The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition (Part 3)

In 1955 the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) reached the verdict Cannabis had no medicinal value, on the basis of minimal and biased documentation. Proof Cannabis was used in traditional Indian medicine did not have an effect against the powerful anti-Cannabis bloc. The third draft of the Single Convention (1958) included a special section, ‘prohibition of Cannabis’. Opposition prevented its adoption at the Plenipotentiary Conference in New York, 1961. India objected as it opposed banning widespread traditional use of bhang made from Cannabis leaves, a “mildly intoxicating drink, far less harmful than alcohol”. Pakistan and Burma argued against prohibition. Other states supported use of Cannabis in pharmaceutical preparations and indigenous medicine, professing future research might reveal further medicinal benefits. Deviating from the zero-tolerance bias so prevalent at the Conference, leaves and seeds were explicitly omitted from the definition of Cannabis, which referred to “flowering or fruiting tops of the Cannabis plant”As such, traditional use of bhang in India could continue. Exceptions for industrial Cannabis (fibre and seed) were cited in separate articles. Socially accepted uses of Cannabis in many Asian and African countries were condemned to be abolished, a culturally biased approach extended to coca leaf chewing. Along with heroin and a few other drugs, Cannabis was included in Schedule I (substances considered most addictive and harmful) and the strictest Schedule IV (substances considered most dangerous and regarded as exceptionally addictive, producing severe ill effects) of the Single Convention. Cannabis was classified among the most dangerous ‘psychoactive’ substances under international control with extremely limited therapeutic value.

Cannabis, resin, extracts and tinctures were subject to all control measures foreseen by the Convention. Any signatory “shall, if in its opinion the prevailing conditions in its country render it the most appropriate means of protecting the public health and welfare, prohibit the production, manufacture, export and import of, trade in, possession or use of any such ‘drug’ except for amounts which may be necessary for medical and scientific research only”. Due to its inclusion in Schedule IV, the Convention suggested parties consider prohibiting Cannabis for medical purposes and only allow limited quantities for medical research. The key provision of the Convention is under General Obligations in Article 4: “The parties shall take such legislative and administrative measures […] to limit exclusively to medical and scientific purposes the production, manufacture, export, import, distribution of, trade in, use and possession of ‘drugs’”. The ‘psychoactive’ compounds of Cannabis were identified after the 1961 Convention. In 1963, Raphael Mechoulam and research partners at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem revealed the structure of cannabidiol (CBD) and the following year, isolated delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), established its structure and synthesised it. Included in Schedules I and IV of the 1961 Single Convention, alongside active alkaloids of other plant materials, like cocaine (from coca leaf) or morphine (from opium poppy), the basic rationale in regard to Cannabis was abandoned with the decision to control its main active ingredient, THC, under the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances.

Dronabinol, a pharmaceutical (chemically similar but not the same) formulation of THC was included in the most stringent Schedule I when the 1971 Convention was adopted, corresponding in severity of control with Schedule IV of the 1961 Convention. In 1969 the WHO Expert Committee announced it “strongly reaffirms the opinions expressed in previous reports that Cannabis is a ‘drug of dependence’, producing public health and social problems and that its control must be continued” and “medical need for Cannabis as such no longer exists”. After discussing a draft of what would become the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, the WHO Expert Committee suggested a division of five categories and inclusion of tetrahydrocannabinol’s in the strictest category of “drugs recommended for control because of their liability to abuse constitutes an especially serious risk to public health and because they have very limited, if any, therapeutic usefulness”. The pharmaceutical industry became interested in medicinal potential of cannabinoids and preferred they be dealt with under a new treaty, to keep exploration and commercial development separate from political controls the Single Convention placed on Cannabis. During the 1971 conference, disputes regarding separation of control measures for Cannabis from those for its active principles, erupted. One difficulty was how to define and control production or manufacture. Records note, “The Technical Committee had discussed the problem in connection with the tetrahydrocannabinols, derived from the Cannabis plant. If ‘production’ meant planting, cultivation and harvesting, then Cannabis would have to be treated as a psychotropic substance”. 

