20 August 2007
The war on drugs has failed, yet the government is considering reclassifying cannabis as a class B drug and reintroducing tougher penalties. This knee-jerk response is driven by an ill-informed moral panic that won’t protect young people. Perhaps it is time we considered Dutch-style decriminalisation and coffee houses?
Dr Evan Harris MP, Liberal Democrat science spokesperson, and Sebastian Saville, Executive Director of the drug agency Release, debate the pros and cons of cannabis law.
Peter Tatchell writes:
The current tabloid-fuelled hysteria against cannabis is pure hypocrisy. Legal drugs like tobacco, alcohol and prescription medicine cause far more damage and death than spliffs and hash cookies. Why the double standards?
We need to distinguish between cannabis use and cannabis abuse. The distinction is real and important. Cannabis may not be totally benign, but it is not fair or reasonable to extrapolate from a minority of cannabis abusers to generalise and damn all cannabis users. This is like suggesting, on the basis of a study of alcoholics, that alcohol is invariably abused and damaging and should be banned.
There are an estimated three to six million regular cannabis users in the UK. This means that up to 10% of the population is criminalised. Criminalisation is not a rational, workable or humane response.
Most cannabis users are otherwise law-abiding people. Many of them hold responsible, professional positions and do their jobs well. They are sensible, moderate users, not abusers.
The Netherlands has got it about right, with government-licensed and quality-controlled cannabis production, and the sale of cannabis through government-supervised coffee shops. This policy breaks the link between cannabis dealing and organised crime and helps prevent the adulteration of cannabis with harmful additives, which reduces the risks.
If the UK adopted a Dutch-style system, cannabis sales could be taxed and the revenue raised could be used to fund drugs education and rehabilitation programmes.
A wide range of professional, expert bodies support cannabis decriminalisation, including the Drugs and Health Alliance, Transform, Release and the UK Harm Reduction Alliance. They are right. Criminalisation is not the solution.
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