THE BLOG

Prohibition: Sowing the Seeds of a New Ban

05/07/2013 10:27 BST | Updated 03/09/2013 10:12 BST

As the government's arbitrary decision to ban Khat still resonates and incongruently flies in the face of evidence, it seems as if the prohibitive crusade is about to continue.

Sir Roger Gale MP has recently become aware that cannabis seeds are available on High Street shelves. The logic that cannabis cultivation is prohibited, therefore the seeds should also be banned, has eminent sense to it. One cannot blame Sir Roger for his thinking, but there is a rather more nuanced angle to this specific subject of seed sales. A fostered ban would have wider implications than one may first think.

Trying to 'control' anything that is subject to nature is nigh on impossible. We have to remind ourselves that we're not dealing with a higher risk manufacturing process like other drugs. The cultivation of cannabis is comparatively easy, even without seeds. What the banning of seeds would do is lead the criminal gangs that currently control the commercial, highly profitable, street market, to have even more power -- and exponentially greater profit margins. We must do all within our power to hinder their financial gain. It is well documented that the underground street cannabis market goes hand in hand with exploitation of the vulnerable and can have ties to human trafficking. Our collective primary duty is to prevent such practices.

The 'self-regulation' of the cannabis market by home consumers and the domestic connoisseur will be the only ones to suffer if the ban ever came to fruition. In turn this would lead this demographic directly back into the hands of the street dealer. To sever this link is vital, and a ban would only serve, once more, to strengthen the criminal stronghold. Seeds are currently subject to our usual taxation, to ban them would simply remove existing legitimate revenue duties. Looking introspectively, we are currently at the lowest ebb of cannabis quality at street level. The domestic consumer who may happen to grow their own supply has to do so to ensure quality, safety, and to sever the heavy link to organised crime.

Contrary to popular belief, the existing self-regulation of cannabis seeds has seen benefits. It has led to a decrease in THC and a rise in the balancing CBD content. There are strains available to the UK market that are of a 1:1 ratio, around 6% THC and CBD, but these strains don't receive the same press inches as the 'super strength skunk' stories.

The proposed ban would be predominantly unenforceable. We would see the restrictions in shops, but the market would only go deeper underground, online, and would act under even less regulations than we have now. There would be little to stop buyers from importing seeds from the continent, and a boom would be created in what is known as 'clones' (cuttings) from mother plants.

If we are serious about minimising the potential risks of cannabis and its market, we must seriously consider the evidence of a regulatory system that grants quality, health emplacements, labelling, age restrictions, and legitimate tax revenue that could allow us to collect a billion pounds per annum in current estimates. There are a range of potential regulatory models that we could employ as per Transform Drug Policy Foundation's publication: Blueprint for Regulation. It's conceivably time that we finally control this market by making it subject to Trading Standards. Speaking on Meridian News in April 2012, Professor of Criminology, Alex Stevens, addressed the rise in cannabis farms and conveyed how regulatory systems could be employed so as to circumvent the potential risks and harms of an alarmingly under-regulated market.

But what about the voice of those that take an active interest in cannabis' preservation as a botanical species? The Spokesman for the Kent Cannabis Consortium, a collective that is connected to the United Kingdom Cannabis Social Club movement, says,

"There's a wider issue here: we all know what happens when you ban something. We're advocates of changing the law; we don't advocate breaking it as it currently stands. Purchasing seeds is a legal activity, as is collecting and collating these seeds with the intent to cultivate them as and when the law changes to permit such an activity. We're confident it will happen in time."

The world is knocking on the door of reform. The US has fully instated regulations on their cannabis markets in Washington State and Colorado. Other models like the less commercialised Guatemalan and Uruguayan seem to be headed for a state regulated approach to their cannabis production and distribution. The Spanish Social Club movement presents a more original and arguably more palatable alternative to the United States' potential for an aggressively marketed approach.

The Kent Cannabis Consortium continues to point out the potentially bizarre logistics of a UK seed prohibition,

"Banning seed sales would also lead to even bigger problems for users and law enforcement alike. What's to stop anyone with seeds of any type being detained until the genome or species of the plant that comes from that seed is identified? What would be the process of that? My guess is that it would be both a lengthy and expensive one, as well as one which would serve little purpose other than further marginalising a minority group - very unfairly it must be said - by police forces meeting predetermined targets relating to drugs offences. It would be yet another very expensive exercise in futility in an already massively failed drug policy."

The rather damaging report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, commissioned by Kent PCC Anne Barnes, proved that serious crimes have been inaccurately recorded. The active hunt for cannabis users has been at the detriment of more serious police work on more serious crimes. We stand at the crossroads of needing to prioritise: Do a few seeds and tokers really need to constrict our overstretched services? Rational discussions need to be had as it is demonstrably affecting of every member of society.

Final word on policing has to go to retired Metropolitan Police Officer and Chair of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition UK (LEAP UK), Rowan Bosworth-Davies:

"I am frankly amazed that Sir Roger has got the time to start worrying about proposing such a futile project! It seems that this Government needs to find any opportunity it can to try and deflect attention away from the real issues that concern taxpayers, ratepayers and voters.

Legally, it will be a nightmare for the Law Officers to find the time to draft the wording to define how they will prove the possessor of otherwise harmless and very beneficial seeds, had the necessary criminal intent to grow cannabis, and was not possessing the seeds for any other perfectly lawful purpose.

Of course if the seeds are planted and the plants are cultivated, then the police, under our present crazy, anti-drug laws, will have a clear offence to deal with, but until that time, the possession of seeds has not been an offence.

I call upon Sir Roger to consider the evidence of LEAP officers, to read their testimonies and to educate himself through their experiences just how damaging and socially destructive the so-called 'War on Drugs' has become, and why it has utterly failed to make any impact on cannabis, its availability, its sale or its consumption.

Rather than put another unsustainable law on the Statute Books, I ask Sir Roger to join us in LEAP in seeking to generate an evidence-lead debate on all narcotics and their interdiction, so that we may all be better advised and that Government policies may be better informed."

Follow LEAP UK on twitter @Leap_uk