It was decided, in the words of the Indian delegate, “all references to production should be dropped”, otherwise the fact “tetrahydrocannabinols had been included in Schedule I” and “Cannabis was the plant from which those substances were derived”, it “would mean that Cannabis would fall within the scope” of the treaty as well. The 1971 conference adopted a control logic completely different from the rationale of the 1961 Convention. Cultivation, production and required precursors, whether plants or other substances, for psychotropic’s was deliberately kept out. Including THC in Schedule I allowed medical research, but posed obstacles for development and marketing of pharmaceuticals. Successful lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry, based on a slowly increasing body of evidence regarding medicinal efficacy of cannabinoids, led to a 1982 US government request to transfer dronabinol from Schedule I to II. The WHO Expert Committee conducted a critical review resulting in a positive recommendation for the pharmaceutical industry. The CND adoption in 1991 of the WHO recommendation to deschedule dronabinol and its stereoisomers to Schedule II of the 1971 Convention was the first step in the ongoing process of formal acknowledgement at UN level of medical usefulness of the main active compound of Cannabis, albeit a synthesised version. The 1961 Single Convention was not even in print before debate about the status of Cannabis restarted. At the CND session following the 1961 conference, comments in the Dutch press that Cannabis addiction was no worse than alcoholism triggered debate. Views not entirely consistent with the international control policy embodied in the Single Convention were being voiced.

Image result for WHOThe majority opinion in the CND argued the international community had agreed Cannabis use was a form of ‘drug’ addiction and emphasised any publicity to the contrary was misleading and dangerous. This would become the stock response whenever anyone dared voice dissent. Known as the ‘Vienna consensus’, it is hailed by promoters as the bedrock of the UN ‘drug’ control system with those favouring reform seeing it as a barrier to modifying the status quo of an increasingly inadequate regime, no longer fit for purpose. Due to its growing popularity and widespread use, particularly its close association with emerging counter-cultural movements, Cannabis became the focus of ‘drug’ enforcement activities in many western countries in the 1960’s. Meanwhile, western Cannabis pilgrims were heading off for countries in which Cannabis consumption remained a traditional custom. The shift in ‘drug’ use patterns in western nations coincided with the Single Convention and birth of the new era in international ‘drug’ control under the UN operated regime. Arrests for ‘drug’ offences reached unprecedented levels, driven largely by growth in Cannabis offences, including simple possession. In the US, offences relating to Cannabis rose by 94.3%, 1966-1967, the year the Convention was ratified in Washington, with even small amounts potentially resulting in custodial sentences of up to ten years. This was an extreme, but large numbers of predominantly young people were receiving criminal convictions, fines and in some cases, prison sentences in a range of western countries.

Australian ‘Drug Control’ Timeline 1961-1970
1961 – Australia signs International Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Supports obligation to make Cannabis available as a medicine.
Throughout the 1960‘s – Emergence of ‘recreational drug’ use; Cannabis, heroin, LSD and other ‘psychoactive drugs’ for pleasure or spiritual enlightenment. ‘Drug’ use became widespread, if not mainstream, rather than activity pursued by a few. Official response was increased law enforcement and legislative change to extend the range of offences and increased penalties for ‘drug’ offences.
19621975 – The Vietnam War contributed to the significant increase in ‘drug’ consumption in Australia with US soldiers on ‘rest and recreation’ creating a market for Cannabis and other illicit ‘drugs’.
By 1970 – All states enacted ‘drug’ laws introducing a distinction between use, possession and supply offences. Penalties for possession and use increased and very substantial penalties introduced for ‘drug’ supply, especially large quantities (trafficking).

