Divided public opinion and controversial government policy have always made cannabis the subject of attention-grabbing headlines. However, in recent years they have become more frequent.
Chronically ill children have been denied access to cannabis-based medication, the government has officially accepted its medical potential and Canada has legalised recreational cannabis use, just to mention a few. Some people have begun to speculate that this media attention signals a change in public opinion, meaning that we are closer to legalisation than ever before.
As cannabis has crept onto the shelves of pharmacies and health food stores it is not surprising that the debate on the legalisation of recreational cannabis has surfaced again. Despite being surrounded by positive images of CBD as a beneficial food supplement the UK public remains sharply divided on the issue.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the opinions and campaigns behind the headlines and see if we are closer to legalisation or just happier to share our opinions publicly.
79% Have No Faith in the Government’s Approach
A YouGov poll used a representative sample to paint a detailed picture of UK opinion on cannabis. The findings highlighted public dissatisfaction with the use of criminal prosecution to tackle illegal drug users. As a result, many of the survey participants said they are ready to consider other approaches including legalisation.
Of those surveyed:
31% said that they had previously used cannabis.
Regardless of previous experiences, a large majority accepted that it had therapeutic value. 77% gave their support to November 2018’s medical cannabis policy.
76% would consider using cannabis-based medical products if strong evidence indicated that they were effective.
Regarding further legalisation:
69% don’t think that allowing access to cannabis-based medicines would have negative consequences for society.
24% said they would oppose legalisation.
48% gave it their full support.
Many of the sample group felt that current government policy showed mishandling of the situation surrounding illegal drugs:
76% said that the threat of prosecution is not an effective deterrent to those who unlawfully use drugs.
70% think that the current drug policy has been unsuccessful at reducing the harm done by drug abuse.
79% think that the UK government is not coping well with the country’s drug problems.
The Peoples’ Voice on Legalisation
Despite the growing perception that legalisation is closer than ever, the government’s official line remains uncompromising and depressingly consistent. However, there are many groups and individuals who challenge the status quo and demand to have their voices heard and their votes counted.
‘Let us Vote’ is a campaign that repeatedly petitions the government for a referendum on legalisation. They have gathered public support to approach the Home Office and demand more than the ‘standard response’. Unfortunately, ‘standard’ is exactly what they got.
In April 2018 the Home Office reminded petitioners of the 2008 report that highlights health concerns surrounding cannabis. Surprisingly, within a few months, specific medical uses for cannabis were legalised and the government made its first public acceptance that it may have medical benefits.
‘Let us Vote’ continues to push for reform and seeks to use public opinion to promote cannabis policy change. Currently, they have an open petition on the Parliament website, you can sign it here until November 3rd 2019.
UK Cannabis Social Clubs
Even though responses from the Government are disappointing at best, there are those seeking to challenge perceptions and build viable alternatives to the current situation. Some of them have grouped together to create ‘cannabis social clubs’. These are membership-only clubs designed to be safe spaces to enjoy or medicate with cannabis.
Each club is an individual entity, but advice and guidelines are provided by United Kingdom Cannabis Social Clubs. They don’t provide members with cannabis, but instead, encourage members to grow their own. In this way, they aim to remain independent from the criminal activities linked to the UK black market.
Many clubs exist in a legal grey area and have the support of local police. While individual forces have refused to say that they actively allow such clubs, they state that funding restraints require them to “prioritise other work”.
However, Police and Crime Commissioners Hardyal Dhindsa, Arfon Jones and Ron Hogg have, on separate occasions, visited cannabis clubs. They expressed that their visits were positive experiences. They believe that the approach to illegal drugs in the future will require police forces to move away from traditional methods and think outside of the box.
The United Patients Alliance
Despite the UK’s tentative step into legalisation in November 2018, there are many people still struggling to get the treatment they need. Specialist doctors remain unsure of the process and are reluctant to issue prescriptions. Even those who have prescriptions are either unable to fill them or have struggled to meet the £600 monthly bill.
