Why we need Cannabis Law Reform

Prohibition is based on a big lie; Cannabis is not a controlled drug. The only way to control drugs is to control the trade in them.


The present policy toward (some) drugs - including cannabis - is prohibition. The possession, use and trade is illegal. This is supposed to protect us all but it does no such thing.

Over the years, the debate about cannabis has become polarised, it's either presented as the "assassin of youth" or the "the harmless herb" depending on who you listen to. This ill-informed debate is a symptom of prohibition.

Nothing on earth is totally safe and that includes cannabis, but as with all things the risks connected with its use are quantifiable and understandable, or least,they should be. The trouble is prohibition works to prevent knowledge and understanding, making the potential dangers from cannabis use far higher than they need be.

The possible risks of cannabis use are not arguments for its continued prohibition, but rather are strong arguments for a regulated and controlled legal regime aimed at reducing harm and protecting the vulnerable.

UKCIA aims to be inclusive and we respect that people have a wide range of experiences. We will encourage commentators to look at new research and studies critically and fairly, but we do insist that the research is based on good science - using statistically valid data concerning the nature of the drug being used and the using population.

UKCIA also recognises that although most users have few if any problems with their cannabis use, there are genuine and valid public health concerns associated with both its use and the way it's used. There are vulnerable people - especially children - who need the protection of the law.

During the 30 years since the introduction of the Misuse of drugs act, the use of cannabis has increased massively and the age of first use has dropped to the point where it is almost the norm for children to be users - indeed in some areas it is the norm. Children need protecting from drugs as their young minds are developing and they are still learning about themselves and the world around them. To do this, the commercial trade must be regulated - instead we leave it to an unregulated illegal supply economy.

Laws need to be framed in such a way as to protect children from all aspects of the drugs trade, in the same way as we do for alcohol and tobacco - and we should be serious about it. Prohibition makes this impossible. There are also complicated social issues connected with the illegal "black market" nature of the supply side created by prohibition, including exploitation of asylum seekers and gangland violence.

Prohibition has failed in its aim of suppressing the cannabis trade and culture, it has created a massive profit driven, unaccountable, unregulated trade which often funds organised crime and even terrorism.

Many of the claims the government makes about the achievements of its drugs policy are based on uncertain data at best and at worst are no more than rhetoric (or as they call it these days, "spin").

Prohibition has resulted in supplies which are of highly variable strength, purity and composition. There are no age limits on sales and venues where cannabis is sold are not subject to regulation of any kind. The only qualification needed to be a dealer is unaccountability.

As there is no vetting of people who supply cannabis, sometimes they also provide other, far more dangerous substances, meaning they are often the gateway to other drugs. Although some dealers are enthusiastic about the product they sell, few if any are informed as to its nature or quality and many couldn't care less.

There has been no attempt to educate cannabis users into safer ways to consume cannabis, in particular no programme aimed at encouraging safer methods of smoking, especially concerning the issue of tobacco use. Consequently most cannabis users still smoke using a mixture of tobacco and cannabis. Separating these two drugs is a priority campaign for UKCIA.

Over the past few years the government has begun to accept the need for harm reduction education and has introduced drugs education into schools. It's also opened a drugs information service called "Talk to Frank", however the valid information concerning the health issues of drug use is compromised by the need for the Frank campaign to also support and help enforce prohibition, this has lead many to distrust the information which is often partial and incomplete.

So-called " Skunk" and "Reefer madness V2.0"

We have the absurd situation where some sections of the press are screaming that cannabis potency has increased by factors of 20 - 30 times in recent years without there being any data to base that claim on. Indeed, it has been shown to be largely hype.

However, by the same token, users have no idea of the strength of the cannabis they are buying and the fact is street cannabis varies greatly in both strength and purity.

Cannabis is a complex substance and strength is only one of the variables, the ratio of the active ingredients - especially THC and CBD may be at least as important if not more so.

The only data concerning cannabis strength is obtained from seized samples which is not a statistically valid way to collect such data, and there has been no standarised measuring regime over the years on which to make firm comparisons. So in truth we have very little firm data about strength to base any claims on.

Reefer Madness was an expression made popular by a 1930's film of that name made to support the original moves toward prohibition in the USA. In some campaigners eyes it's come to represent the present government campaign against cannabis and there are good reasons for that, especially following the outrageous claims made during 2007. Indeed much of the tabloid (and not so tabloid) press coverage of the cannabis debate seems to have been based on the original Reefer madness film script.

However, we accept that for some people there is a complicated connection between cannabis use and such issues as mental health. Arriving at a greater understanding of this and creating policies designed to protect "at risk" people is one of our greatest goals.

We respect those for whom cannabis does have detrimental effects on their mental health and would not use the term "reefer madness" to apply to them, but we may use it to mean aspects of the present policy which put these people in the firing line.

cannabis plant;

Medical use

UKCIA is aware that some people use cannabis because it makes an illness or an injury at least more endurable.

Cannabis use for therapeutic reasons under the advice of a doctor should be a right and be available on the NHS. The government has gone some way to accepting this with the limited arrangements concerning Sativex, however, it's almost - but not quite - impossible to get. In the meantime, ill people and their carers are treated like criminals for using a naturally growing herb to ease their pain.

There is no doubt that the prohibition of cannabis is causing many people to suffer needlessly, or to engage with the illegal market to obtain their medicine. It is perhaps not sensationalist to describe such a withholding of pain relief as "torture".

The medical use of cannabis is illegal because of the prohibition of recreational use. If recreational use were allowed, medical use would also be. Once again, the most vulnerable suffer the most.

Prohibition has alienated communities from the police, destroyed families and wrecked careers and has totally failed in its goal of eliminating cannabis use.