The handling of Cannabis users within a variety of national legal systems triggered significant domestic debate. Extensive public inquiries or commissions were established to examine ‘drug’ use and recommended changes in the law on Cannabis, in a number of Image result for 1894 Indian Hemp Drugs Commission report,nations: the UK, Report by the Advisory Committee on Drugs Dependence, the Wootton Report, 1969; the Netherlands, Baan Commission, 1970 and Hulsman Commission, 1971; the US Shafer Commission Report, Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding, National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, 1972; in Canada, the Commission of Inquiry into the Non-medical Use of Drugs, the Le Dain Commission, 1973; and, Drug problems in Australia – an intoxicated society? by the Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare, 1977. As with earlier inquiries, including the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report of 1894, the Panama Zone Report, 1925 and the 1944 La Guardia Report, all came to broadly the same conclusions. Cannabis was deemed not entirely harmless, yet compared with other drugs, the dangers were exaggerated. There was general agreement “the effects of the criminalisation of Cannabis were potentially excessive and the measures even counter-productive”. Thus, “lawmakers should drastically reduce or eliminate criminal penalties for personal use”. As was largely the case at a national level, the reports had little noticeable effect on the attitude of the international drug control community, though their spirit may have influenced the 1972 Protocol Amending the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

A minor reorientation of the regime toward greater provision for treatment and social reintegration was proposed, as was the option of alternatives to penal sanctions for trade and possession offences, committed by users. The prohibitive ethos and supply-side focus of the ‘drug’ control regime remained untouched. Stasis on the international stage did not prevent a number of waves of ‘soft defection’ from the zero-tolerance approach. Despite US federal government’s continued opposition to any alteration of the law, a number of US states relaxed policies regarding possession and decriminalised or depenalised personal use in the 1970’s. While Washington was successfully imposing its prohibitionist policy on the rest of the world, the US federal government had major difficulties in maintaining policy domestically. That dichotomy began when the Nixon administration introduced the Controlled Substances Act in 1970 and initiated the ‘War on Drugs’. The law placed Cannabis in the same schedule as heroin (high potential for abuse, no medicinal value) and prohibited recreational use nationwide. Nixon appointed the Shafer Commission to study Cannabis use but the results were not to the President’s liking. The Commission favoured an end to prohibition with a social control policy seeking to discourage use. In his presentation to Congress in 1972, the Commission’s chairman recommended decriminalising small amounts saying, “criminal law is too harsh a tool to apply to personal possession even in the effort to discourage use”. Nixon dismissed the Commission’s findings. However, the report had a considerable impact on diverging trends in Cannabis in the US.

Image result for In 1973 Oregon became the first state to decriminalise Cannabis.

In 1973 Oregon became the first state to decriminalise Cannabis. Possession of one ounce (28.35 grams) or less became punishable by a $500-$1,000.00 fine. California followed in 1975, making possession under one ounce for non-medical use punishable by a $100.00 fine. The Alaska Supreme Court, in 1975, ruled possession of amounts up to one ounce for personal use were legal in one’s own house, under state constitution privacy protections. Other states followed with varying policies and measures such as fines, education, treatment instead of incarceration or assigning the lowest priority to various Cannabis offences for law enforcement. Outside the US, in an isolated example of national politicians taking on board commission advice, Dutch authorities acted on recommendations made by the Baan and Hulsman Commissions and began re-evaluating how to deal with Cannabis use, a process that led to the coffeeshop system. The Dutch government was prepared to legalise Cannabis, according to a government memorandum, January 1974: “The use of Cannabis products and the possession of them for personal use should be removed as soon as possible from the domain of criminal justice … The Government shall explore in international consultations whether it is feasible that agreements as the Single Convention be amended in a way that nations will be free to institute, at their discretion, a separate regime for Cannabis products”. Fully aware an amendment of the Single Convention was impossible when a ‘War on Drugs’ had been declared, the Dutch government did not insist. 

