Cannabis – Canada moving towards legalisation by 2018

Eight states of the USA have already legalised cannabis and Canada is set to follow suit in 2018.  The Liberal government. elected in 2015, had a manifesto commitment to do so.  Unlike the pledge to scrap first past the post and introduce a new electoral system, it is a promise that looks set to be kept.

There are various arguments for legal cannabis.

First, it has been shown to be an effective pain killer, for example for MS patients, and may ease symptoms of conditions like Parkinsons.  It is cruel and unfair to deny patients access.

Second, it is a question of personal freedom.  Cannabis is a harmful drug.  But so are tobacco and alcohol.  Excessive caffeine is bad for you.  Most of us consume a health damaging amount of sugar – and generally too much food of all types.  People have freedom to consume all of these and we protect this freedom because it is a better world where people can make their own decisions and live with the consequences than one where freedom is denied.  We balance that with laws to protect people from the tobacco smoke of others information on food, so people’s choice are informed.

Third, legalising supply takes it and the profit out of the hands of criminals.  Billions of pounds of cannabis is sold every year.  Because it is criminalised no tax is paid. The supply is controlled by people willing to break to law and who often use the proceeds to fund other criminality.

The main argument against legalisation is health.  There is no doubt that it is bad for your health and it leads to crime.  Cannabis’s connection to crime is different to that of cocaine or heroin.  Someone can take cocaine and immediately become more violent, as they can with alcohol.  Heroin addiction can drive people to commit burglaries and thefts.  Cannabis usually makes people more mellow rather than violent.  In 14 years as a lawyer in criminal law I have not seen many people who have committed crime while high on cannabis.  Many more do so while drunk.  But I have seen many defendants commit crimes, including rape and serious violence, who are long term cannabis users.  Their long term use appears to have a serious effect on their thinking skills especially in traumatic situations.

We should never be seen to encourage it’s use.  But legalisation is not to encourage.  It is to recognised that choice belongs to the individual not the government.

Public opinion is probably more willing than ever to accept legalisation of cannabis.

We have a Conservative Prime Minister who has upheld is Class B status against scientific advice, like Labour before her.

The question for Liberal Democrats is whether to match the brave pledge of our radical Liberal Canadian cousins.

 

 

 

* Antony Hook was #2 on the South East European list in 2014, is the English Party's representative on the Federal Executive and produces this sites EU Referendum Roundup.

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17 Comments

  • Just a shame the popular way of using it is to force others to use it too. Tobacco and alcohol don’t have that same drawback.

  • I don’t understand your comment Jen? The popular way to use cannabis is to smoke it, same as tobacco. I don’t see how this forces others to use it unless you are stuck in a confined space with a user.

  • clive english 28th Mar '17 - 7:40pm

    yeah I don’t see that either, unless I’ve missed something?

  • I’d like to see decriminalisation and regulation of cannabis for both medical and recreational use. That doesn’t mean I want to see kids taking it in school playgrounds, or whatever other sensationalist nonsense certain parts of the media come out with. I’m firmly of the view that in order to have frank and meaningful public health discussions about its use, then we have to remove the criminal connotations.

    From a very practical point of view, I feel it is important to separate medical use from recreational use, as I think it would be easier to get that legislation through, and because it’s unfair that those who do rely on the medical properties are forced to break the law, and to take the risks with the reliability of the product. My friend’s mum’s friend has MS, and she relies on her grandson to buy her cannabis from the local drug dealers. That’s a disgraceful situation to be in.

    Once people have adjusted to medical cannabis as a medical drug with accepted side-effects, and reliable, legal supplies, then we’ll be in a stronger position to make better decisions about recreational use, and establishing regulated supply processes.

  • Richard Underhill 28th Mar '17 - 11:12pm

    “Heroin addiction can drive people to commit burglaries and thefts. ” Is heroin addictive? Is it really the underlying lifestyle which is addictive? Is it possible that gradually reducing doses would make withdrawal possible?

