000 cannabis plants in the North West.Cannabis worth £9million and 4kg of cannabis leaf have been seized, and hundreds of cannabis farms were destroyed in a month-long police operation across the North West.Operation Broadley, which saw police forces across the region join hands with North West’s organised crime unit Titan, resulted in high number of arrests and the seizure of large quantities of other drugs including cocaine and LSD.

Manchester activist and campaigner Sarah McCulloch, who chairs Re:Vision Drug Policy Network Manchester, said: “Three million people use cannabis on a regular basis, of whom many are medicinal users who are willing to risk conviction and imprisonment to use the medicine they need in order to live functional pain-free lives.“It is therefore a phenomenal waste of money and police resources that could be put into genuine criminal activity that harms people.”

She believes that police forces can be successful in reducing production within the region only temporarily by prompting producers to move their operations somewhere else.“Cannabis is a plant which can be grown anywhere by anyone. In the exceptionally unlikely event that all UK cannabis suppliers were arrested, there are always entrepreneurs willing to get involved. That”s why we have a drug war,” she said.

Det Supt John Lyons, from Titan, said: “An increasing number of people who grow cannabis are directly funding dangerous, organised criminal gangs. These gangs are often responsible for gun crime, violence and intimidation across the North West.”Utility companies, garden centres, DIY stores and the Royal Mail stepped in, helping the police in spotting the signs of cannabis farming.The fire service and local authorities also aided police forces in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire, Cheshire, North Wales and Cumbria in the operation.”People who grow cannabis often have a total disregard for the safety of others, frequently endangering the lives of those in neighbouring properties by tampering with electricity supplies and leaving live electrical cables exposed, increasing the risk of fire,”

Mr Lyons said.”We hope this sends out a strong message to anyone thinking of becoming involved in cannabis cultivation – whether from letting a room in your property be used for cannabis growth or to those higher up the chain – that we will not tolerate this activity.”

However, Miss McCulloch believes that the market disruption that such operations cause can have undesirable results: “What we may well see is a rise in poor quality cannabis and a higher rate of contaminants as dealers make their current supplies go further.“This would be far more harmful than if the police simply left the market to its own devices and concentrated on the antisocial behaviours associated with some cannabis farms and users.“In the unlikely event that the market for cannabis was seriously disrupted, I would imagine that we would see a spike in the demand for synthetic (and legal) alternatives among recreational users. However, medicinal users will simply continue to seek the real thing.”

Read more and comment here.

Please don’t send your stoner teenager to military school!

We were contacted recently by Major Momma, who runs a blog describing how she placed her sixteen year old son in military school last September because, as far as has been implied in her posts, she caught him smoking weed and being a grumpy teenager on his summer break. I have replied to her privately, but it also seemed somewhat important to comment publicly for the benefit of parents who may be considering similar measures.

This post is 'for her own good.'

Re:Vision Drug Policy Network  neither condemn nor condone the use of drugs – we recognise that some people do use drugs, and we seek to mitigate the harmful consequences that drugs and the laws which regulate them can have. We fundamentally disagree that imprisoning your children in a military academy is in any way an appropriate solution to any concerns you may have over their drug use.

The No. 1 thing that teenagers want – that they report, again and again, to researchers – is to have more control over their own lives. They’ve grown up with you deciding what they wear, who they talk to, and where they go. Now they have the ability to leave the house without telling you, they’re going to try that. Now they can stay up late and eat unhealthy food, they’ll probably give that a go. The most important thing that you can do as a parent is to accept that this is part of your child becoming an adult, and your duty is to act like an adult by not going berserk and assuming that you have lost your baby because they’ve stopped telling you every little detail of their lives.

So when it comes to drugs, and I can say this as someone considerably closer to my teen years than most of you reading this, if they’re available, many teenagers (30% of teenagers in the UK, actually) will do them out of curiosity. Health concerns are irrelevant when you think you are immortal. Legal niceties don’t matter when you’re bored. But if your teenager is using drugs, it is not the end of the world. Most teenagers will try a drug or two – alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, whatever –  and stop there. Maybe some will continue, but the fact that you found a lighter in their jeans pocket is certainly not the time to start freaking out about your child becoming a crack addict on the streets turning tricks to get by.

