Letter fromTim Farron to Mary Brett 5/6/17

– Mary’s Comments in bold

I fully understand your doubts because this subject has been hotly debated within the Party in recent conferences.  I hope that I can persuade you of the validity of the arguments that have swayed the majority of our membership.

Research disproves these arguments, as follows.

The approach to cannabis has been a catastrophic failure.  Every year, it generates millions of pounds for the leaders of organised crime. (Leaders of organised crime turn to worse when their cannabis commodity is legalised and less profitable; they turn to harder drugs and people trafficking (see Colorado to follow) whilst our law enforcement agencies wastefully prosecute thousands of people (and in a few cases imprison them).  This criminal record blights their chances of gainful employment (The loss of IQ from cannabis, damaged school records, lack of motivation and impaired functionality due to using the drug blights their chances even more) yet it does nothing to tackle the damage of cannabis to their health and the evidence reveals that it achieves no deterrent.

10-year follow-up research on the depenalisation experiment in Lambeth, south London, proved that not prosecuting people for cannabis resulted in more crime (despite an accompanying increased anti-crime effort) and more hospitalisations. The statistics from Colorado show a similar pattern.

Alcohol and tobacco are regulated, yet alcohol kills 10 times more people than illegal drugs do, and tobacco 100 times more people. This shows that keeping drugs illegal keeps the associated harms down.

The catastrophic failure is the £2 billion spent on illegal skunk-induced cannabis treatment every year in the country. How much more would be needed for legal cannabis. Because usage would rise, it always does.

Police guidelines state that no arrest should be made for possession of a small amount of cannabis for the person’s use on the first two occasions, and that a warning or fine is preferred.  Arrests for cannabis possession in England and Wales have dropped by 46% since 2010, cautions by 48% and people charged by 33%. Drug use has been at a steady rate during this time, so this can only suggest that drug enforcement has become a backseat issue for the police. Proof of the liberalisation of the law on cannabis possession appeared with the new Police Crime Harm Index in April, where it appeared 2nd bottom of the list of priorities. Police time is not adequately spent on preventing and halting drug use.

Two surveys among young people, 20 years apart, one in the USA and one in the UK found similar results for the number deterred by the law which was around 40%.

Cannabis remains very popular in spite of decades of prohibition.  It is by far the most popular illegal drug in the UK and is used by more than 2 million people a year. In 2015, 30 tonnes of herbal cannabis and 400,000 cannabis plants were seized.

One in five young people (aged 18-24) have used illegal drugs in the past year and one in 6 have used cannabis.  So the law cannot be justified on grounds of its effective prevention or cure.

Let’s look at your figures. Last year use could be as little as once or twice. Regular drug use (more than once/month) is a much more valuable indicator of the problem. Only 3.3% of 16-59 year olds are regular users – around 1.1 million. Drug use is definitely not the norm.

Overall drug use has actually gone down. The NHS Statistics on Drugs Misuse England 2017 reports the following: ‘Drug use among adults (England and Wales) In 2015/16, around 1 in 12 (8.4 per cent) adults aged 16 to 59 had taken an illicit drug in the last year. This equates to around 2.7 million people. This level of drug use was similar to the 2014/15 survey (8.6 per cent), but is significantly lower than a decade ago (10.5 per cent in the 2005/06 survey)’.

The popularity of cannabis use is increasingly linked by researchers to legalisation lobbyists’ disinformation, so that children do not perceive its multitude of harms.

Add to this the unwillingness of the police to enforce the law and the unceasing efforts of the harm reduction lobby who, by handing out ‘safer use’ tips, actually condone the breaking of the law by flashing a green light to try it. I taught children for over 30 years and to them ‘legal’ means ‘safe’. No drug, legal or illegal can be guaranteed safe, look at the side-effect warnings on prescription drugs.      In addition, research shows that cannabis users are 5 times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who do not use cannabis.  These legalisation efforts would be better spent on drug prevention and demand reduction in order to reduce use instead of encouraging it. 

