LibLink: Norman Lamb: Why we should regulate Cannabis

Tim Farron has openly said that he smoked Cannabis as a youngster.

From today’s Mirror:

Lib Dem chief Tim Farron has becomes the first leader of a UK-wide political party to admit smoking cannabis.

The MP’s candid confession comes as he calls for the complete legalisation of the drug in a bid to generate up to £900million for public coffers.

Father-of-four Mr Farron, 46, told the Mirror: “I tried cannabis when I was younger, as did many other politicians.

“But sadly, too many other politicians want to continue forcing our police to waste resources chasing cannabis users when they should be able to take violent crime instead.

“It’s time that we had the courage to look at the evidence and make a decision that will help us to tackle the real criminals instead of the current failed approach.”

On the party website, Norman Lamb has urged members to support the motion calling for the legalisation of Cannabis. He wrote:

I fully accept that cannabis, like any drug, can pose harms to individuals who choose to use it. But if we accept that many people will use cannabis – whether for recreational or medicinal purposes – then we must be pragmatic in how we minimise those harms. That is why I will be making the case for introducing a fully legal, regulated market at our spring conference this Saturday.

No drug is made less harmful when you buy it from criminals. Drug dealers have no interest in your welfare. They never ask for proof of age, they won’t refuse to serve you if you’ve taken too much and you may have no idea what strength of cannabis they are selling to you. Criminal dealers also have every motivation to encourage people who buy cannabis from them to move on to far more dangerous and addictive substances.

But this is not the only devastating social cost of the current law. Thousands of people each year receive convictions for possession of drugs for personal use, which will blight their education and employment opportunities for the rest of their lives.

While my primary motivation in arguing for a change in the law is the human cost of prohibition, it is also worth mentioning the economic case for reform.

Currently, the illegal drug market is worth billions to criminal gangs, while the ‘war on drugs’ costs the UK tax-payer billions more. Conversely, a regulated market could generate savings (particularly in the crime and justice system) and the taxation of cannabis has the potential to raise significant revenue.

Finally, there is the compelling law and order case. It is shocking when you think how many police hours are spent targeting people carrying small amounts of cannabis for personal use. Hours which could be better used tackling far more harmful crimes.

The Liberal Democrats have a proud history of developing our policies based on evidence, liberal principles and informed debate. I think this report is an incredibly valuable contribution to this process.

You can read the motion to Conference here on Page 44 and if you want to amend it, you have until Thursday at 1pm to collect 10 signatures and submit your amendment.

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13 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 9th Mar '16 - 12:44am

    As per the norm,I am on the side of Mark above.

    Well done Tim and Norman.A particular emphasis on the law and order argument herein , is especially very welcome.When Norman rightly mentions freeing our prisons of those low level inmates who should be in treatment or community programmes for non violent offences , he needs to highlight the need for greater time and resource targeted at the real villains , the violent , serious criminals.Tough on criminals who are criminals , not creating criminals by out of date laws and approaches relating to personal , private consumption.I say that as a vegetarian , non smoker or drinker who has never tried drugs either !

  • Tuition fees 2?

    We might pick up a few younger voters who we can then promptly alienate if we ever get another sniff of power. If anyone wants to seriously suggest the Tories/Labour would consider this I’ll cheekily ask what you’ve been smoking!

    No-one goes to prison for recreational cannabis. The problem we have is that police forces are desperate for detections and catching a kid by the park with a joint is a nice easy statistic (woe betide the politician who presides over solved crimes reducing)!

    Argue for reform of how police forces are rated (PCC elections anyone?) to concentrate on more serious crimes! Legalising/decriminalising cannabis might remove a sympton of this but does not address the cause!

  • Glenn Andrews 9th Mar '16 - 2:28pm

    @D Mackay; the cause of people choosing to use cannabis for recreation is the same cause that makes people go to the cinema, watch a football match, go to the theatre, go for a drink in a pub…. it is recreation, and as with any recreation that doesn’t directly affect others (which cannabis doesn’t, but cannabis prohibition does) those indulging in it don’t consider themselves to be committing a crime in any real sense of the word.

  • @Glenn Andrews

    I was not arguing about why people use cannabis (live and let live). I would argue with some of your reasoning. Drug driving is surely a problem – there is some anti-social aspect to smoking strong smelling substances in the street. no?

    Anyway I was arguing that saying we should legalise in order to free up police time ignores the root causes of police time being wasted. In my opinion this is a desire for solved crimes figures (easy detections) and this is a problem worth solving!

    Also think the politics are terrible – why not make an offer to the young that we have a hope of obtaining?

  • Glenn Andrews 9th Mar '16 - 5:25pm

    @D Mckay; Drug driving is surely a problem…. well possibly, although interestingly traffic fatalities actual fell in Colorado following Cannabis legalisation – they chose to measure it due to such fears regarding drug driving….. and of course it would should be one of the issues covered on the plain packaged health and safety warnings…… and this policy is not an offer to the young; it’s a policy to reduce crime, create employment, improve safety and quality of the product and raise tax revenue.

