The Independent View: What’s the crack?

As more countries and jurisdictions are relaxing their laws around cannabis, many questions have arisen. Will legalisation affect potency? Could some types of cannabis actually reduce psychosis? What are the choices in cannabis legislation, is it just prohibition or legalisation? And if cannabis is legalised, will everyone start using it? These are just a few of the questions answered by myself and two other researchers from King’s College London in the fourth episode of a new podcast; What’s the Crack.

We created the podcast with an aim to improve public awareness of the complexity and reality of addiction, policies, stigma surrounding drug use and drugs scandals in the newspapers by exploring the evidence base. We are all passionate about the drugs and addiction research field and every episode draws upon our collective knowledge and experience, addressing the health, criminal justice, social and individual side to a story. The podcast links the academic world to the public, bridging the gap and filling in the blanks with research evidence that the media have left out. Previous episodes have covered Dry January, Fabric nightclub in London, drug consumption rooms and now it tackles cannabis legalisation.

This episode introduces different policy options of cannabis legislation, providing alternatives to the usual dichotomous choice of prohibition (possession and supply is illegal) or legalisation (cannabis is freely and widely sold). Alternative legislation is discussed; decriminalisation (it is only illegal to supply) and regulation (a government monopoly). In addition, various factors in the legalisation debate are considered, such as psychosis and THC (active chemical that make users feel “stoned”)/CBD (cannabinoid with various potential medical applications) levels and the impact of legalisation on these. Cannabis is made up of the chemicals THC and CBD and emerging evidence suggests that cannabis high in CBD may mean that people experience fewer psychosis-like symptoms when using the drug. Arguably an incentive for controlling the THC/CBD ratios.

We conclude that after considering the evidence in the field and applying it to the arguments surrounding the legalisation debate, it would be better for individual and public health if cannabis was not criminalised, and there could be limits placed on the amount of THC in the drug. This realistically would require cannabis to be legally regulated by the government, an argument previously put forward in a report by the Liberal Democrat party with recommendations provided by an independent panel of experts.

The podcast is supported by funding from the Wellcome/King’s College London Public Engagement Small Grant Scheme.

Listen to What’s the Crack every fortnight here

Subscribe for future episodes here and follow on Twitter for updates @WhatTheCrackPod

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

* Elle Wadsworth is a Research Assistant at the National Addictions Centre at the Institute of Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience, King’s College London. Her research is in both the field of New Psychoactive Substances and their supply chain on the deep web, and e-cigarettes. She is due to start a PhD in drug policy later this year.

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3 Comments

  • Hi Elle
    Thank you for your post – very interesting. I will try to listen to the podcast.
    You’ve obviously spent a lot of time and effort on this and I didn’t want it to go without comment.
    Must admit, this area is not one I know a lot about, although I am aware of the basic arguments for and against and especially the potential painkilling properties which in certain situations must be a good option to have.
    I wish you best with your research and look forward to any future updates.

  • Hi Elli
    Had a listen over the weekend. Really enjoyed it and really good in depth treatment of subject with lighthearted feel. Think you missed a couple of choice one liners but maybe that’s just my sense of humour. Will definitely listen to more. Please keep it up.

  • I am amazed this article didn’t get more comments, in my opinion this is a well researched and well argued article, I agree that the current drug legislation does need a dispassionate review, but as some one who has worked in the substance misuse harm reduction / recovery sector for over 15 years I remain to be fully convinced that legalisation is the way forward for this country.
    Labour tried to move towards decriminalisation of cannabis under the Blair government, at that time I was managing a criminal justice team that had an arrest referral, diversion from custody scheme for those people caught in possession of drugs for the first time.
    When cannabis was a class B drug we used to get about 15 referrals / month on average two would be people under 18 years. When it was reclassified to a class C drug the numbers of referrals for cannabis surged to on average 30 per month of which between 8 and 10 were under 18, the numbers of early to mid teens increased significantly and the most common reason given for trying the drug was ‘ because it’s legal now ‘ obviously it wasn’t.
    I think looking at projects from abroad and thinking they can be transferred to the U.K. should be treated with caution, consider the Blair government extension of licensing laws to enable 24 hr opening of pubs and clubs the idea behind this was that it would lead to an end to binge drinking and a move to a more continental style relationship with alcohol, it didn’t happen.
    Also the system in Portugal is not a free for all, people who regularly get caught in possession are expected to seek treatment. In fact very few of the decriminalisation / legalisation projects are quite as liberal as they may appear to be.
    The illicit market would not disappear, people under 18Yrs would still want to use, and adults would seek out, cheaper / stronger drugs as they currently do with tobacco and alcohol despite both being easily available, reasonably affordable and regulated in this country.

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