The National Crime Agency estimates that people in the UK consume 270 tonnes of cannabis a year.  The UK cannabis economy is worth an estimated £7bn a year.  Sadly business is booming.  No responsible government would allow a public health crisis to be administered by criminal gangs, yet that is exactly what we are doing with the war on drugs.  Liberal Democrats accept the reality that many people use cannabis and that it’s irresponsible to leave the supply in the hands of criminals.  It is questionable whether police time should be spent in tackling users who are no more harmful than cigarette smokers.

To claim that cannabis users are no more harmful than cigarette smokers is both inaccurate and irresponsible. For a start, the British Lung Foundation reports that one cannabis cigarette, in cancer terms is equivalent to 20 tobacco cigarettes. Cannabis is also linked to extreme violence – the terrorists on both Westminster and London Bridges in recent weeks are linked to it.  Suicides occur and 2nd-hand smoke harms others including children. Permanent brain damage can result and IQ can drop by about 8 points – permanently. The same is not true of tobacco. Criminal gangs will still function. They will undercut prices, target under-18s, and helpfully supply skunk to those who have been regularly using it. Some may turn to people trafficking or other crimes. The only type of cannabis available in London now is skunk. The black market is flourishing in Colorado. 

There is no war on drugs and never has been. De-facto decriminalisation has been covertly practised in the UK for years, mainly by the police as explained above. I would hope that the Lib-Dems accept that many drivers exceed the speed limit from time to time but they don’t seem to think it a good idea to get rid of speed limits, or accept graffiti which disfigures buildings in many of our towns and cities. We don’t have a perfect record on burglary or rape or murder – yet we do not call for them to be decriminalised, as we KNOW they would increase. Same with drug use. In no other area of life do lobbyists insist on 100% perfection. Why put up your hands and surrender over a drug that it much more harmful than tobacco smoking. This is defeatism. 

Internationally, a dramatic shift is taking place.  Eight US states have established legal, regulated cannabis markets for recreational purposes since 2012.  Cannabis is now legal for medical purposes in 29 states plus Washington DC.  Uruguay has become the first country to legalise fully with Canada set to follow later this year. The Canadian government published its legislation to establish a legal cannabis market a few weeks ago with a strong emphasis on protecting children and reducing crime.  A growing number of EU member states have recently changed their law to permit the medical use of cannabis, including Germany, Italy and Greece.  When legislators in a country as conservative as Canada have come to the conclusion that regulation is better than prohibition, you know that the tide has turned.  The question is now how to regulate it responsibly and effectively, which is what we are setting out to achieve.

Most of these are linked to 3 billionaires, George Soros, Peter Lewis and John Sperling, who have spent over $100million to achieve exactly what you describe, in a cynical chess game with our lives. Canada’s Trudeau is being called out in the press for his gifts from George Soros (via immigration), who also met with the president of Uruquay. This is no grassroots movement. Just because other countries are liberalising their cannabis laws is no reason for us to blindly follow. For your information, it has just been reported that the Canadians are changing their minds about cannabis legalisation. The latest Hill+Knowlton Strategies survey shows approval has dropped to 43 per cent from polling done this time last year, which found 60 per cent of Canadians support pot sales. Maybe they have seen the disastrous results of legalisation in Colorado and Washington. 

Usage of marijuana among all age groups has risen, emergency admissions to hospitals have soared, including very young children who have consumed edibles. The numbers of marijuana-impaired driving fatalities and marijuana-addicted users in treatment are increasing. Crime overall is rising and as I said before, the black market flourishes. So-called ‘medical cannabis’ is a scam. To be licensed, substances must be purified single chemicals or combinations of these, pass clinical trials which may take years and only then can they be licensed as medicines. Cannabis contains some 700 different chemicals, some are carcinogenic and the effects of many others are unknown. Nabilone (synthetic THC) has been used for about 30 years for appetite stimulation and to combat nausea, and now CBD ( purified extract of cannabis) is undergoing clinical trials for forms of epilepsy. No-one would eat mouldy bread to get their penicillin or chew willow bark to get aspirin. 