The United Patients Alliance (UPA) is a voluntary run organisation who have taken up this cause. Most of them are patients themselves. They offer support, advice and education while also lobbying the government for policy change. Patients who choose to treat their medical conditions with cannabis are some of the most vulnerable people in the country and risk up to 14 years in prison.
The UPA’s mission is to call attention to this injustice and offer support to correct it. In their senior team and head of creative ops is Carly Barton. Carly was one of the first people in the UK to receive a prescription for medical cannabis due to the chronic pain from fibromyalgia. However, due to the high costs associated with the prescription she was unable to continue to have it filled. Instead, she informed the police that she intended to grow her own cannabis purely to provide her own treatment.
As well as her involvement in the UPA Carly has also begun her own non-profit organisation called Carly’s Amnesty. This is an organisation that uses strict criteria to create an agreement between patients and local authorities. The agreement can only be made by people who have a prescription for cannabis but can’t afford to fill it.
While still illegal, this is an open declaration that the patient will grow cannabis to create their own personal medical supply. Carly’s campaign is supported by cross-party MPs, ex-police chiefs and the Police but has found opposition from those who believe it would water down anti-drug laws.
A ‘Clear’ Legal Framework for Regulated Cannabis
Clear is a group that exists to campaign and engage with politicians to promote a rational approach to cannabis and its regulation. Clear Cannabis Law Reform was initially created to be registered as a political party and to run for election. However, following an unsuccessful and expensive Corby by-election in 2012 it was decided not to renew registration with the electoral commission.
Instead they concentrate on campaigning for reform and education. In 2011 they published a study commissioned by the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit. This formed the basis from which all their policies have been developed. They believe that regulation and control are the way to take cannabis out of the hands of criminals and that growing, importing, distributing and retailing should be legitimate businesses, subject to government standards.
Total UK Legalisation Within 5 to 10 Years?
With so many dedicated campaigners receiving identical negative responses from the Home Office, are those who claim legalisation is close, wrong? Does the future look bleak for cannabis? Maybe not.
Today’s debate is set against an interesting and relevant global backdrop. In addition to the great work being done in the UK, there are several worldwide examples to look to.
The recent legalisation in Canada has caused several countries to rethink drug policy and take a closer look at their own situation. A Radio 1 Newsbeat documentary called Legalising Weed: Canada’s Story. It took three MPs to on a fact-finding trip to Canada, organised by the campaign group Volte Face.
Labour’s David Lammy, Conservative Jonathan Djanogly and Liberal Democrat Sir Norman Lamb looked at the lessons and successes faced by Canada. All returned and expressed a belief that the UK is on a path to legalisation. Jonathan Djanogly said that he felt that the UK was in a 10 to 15-year cycle that would echo Canada’s path and culminate in legalisation. David Lammy and Sir Norman Lamb also felt that the UK still had lots to learn, but predicted an optimistic 5 to 10 years.
While these may be well-informed predictions, they can’t stop the fact that the present doesn’t look great. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) provides guidance and pathways for treatment used throughout the NHS. Despite taking advice from a range of sources, including the UPA, NICE have withheld their support for medical cannabis treatment.
The parents of children suffering from epilepsy who were enthusiastic following November’s medical legalisation, have now had their hopes dashed. Yet another obstacle has been placed between their children and effective treatment.
Follow The Money
If you doubt that cannabis will be legalised in the UK, remember this; government policy often follows the money. In Canada, within 24 hours of recreational legalisation there were over 100,000 orders placed with online dispensaries. Canadian bank CIDC predicted that the cannabis market will reach $6.8 billion CAD by 2020. Global business network Deloitte produced a report which predicted that recreational sales alone could create a market of $8.7 billion CAD a year and create a $22.6 billion CAD boost to the overall economy.
With many people invested in the issue of cannabis prohibition and strong feelings on both sides, it is bound to be one that will be argued for decades. However, if there is one thing that we can learn today from Canada. It is that the path to legalisation is never smooth. For them, it has been a rocky road with many setbacks, yet they succeeded, and we can too.