Cannabis, a broader discussion.

Global events typically take centre stage overshadowing current events in human rights. In 2010, The UN declared the right to health. The British public have long advocated for human rights across the world. The war on drugs has trodden a fine line between social benefit and detriment, penalising people whouse drugs for decades.  Once painted as an immoral act of disobedience, academics and researchers finally understand the complex variables that underly drug use. Drugs have been integral to humanity since early man. A lot of these drugs are readily consumed in communities to this day despite criminalisation.

Cannabis has risen to the top of the political conversation in the UK. Patients of all ages across the UK stand to benefit from cannabis medicines. Reform of this kind sets a precedent. Our scientific knowledge stretches beyond cannabis as a drug of consumption and the same is true for other drugs that are scrutinized by the law. The political confusion around cannabis medicine is a symptom of a much larger illness. Observing drug policy through the lens of cannabis means we often overlook the wider drug context. We must consider the wider impact of our laws.

Wider Drug Policy

The community of cannabis advocates across the countryhas been instrumental in changing public perceptions around cannabis. Much of this community has been criminalised and persecuted for much of their lives due to their cannabis consumption. Cannabis still carries with it a heavy stigma. This fear of the unknown will take many years to dissipate. Education plays a key role in helping the public reperceive cannabis and other commonly consumed drugs. For many years cannabis use has been pushed behind closed doors and stigmatised. Helping society understand cannabis, as well as other drugs and the reasons why people turn to drugs, is fundamental to building a sustainable eco-system. Some see approaching cannabis as the sole target of reform seems like a more measured approach. Cannabis shares a similar stigma to other drugs in society. Perhaps by tackling the wider stigma around drug consumption, the wider context to this conversation can be unveiled. Bold may though this may seem, there is a great amount of evidence to support a wider broadened approach to drug policy reform.

Cannabis has been just one target of the war on drugs which has been heavily politicised. One of the key weapons used in framing this agenda was the words and language of prohibition. In the current prohibitionist paradigm, we find ourselves in, we assess all drugs through the lens of legal and illegal. This binary language that we use to frame this conversation limitsour perception of the facts. Drugs are inanimate objects or compounds. It is we humans who assign them the label of controlled legal and illegal drugs. This binary approach no longer holds much weight in a world where life exists on a spectrum. The outdated view of our policy is now in fact causing more harm than reducing it. An inanimate object such as a drug cannot be the subject of war. Merely it is a war on the user of the drug. We know many of the consumers of drugs are in pain or using drugs for physical or psychological trauma. Drug-related deaths are at an all-time high in the UK so there is a need for some significant reassessment.  

In the last 20 years, our understanding of adverse childhood experiences(ACEs) and their effects on later adult life has been steadily maturing. Such adverse childhood experiences might include exposure to or experience of psychological, physical, or sexual abuse; household dysfunction; or living with household members who were substance abusers, mentally ill or suicidal, or ever imprisoned (Hughes et al.,2017; Felitti et al., 2019). People who have experienced four or more adverse childhood experiences are four to twelve times more likely to suffer from alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, or a suicide attempt compared to those with no exposure (Felitti et al.,2019). The damaging effects of ACE’s can even extend to sexual health, mental health, weight, physical exercise, violence, and physical health status.

Another consequence of our penal approach has been the division between communities. This division is a direct result of dehumanizing people who use drugs due to its immorality. Prohibition has had the opposite of the desired effect which has now evolved into a method of controlling people,not the drugs being consumed. The consequences of criminalising people who use drugs often outweigh the risks they face from drug use, and there is no convincing evidence that this prevents wider drug use or drug-related harm (Holland, 2020). It is well accepted that drug consumption cannot be eliminated. Maintaining this penal approach to managing public drug consumption is directly damaging society.

Safe consumption

Drug consumption rooms are nothing new. Cafés bars and restaurants have been serving drugs such as alcohol and caffeine for generations. Tobacco lounges have been popular throughout history. Is it so ridiculous that we would consider cannabis clubs and consumption rooms? Cannabis social clubs are already establishing themselves in our communities. There is a growing tide of communities establishing their private systems for the safe administration of drugs such as cannabis. Given the falling curtain of drug prohibition, the consumption of other drugs in a communal setting is a paradigm also worth considering. Despite recommendations from its own Independent Working Group (IWG) of experts, the British government has repeatedly rejected the idea of drug consumption rooms (Lloyd and Hunt, 2007).

A statement made in 2019 by the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, called for a change in focus from the punitive approach to drug use,to one that emphasizes the well being and rights of people who use drugs (fullstatement below). At a fundamental level, the war on drugs becomes a matter of freedom and liberty. Drugs have contributed to the development of humanity and culture long before the existence of government. Rather than just peaking behind the iron curtain of prohibition, we have the opportunity to be bold and assess the issue in its entirety.

Viewing cannabis through the lens of prohibition is short-sighted and ultimately holds back thenext generation of social maturation. Rebuilding communities by showing compassion and understanding to people who use drugs. Groups such as Transform/ LEAP and doing great work to raise the case for a wider rethink of the way weperceive drugs. The Prohibitionist paradigm of legal and illegal drugs holds back progress. Compounds such as cannabinoids are a natural part of physiological systems throughout and present across all vertebrates. For many years research into many of the most utilised drugs has been inhibited. This has held back generations of medical knowledge. Cannabis is just one of these drugs.

Drugs are part of our environment and as such our biology inherently can interact with elements of this environment and explore them fully. Policy cannot defeat biology. As such, we will begin to seethe cannabis conversation seeping into a wider assessment of drug policy. This can already be seen in the new reassessment of psychedelics such as psilocybin.The war on drugs has aged poorly, and a post-prohibition paradigm is emerging.This transformation happened with alcohol, one of the most dangerous drugs statistically, is it unimaginable that we treat drugs as a whole on this evenplaying field?

References

Felitti,V. J. et al. (2019) ‘Relationship of Childhood Abuse and HouseholdDysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults: The AdverseChildhood Experiences (ACE) Study’, American Journal of Preventive Medicine.Elsevier, 56(6), pp. 774–786. doi: 10.1016/J.AMEPRE.2019.04.001.
Holland, A. (2020) ‘An ethical analysis of UK drug policy asan example of a criminal justice approach to drugs: a commentary on the shortfilm Putting UK Drug Policy into Focus’, Harm Reduction Journal 2020 17:1.BioMed Central, 17(1), pp. 1–9. doi: 10.1186/S12954-020-00434-8.
Hughes, K. et al. (2017) ‘The effect of multipleadverse childhood experiences on health: a systematic review andmeta-analysis.’, The Lancet. Public health. Elsevier, 2(8), pp.e356–e366. doi: 10.1016/S2468-2667(17)30118-4.
Lloyd, C. and Hunt, N. (2007) ‘Drug consumption rooms: Anoverdue extension to harm reduction policy in the UK?’, InternationalJournal of Drug Policy. Elsevier, 18(1), pp. 5–9. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2006.12.010.
2010 general assembly UN:https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24529&LangID=E