It really is true; as the rest of the world sails along with progress in their sights, the UK remains anchored to the barnacles of prohibition. Don't fall for the false rhetoric of compassion that the UK drug policy has forged - we still maintain a stance of indiscriminate criminalisation. Like many, I have come to realise that the criminalisation of any person for their substance use is, frankly, a barbarous act - a sharpened shiv wielded for political intent.
We have become confused and complacent with the drug policy discussion here in the UK. The media frenzy is, at best, frustrating, and at worst obfuscates with pernicious polarisation. More often or not, if a significant research paper comes out it's matched by searing headlines to add some sizzle to the steak. In terms of media, we've reached operatic levels in spurious mishandling.
The socio impacts of punitive drug policy need as much attention as that of perspective drug harms. From disproportionate policing on minorities and ethnic groups, to the cost effectiveness of criminalisation, we're predisposed to strip the debate to the efficacy or harms of the drugs themselves. Ignore the social costs at our peril.
It's often the potential harms of drugs that provide us with the best reasons to reform. The most recent research has indicated that "skunk" (and I abhor the term) has the propensity for harm, whereas "hash" (for argument's sake the correct balance of cannabinoids) has little to no trouble associated with the adult consumer. This, essentially, falls in line with the Dunedin study... and numerous others. On one hand, we see the scorching headlines of cannabis harms to children, which serve to justify criminal penalties to all, and on the other hand... well, we don't often see much in the way of balance that the prohibition of the substance has given rise to the related harms. We could so easily frame headlines in the positive - how we could lessen harms if we instituted the correct regulatory framework to ensure quality controlled markets and education around use, alas; we wilfully choose to keep the glass half empty.
I offer the Pepsi challenge: In glass A - we have harmful skunk. In glass B other we have the fairly benign domestic brand hash. What's the logical position here? Which should we consume, and how best to deal with it? If your answer was to crack down harder on glass A, skunk, and hope it all goes away, then I fear basic cogency eludes you. Glass A exists due to unregulated markets - whatever your definition of skunk, we can universally presume it's a catch-all term for a product with greater harm. In actuality, skunk is quite simply a product that connoisseurs would not touch. It's street level cannabis that has no trading standards. We simply can no longer allow the perversion of a policy that allows the harms that it directly predicates to act as its own circular justification. It really doesn't need an avid consumer to tell you that a regulated market that enables correctly balanced cannabinoids is going to be preferable over a feral black-market.
Should we talk about mental health and cannabis? This seems to be the only course of discussion now, and yes, quite right we should discuss it with concern, but we need to get the full picture. By omitting the dominoes of cannabis and the knock-on effects of a splayed culture, we once more create a disservice to the full spectrum and unwittingly create more harm than we solve.
It's the best of times, it's the worst of times; cannabis is really a tale of two cites. Just as the harms of cannabis have risen with the entrenched manufacturing process with profit motives at any cost, it just so happens that there is a dedicated band that knows exactly what they're talking about. When writing publicly, one has to reach for resources, research papers, references, and a load of chewy links to provide you with some academic legitimacy, but sometimes plain common sense has to play a part. Just as it is logical that regulatory framework around cannabis supply is needed to ensure harm minimisation, it's also quite obvious that those that have a deep-rooted understanding of the issue should be listened to. The UK has a thriving and efficient underground in the guise of a cannabis sub-culture. Clubs, groups, organisations, and people of all walks of life are consuming cannabis on a regular basis. It's estimated around 3million people in the UK alone, and around 4% of the global population - that's about 160million. For quite some time North America had an ingrained social movement; cannabis has had its roots in consumerism just like any other product. Although far from legitimised, this culture enabled suitable understanding of cannabis and gave rise to quality products. We must at least ask the question here: At what point does something become a consumer led issue? One thing's for sure, it's laughable to suggest we have the provisions to criminalise three million people - and we certainly have to bring into question the mandate to do so.
The UK remains isolated in its conduct and the arbitrary terms it places on the substance. We've kicked slang into science. We have divided into distinct categories of skunk and hash, each signifying the two sides of the coin. The reality is completely different; the UK has to get back to talking about cannabis strains and the nuances within that frame:
We genuinely have a laughable position on cannabis here in Britain. We view it through generic and distorted goggles, misnomers tripping us up as we try and engage with serious faces poised to discuss the issue on the news. We are no longer capable of talking about cannabis unless it has suitably affecting mood music to hint at the gravity of the situation. Yes, we should address this seriously, absolutely, but we are so far removed from having enlightened debate that one can't help but laugh. To most of us with a healthy sense of irony it now looks as if our drugs debate is viewed through a Brass Eye.
We really must start listening to those that have begun the process of regulation, whether it is the evidence from other countries such as Spain, the U.S., Uruguay, or the need to look to the academic perspective such as Transform Drug Policy Foundation's How To Regulate Cannabis: A Practical Guide. We cannot prosecute our way out of harms. To ignore or direct cynicism towards those that do actually know what they're talking about when it comes to using cannabis responsibly is a disservice; cannabis is already a consumer product, it's not going away, and it's time to grow up and listen instead of stigmatising.