  • First, it has been shown to be an effective pain killer, for example for MS patients, and may ease symptoms of conditions like Parkinsons. It is cruel and unfair to deny patients access

    This is a very bad argument for legalisation of the recreational form. If it is the case that there are medical benefits, then the active ingredients need to be synthesised into a form which allows the application of controlled, measured doses: which no recreational method of taking the drug does. Ideally also those active ingredients could be produced in a form which doesn’t have the ‘getting high’ side-effect.

    We don’t legalise recreational heroin because morphine has therapeutic uses, which is what this argument sounds like.

  • Sue Sutherland 29th Mar '17 - 11:08am

    Richard, I don’t understand your question. Having seen my neighbour’s son struggling to come off heroin 4 or 5 times without success, even though he had support from various organisations, I would say that heroin is addictive. He moved on from cannabis to heroin.
    I used to think that the answer was to have all drugs declared as illegal but now I’m not so sure. I think of the era of prohibition of alcohol in America and the effects that had and recognise the similarities in what happens with drugs. If cannabis was made legal it would be possible to separate its supply from that of harder drugs and would also enable the provision of less damaging levels of the drug, which at present causes mental health problems for some long term users, because it could be controlled.
    There are currently drugs available on prescription which are highly sought after by drug users and dealers because of their mind altering capacity so the line between medicinal and recreational drugs is already fuzzy, although pharmacists and doctors regulations help to minimise this.
    If there’s an area crying out for evidence based policy this is it.

  • Having seen my neighbour’s son struggling to come off heroin 4 or 5 times without success, even though he had support from various organisations, I would say that heroin is addictive

    I think the question is, did he actually want to come off heroin? Or did he like the feeling it gave him so much that he wanted to take it, even though there was nothing physically compelling him to?

  • A Social Liberal 29th Mar '17 - 5:16pm

    “Is heroin really addictive?”

    I too do not understand the question because it is almost universally acknowledged to be so – both psychologically and physically. When addicts do not place heroin into their system they hurt, badly. Cold turkey can cause seizures which in extreme cases like my nephews bring on lifelong recurring epileptic fits.

  • Laurence Cox 29th Mar '17 - 7:07pm

    It is concerning that someone who is in a position of leadership within the Party is advocating legalisation of the recreational use of cannabis. If we take an evidence-based approach by looking at the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ advice on cannabis:

    http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/problemsdisorders/cannabis.aspx

    “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.”

    If cannabis, or its active component THC, is being used in a medical environment where symptoms can be monitored, then there is a case for saying that its side-effects are likely to be less damaging than the condition it is treating. This does not justify its recreational use and, as we have seen with the so-called ‘legal highs’, people are prone to confuse legal with safe. This does raise the spectre of legalisation causing a rise in mental illness, a problem not usually associated with the other drugs that the writer seeks to equate with cannabis: sugar may rot your teeth; it does not rot your mind.

  • Jayne Mansfield 29th Mar '17 - 8:53pm

    @Dav a 9.57a,m,
    I agree.

    This is a slap in the face for those of us who have taught our children that if you want a ‘legal high’ spend your time helping those less fortunate than yourselves.

  • Laurence, the mistake is to assume that people don’t do drugs because it’s illegal, or that they would become more dangerous if they were properly regulated. And of course decriminalisation is not the same as legalisation. And frankly, the news that abusing drugs at 15 is bad for you is not news. What do you think they have to say about children who abuse alcohol at 15?

    There are a number of reasons that drugs can be dangerous, including the fact that the suppliers are all criminals with no duty of care to the individual, or obligation to check photo ID or maintain quality control. You know those warnings about buying moonshine from car boot sales or when on holiday? Asda doesn’t put meths in its vodka, not even the budget lines. Teenagers that are already taking drugs don’t trust the public health messages currently being put out there, and the legal status of many drugs, including cannabis, is considered to be a class or a race issue. Prohibition is not an effective public health intervention, and evidenced-based policy means looking beyond whether a substance is bad for you, to whether or not the policy controlling that substance is effective.

    IMO, the best way to make cannabis use less dangerous is for it to be properly regulated, and not left to the good will of the drug dealers, who will happily offer you something ‘a bit stronger’. The bonus would be freeing up police time to deal with more dangerous offenders.

