LibLink: Nick Clegg: Why the Liberal Democrats believe a legal, regulated cannabis market would improve public health

Nick Clegg has been writing in the BMJ outlining our position on Cannabis.

He compares criminalisation of drugs to the prohibition of alcohol in the States:

Far from controlling and eliminating alcohol use, the “noble experiment” of prohibition drove users towards increasingly potent and dangerous drinks. With no regulatory levers in place except the threat of arrest (which had to be set against the promise of handsome profits for those who defied the law), there was no effective way to control the market. The ensuing public health crisis was one of the key motivations behind the repeal of prohibition in 1933, when President Roosevelt signed a new law allowing the sale of beer with a maximum alcohol content of 4%.

For spirits in 1926, read “skunk” in 2017. [1] “Skunk” is a direct result of prohibition. New cultivation methods have pushed up potency over the past 20 years. Just as 1920s-era bootleggers didn’t bother to produce and smuggle high volume, low alcohol beer, so the illicit cannabis industry has responded to criminal enforcement by developing products that maximise profit, with no consideration for the health of its customers.

He goes on to talk about the merits of regulation:

Regulation would also allow us to apply the lessons learned from the control of tobacco and alcohol. The risks of unfettered commercialisation are real, but instead of allowing the industry to establish itself and then rein it in, we would impose strict rules from the start. Plain packaging for all cannabis products and a ban on advertising would prevent manufacturers from stimulating demand. Users could be nudged away from smoking and towards vaping, as we have done with tobacco. Vendors could finally be properly policed, with licenses withdrawn for selling to under-18s as we do with pubs. And some of the tax revenue could be used to support clearer public health messaging.

Unlike the Conservative and Labour election manifestos, which make no mention of the cannabis problem, the Liberal Democrat manifesto includes a clear commitment to regulate the market. We believe that regulation would reduce crime and improve public health. We have studied the legal markets that already exist in North America, and have accepted the recommendations of a panel of experts, including former and serving chief constables.

He ends with:

The opponents of regulation should ask themselves this: what other public health problem do we contract out entirely to organised criminals?

You can read the whole article here.

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4 Comments

  • John Littler 2nd Jun '17 - 12:49pm

    Criminalising it has been as damaging as prohibition of alcohol was in USA.

  • It’s a good policy, but it’s not radical anymore. Cannabis is slowly being medicinalised/decriminalised/legalised across the entire western world. Good but 10 or 20 years to late for this to attract much attention or raise any eyebrows.

  • You are right that it’s a good policy, and not really radical, in that I expect that the majority of adults already agree that it’s a sensible move, or would do so after taking a couple of minutes to read the public health explanation as to why we should treat cannabis as a medical, not criminal issue.

    However, so long as there are tabloids, who don’t particularly care about meaningful public health policy, we’ll have sensational stories, and editorials in the Mail & Express specifically designed to get their readers worked up about the danger, insisting it’s a road to ruin. And I fully expect that most of the individuals writing those articles will know they are nonsense, yet will do so anyway.

    Meanwhile, rivals who know we are right will pretend we are being reckless in the hope of scoring some cheap political points.

    However, I am confident that a policy similar to what we are proposing in this manifesto will be in place in the UK within ten years, with medical cannabis possibly becoming available before then.

    Social media is full of people joking that this policy is a sign of our desperation to appeal to teens alienated by tuition fees, or people who will be too stoned to vote. Those not playing political games don’t understand the subject, or the concept of devising a policy that’s actually beneficial for society and not just about votes. The good news is that people from the scientific community, who are fed up with politicians ignoring their advice, will be impressed at our willingness to go with the evidence on this one. That increases our overall credibility across other areas.

  • @Fiona: “Social media is full of people joking that this policy is a sign of our desperation to appeal to teens alienated by tuition fees”

    This is because of how the party have treated the issue in the past and its difficult for some people to believe they mean it this time. I believe the party mean it this time but I think it’s just too late. The lib dems have had more policies on cannabis than I can count. If people are think the party are insincere they will look for other motives. The lib dems have some good policies and the best policy on drugs out of all the main parties. But the party suffers from a lack of trust because of their past behaviour.

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