  • The reasons given above for doing this are just managerialist reasons that won’t inspire anyone. How about saying “We are liberals and therefore we believe it is up to the individual to weigh up the harms and benefits, not the government to decide on his or her behalf”. Without any philosphical or ideological basis there is no reason for a political party to exist.

    ALDE MEP Richard Sulik* has legalising cannabis as part of his party’s policy for that reason and that’s among the reasons why he’s putting together a coalition to govern his country as prime minister while you lot are talking about International Women’s Day.

    * not me, just a similar name 🙂

  • Cannabis use is linked with psychosis and possibly schizophrenia, unlike smoking, moderate drinking – and caffeine! There is a big difference. Recent evidence from King’s College London points to “substantially worse” outcomes for patients having a first episode of psychosis who use cannabis, with a “50 per cent higher frequency of hospital admissions.” http://www.kcl.ac.uk/ioppn/news/records/2016/March/Cannabis-use-in-patients-with-psychosis-linked-to-worse-outcomes.aspx

    And instead of the drug being worth billions to the awful drug gangs Norman Lamb writes about it will be worth an estimated billion in tax revenues to the Government! Once something is legal it can be advertised and promoted. All this will do is lead to more people smoking cannabis and, in reality, more addiction.

    This is what a recent scientific journal, Neuropsychopharmacology, said in September 2015:

    “In adolescents, increased social acceptance and decreases in the perception of cannabis’ risks are associated with increased use (Hall and Weier, 2015; Scheurmeyer et al, 2014). Already 2.6 million more people in the United States report near-daily cannabis use in 2013 compared with 2008 (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 2014). And cannabis legalization creates a powerful profit motive to create and maintain cannabis users, with the burgeoning marijuana industry following a similar business strategy as the tobacco industry (Richter and Levy, 2014), which will likely further increase cannabis use.”

    Criminalising cannabis use may have its problems and maybe offences should civil – I am no legal expert – but this policy is another case of the Lib Dems failing young people by not assessing the entirety of the evidence.

  • @Glenn Andrews

    Correlation is not causation! What possible reason would the use of cannabis improve road safety? – this would contradict all medical based evidence I’ve seen.

    This is not an offer to the young? The Yougov poll last March indicates the only group who strongly favour legislation are 18-24 years old (25-39 roughly divided) with any older group strongly against. The Guardian (in a particularly nasty article) are reporting it this way so I’m not alone in making this link!

  • William Summers 10th Mar '16 - 12:59am

    @Judy

    It is true there is a link with cannabis use and psychosis – however my understanding is this is really complex and not necessarily causation, eg are people who are more prone to psychosis also more prone to cannabis use? They are, for a start, more likely to be from the same demographic groups. Additionally, that link should not be, in itself, reason for other people to be denied the right to legally use cannabis as the risks/benefits need to be weighed up against each other. I am not being flippant about psychosis, but everything has a risk: the question is how big that risk, particularly as a proportion of overall use.

    Research by Dr Nutt, the ex-drugs czar (until he got sacked for putting evidence over perception), claims that to prevent one episode of schizophrenia we would need to “stop 5000 men or 7000 women aged 20-25 years from ever using” cannabis. Banning it on that basis doesn’t seem the best assessment of cost/benefit, particularly when compared to the dangers of alcohol and tobacco, which we are, as a society, prepared to accept as having serious negative public health impacts. I would also argue that legalised drugs, as with alcohol and tobacco, can be properly regulated as to strength and ingredients, whereas with the current black market you don’t know what you are really taking or how strong it is.

    You say “once something is legal it can be advertised and promoted” but this is not necessarily true. Legal things can also be heavily regulated, as in the case of tobacco and alcohol and the various restrictions on advertising and promoting them – plain packets, licensed sales, advertising restrictions, etc.

    You also say legalisation will lead to more use and addiction, but there is contrary evidence about this, with some studies on places that have legalised already showing that use doesn’t go up, eg http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/16/us-cannabis-study-legalisation-no-rise-use-teenagers. And cannabis isn’t very addictive, particularly not when compared to tobacco and alcohol.

  • @William Summers
    Your link specifically references medical marijuana legislation so is not quite apples and apples! The nub seems to be that younger people see it as a medicine in these states and not a recreational drug (and this perception helps shift desire) – this is markedly different to simply selling it like cigarettes!

  • I find it surprising when the Lib Dems are rightly so concerned about mental health that they so easily ignore the link between cannabis and depression, anxiety, psychosis and addiction. The Royal College of Psychiatrists information leaflet on the subject would surely suggest real caution.

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

    For example the leaflet states:

    “Is cannabis addictive?

    Yes. Even though in the past cannabis was not thought to be addictive, current evidence now suggests that it can be, particularly if used regularly. Cannabis has the features of addictive drugs such as the development of:
    tolerance – which means having to take more and more to get the same effect. In heavy users, you can experience withdrawal symptoms such as:

    craving
    decreased appetite
    sleep difficulty
    weight loss
    aggression and/or increased irritability
    irritability
    restlessness
    strange dreams”

    And that’s just to quote one section. Read the others on mental health and car accidents. What lies behind this call to legalise cannabis? A policy to legalise cannabis for recreational use is likely to increase the use of the drug. This cannot be a responsible position to take.

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