    I do, however, think that it is important to distinguish between those who would like to be able to take it recreationally without fear of a criminal record, and those who might benefit from medicinal use. It’s ridiculous that there are perfectly legal versions of heroin and cocaine already on the market for medicinal use, yet people with a moral objection are preventing the equivalent with cannabis.

  • Jayne Mansfield 29th Mar '17 - 10:36pm

    @ Fiona,
    No. People don’t do drugs because people who do drugs are losers.

    I believe that the conflating of drugs that might have a medicinal use with the use of drugs for recreational use has held back advances in the former.

  • I agree (as already stated twice) with the second part of your statement, and I’d much rather people did focus on the medical side of things as it’s much less controversial and we have a realistic chance of getting sufficient consensus to help people.

    Nevertheless, the first part shows you are hugely out of touch on the subject, and I can’t let it slide. I don’t do drugs myself, and have no desire to smoke cannabis or anything else currently illegal recreationally. Even if it did become legal, I’m not sure I’d bother. However, I have worked in public health, I have worked with toxicologists, and I know psychiatrists, and I know or have known people from each of those groups who have used illegal drugs recreationally.

    The reason you think people who do drugs are losers is because you think of the people who have been arrested for taking drugs, and it is that criminality that makes them a loser. The rich, educated drug users are less likely to get caught or criminalised for it, but the class aspects are a whole other debate.

    More to the point at hand, the one about safety, the teenagers who are thinking about trying drugs disagree with you. They think that people who are anti-drugs are a bunch of out of touch squares, and they have no interest in listening to you. If you think they listen to you, they are pretending. They’d rather listen to the drug dealers than people who lecture them about how drugs are for losers.

    And yes, some people who take drugs do come from horribly disadvantaged backgrounds, and are at the bottom of the societal pile. The current policy of criminalising their escape is not helping them.

  • Jayne Mansfield 30th Mar '17 - 2:57pm

    @ Fiona,
    I can live with the idea that impressionable young people think that I am an out of touch square. You move from a discussion on cannabis to one on ‘drugs’, is that because cannabis use has fallen dramatically among 15- 34 year olds in Britain?

    As for psychiatrists using cannabis, perhaps they should read the information leaflets of their own Royal College regarding cannabis and mental health. A clear case of physician heal thyself, I would say.

    If you think that there is a class aspect to criminalising drug users, wouldn’t it be better to deal with issues of class and social injustice rather than a symptom, just as those who say that there is a ‘race’ aspect to criminalising those in possession of drugs, should also confront the fundamental issue, i.e. racism.

  • You might be happy with “impressionable people” thinking you are out of touch, but are you happy with them getting their drugs advice from drug dealers? It’s about risk reduction, not moralising, or being cool.

    Again, you miss the point when I say successful, and medically educated people take drugs (and I say drugs, because it’s not just cannabis). They understand the risks, and accept them. I can only assume you think that no-one in the medical profession drinks any alcohol, smokes, ever has less than five a day, doesn’t eat processed meat, exercises for half an hour, five times a week, and always gets a good night’s sleep. Anything else would suggest double-standards.

    There are plenty of articles online discussion the association between drug laws and institutional racism, so anyone interested can read up on it. I do think it’s a factor, but it’s also a distraction from whether or not we should do more to help medicinal users, and whether or not prohibition works better than regulation at keeping recreational users safe.

  • Jayne Mansfield 30th Mar '17 - 11:32pm

    @ Fiona,
    Young people do not need to get their advice on drug taking from drug dealers. They can access information from multiple sources. The Frank helpline being just one, schools another.

    The majority of young people prefer risk- avoidance to risk reduction and recognise that it is better not to take drugs in the first place.

    The legalisation of cannabis in Colorado has not reduced racism. Although numbers of people arrested for possession of cannabis has fallen, black people are still arrested in disproportionate numbers.

    ‘ I can only assume that you think that no-one …etc. etc’. What a foolish assumption.

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