Liberal Democrats believe that drugs policy should be based on evidence, not dogma or the desire to sound ‘tough’.  We need a radically smarter approach, if we are serious about tackling this problem.  The aim of drug policy should be primarily to reduce public health harm and, as such, responsibility for drugs policy should sit predominantly with the Department of Health.

I entirely agree with the above. The problem is that the Lib-Dems ignore the evidence and quote only what suits a predetermined agenda. There is a vast amount of scientific evidence about its dangers to show that liberalising cannabis would be a disaster. Reducing public harm I would have thought is something we can all agree on but the only way to do it is by prevention – stopping people from ever starting to take drugs. It can be done. The huge prevention campaign in the USA (Just say no), contrary to popular myth, was a great success. The number of marijuana users fell from 23 million to 14 million, cocaine and cannabis use halved. Daily pot use fell by 75%. In a high school student survey, giving people the truth about its physical and psychological effects helped over 70% to abstain, the law deterred 40% and parental disapproval 60%.

In October 2015, the Liberal Democrat health spokesperson and former Health Minister, Norman Lamb MP, commissioned an independent panel to investigate the case for a fully regulated cannabis market.  The panel comprised of senior police officers, drug policy analysts and public health experts.  The experts considered evidence from Colorado in the United States and Uruguay – both places where cannabis has already been legalised.  The final report concluded that up to £1 billion could be raised in taxes, were the cannabis market to be legally regulated.  Critically, the expert panel also concluded that regulating the sale of cannabis would actually improve public health.  An additional benefit would be that the considerable tax revenues generated could be spent on better education about the dangers of drug use and better treatment.

Your panel consisted solely of pro-legalise or liberalisation members. Steve Rolles, your Chair is Head of Transform, a Soros funded pro-legalisation organisation. Professor David Nutt, sacked from The ACMD and not himself a cannabis researcher, and Brian Paddick, instigator of the failed attempt to depenalise cannabis in Lambeth, are just 3 of them. The £1 billion raised in tax would only cover about half the cost of treating the skunk-related schizophrenia I mentioned before; that’s if it were to be raised – statistics from US legalised states indicate not. The tax revenue claims in the US states which legalised cannabis have fallen far short (by 80%) of promises. As regards tax revenue, the Institute for Social & Economic Research found that there might be £280-460 million benefit IF there was a low-demand response to legalisation BUT a cost to society of £400 million -£1.3 billion if there was a high-demand response. The law of supply and demand indicate the latter.

The other inaccuracies in the above paragraph have been refuted in previous pages.

Our first objective should be to minimise the threat from drug dealers who use cannabis as the gateway to addiction to much more harmful and profitable hard drugs.  It is against the background of this research and evidence that Liberal Democrats have concluded that the benefits of legalisation of cannabis outweigh the harm of its existence or use and I hope that you are open to persuasion.

Of course drug dealers need to feel the full force of the law. And there should be more interception of the supply of drugs arriving in the country. I was a biology teacher and have read too many scientific papers on cannabis and seen for myself the terrible consequences in some families for you to have any hope of persuading me that you are right. There are so many despairing parents in our charity who have been pushed downstairs, had ribs broken, and hands shut in doors by their offspring They have had money and other goods stolen, been threatened by dealers, had to have their letterboxes sealed and a police car at the end of their road. They have seen their once bright clever children end up mentally ill and sectioned and in one father’s words ‘a waste of space’.  Perhaps drug prevention and demand reduction should take precedence over the threat of drug dealers; at the least, they should be on equal footing.

I note that you told The Telegraph that you would not allow your children to use cannabis – Why?  This is a double standard, just as legalisation lobbyist Richard Branson operates a zero-drug policy for his own employees. One law for you, another for the electorate. 

To source the research references in this letter, please visit our website www.cannabisskunksense.co.uk     

With best wishes,   Yours sincerely,   Mary Brett (Chair).

Source:  Letter sent from Mary Brett, of Cannabis Skunk Sense to Tim Farron MP

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