If you do discover your child has been using drugs, and you are against drug use, you have two choices: you can be angry, or you can be relaxed. If you decide anger is the best policy, you can spy on your child, and spy on their friends, looking for ‘signs’ of teen drug use (by the way, getting up late, shuffling non-verbally around the house and angsting about their self-identity is what many non-drug-using teens do most of the time anyway).  You could denounce their actions to your neighbours, and cart them off to military schools away from “bad” influences, and you could also totally destroy your entire relationship with them. We all make mistakes in our youth, but if you go down this road, the manner in which you have chosen to deal with your child’s problems is almost certain to obliterate any honest and open relationship you might have had in the future.

Surely gun use does more damage than drug use.

If your child is lying to you about their drug use, then they are going to continue to lie to you because you have made it clear what happens when they are honest – you go mad, you try to ruin their relationships with their friends, and then you tell all your neighbours about what a terrible person you think they’ve been! If your child feels that they cannot be open with you about their feelings, their activities and their drug use, then they’re not going to stop feeling, acting, or using – they’re just going to stop talking to you about them. Which means that if they’re one of the minority of teenagers who develop serious drug problems, you’re going to end up being the last person to know. And that would be awful.

Alternatively, you could try being relaxed about it. And ‘relaxed’ isn’t synonymous with letting your child do drugs. Drugs, legal and illegal, can mess people up. It’s ok to not want your kids to do anything harder than a McFlurry and it’s ok to let your kids know this. Teenagers are filled with hormones and a heady mixture of arrogance and low self-esteem. They love you, but they don’t want to need you. They want their own life but they want to know what you think of it. Giving your child the space to make their own choices is far more likely to result in them doing what you want them to than if you go all Momma Godzilla on them every time they come home stinking like an ashtray.

If you overreact, so will your child

The first page of the Google search for how to talk to your kids about drugs is filled with some of the dumbest advice I’ve ever heard. “If your child comes home smelling of alcohol, you should tell them in a quiet, unemotional voice that this is an extremely serious matter.” No. It isn’t. What they have done might well have been illegal (although 17 nations have no legal drinking age), but unless they rolled home unable to talk, using alcohol as a teenager is truly unremarkable. I did it, you almost certainly did it, there are teenagers probably doing it right now. Sketching out on your child now means you never see that side of them again, even if they’re struggling with substance abuse. I would be so much more worried if they were coming home every night drunk. Save your words for the twentieth time, not the first.

Or, “Watch a film which portrays drug use with your child, and then ask them if they know any people like those in the film.” Sure, organise some dedicated parent-child bonding time and then make it really awkward by blatantly prying into the lives of their friendship circle. But hey, it’s better than sending your child to military school! Seriously. If you find yourself engaging in elaborate plots to manipulate your child’s actions, please just put down the blueprints for a second and go and hang out with your teenager like a normal human being. They’ll like that, and maybe you’ll understand them a bit better.

 

Here’s some more realistic advice about how to talk to your kids about drugs, cherry-picked from the National Health Service:

4. Let them know your values and boundaries
It’s important for your children to know where you stand on drug taking. Be clear about your opinions on drugs so that they know your boundaries.

8. Let them know you’re always there for them
That way they can be honest with you about what they’re up to and they won’t just tell you what they think you want to hear.

9. Listen as well as talk
Talking to teenagers can be hard. When you’re discussing drugs, don’t preach or give a speech and don’t make assumptions about what they know or do. Let your child tell you about his or her experiences.

12. Be realistic
It’s common for teenagers to experiment with drugs. Remember that only a small proportion of those who experiment will develop a drug problem.

I am not writing this as a professional, but as someone who only comparatively recently stopped being a teenager and who still has an awesome mother whose response to all of my many faux pas was to hug me and say  “Well, I trust you won’t do anything too stupid.”  And she was right, and I think I probably have a much better relationship with my mum than your child will with you if you don’t respect them. Your responsibility as a good parent is to hold their hand (when not in public) and help them when they stumble, not stunt their growth trying to stuff them into the mould of who you would like them to be. So please recognise your children as a human being equally as worthy of respect as yourself, and likely to make mistakes. And sometimes those mistakes will involve drugs, and that is ok.

Update: International Women’s Day and Drug Policy (8th March)

Aside

International Women”s Day is an annual day to raise awareness of women”s issues around the world. Women are discriminated against in many areas of public life across the world. This can vary from being paid less, to being denied work, the right to vote, access to one’s children or appropriate healthcare, or in some parts of the world, even from being unaccompanied in public places or driving. Re:Vision are very big on equality and diversity. As the drug war is fought primarily against marginalised members of society, women are more likely to be harshly treated in the prosecution of this war.

Read our blogpost: “International Women”s Day: How the drug war affects women.”

Download our free briefing, “Women and Drugs”.

Happy International Women”s Day!