The Shafer Commission Report (1972)In 1979, President Jimmy Carter, in a message to Congress, took up the recommendations of the Shafer Commission Report, dismissed by Nixon: Penalties against possession of a ‘drug’ should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the ‘drug’ itself; and where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of ‘marijuana’ in private for personal use. We can, and should, continue to discourage the use of ‘marijuana’, but this can be done without defining the smoker as a criminal. States which have already removed criminal penalties for ‘marijuana’ use, like Oregon and California, have not noted any significant increase in ‘marijuana’ smoking. The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse concluded five years ago that ‘marijuana’ use should be decriminalised, and I believe it is time to implement those basic recommendations”. Carter supported legislation amending federal law to eliminate federal criminal penalties for possession up to one ounce, leaving the states free to adopt whatever laws they wished concerning use. Stressing decriminalisation was not legalisation (federal penalty for possession would be a fine rather than criminal penalty), the proposed policy shift signified a substantial change. However, amidst growing public opposition to lessening the punitive response to Cannabis use, hope of reform ended with Carter’s defeat in the 1981 presidential election and the concomitant conservative backlash. President Ronald Reagan re-initiated Nixon’s ‘War on Drugs’ and introduced more punitive, prohibitive legislation. Reagan not only introduced stricter laws, but embarked on a mission at an international level to accomplish what US delegates had not been able to in the 1930’s.

Australia and the International Drug Conventions
After the Second World War, Australia ratified all three UN drug conventions.
The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961), ratified in 1967, as well as the Protocol amending the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1972) (ratified in November 1972);
• The Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971), ratified in May 1982; and
• The United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988), ratified in November 1992.
The obligations in these treaties are carried out in three pieces of federal legislation:
the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967;
• the Psychotropic Substances Act 1976; and
• the Crimes (Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) Act of 1990.

Anslinger failed with the 1961 Convention and its 1972 Amending Protocol to prevent growth of an increasingly lucrative criminal market and massive expansion of illegal ‘drug’ traf­ficking networks. As in the 1930’s with development of the 1936 Convention for the Suppression of the Illicit Traffic in Dangerous Drugs, an additional convention was deemed necessary to counter ‘drug’ trafficking and pursue earnings from trafficking in an effort to remove both the incentive (profit) and the means (operating capital). The result was yet another international control mechanism and beginning of an anti-money-laundering regime to identify, trace, freeze, seize and forfeit ‘drug’-crime proceeds. The 1988 United Nations Convention against Illicit Traf­fic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances significantly reinforced the obligation of countries to apply criminal sanctions to combat all aspects of illicit production, possession and traf­ficking. Current policies in the Netherlands and some US states can be seen as the legacy of policy choices made during a first wave of Cannabis liberalisation four decades ago. More recently, a second wave of policies softening the prohibition of recreational Cannabis use can be identified around the globe: what has been called a ‘quiet revolution’ of decriminalisation in several Latin American and European countries and Australian states and territories. These waves of soft defection mainly consist of softening or abolishing penal provisions for personal use, possession and in some instances, cultivation of a limited amount of plants for personal use.

Image result for california proposition 215The ‘medical-Cannabis’ movement in the US might be seen as a third wave of soft defection, concomitant with the second one. In 1996, voters in California passed Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, exempting medical use of Cannabis from criminal penalties. This does not legalise Cannabis, but changes how patients and caregivers are treated by the court system. California’s law allows individuals to possess, cultivate and transport Cannabis as long as it is for medical purposes with a doctor’s written recommendation, as opposed to a prescription. Since 1996 other US states have followed California’s example to varying degrees. ‘Medical-Cannabis’ dispensaries and Cannabis Buyers’ Clubs have emerged to provide Cannabis to those with legitimate medical need. A grey market developed in which Cannabis is available as a medical treatment in several US states to almost anyone who tells a willing physician discomfort would be lessened if he or she used Cannabis. Despite substantial differences across counties and cities, the ‘Californian model’ has grown, close to defacto legalisation for recreational use. The intransigence of the US federal government regarding states’ ‘medical-Cannabis’ arrangements, in particular the move towards defacto regulation of cultivation for recreational use in some states, has made Cannabis policy a battleground for activists, law enforcement, voters, local, state and federal legislators and, in the final instance, the courts. The regulation of ‘medical-Cannabis’ cultivation could be considered a precursor to legal regulation of the recreational Cannabis market, not unlike alcohol regulation.

Successful ballot initiatives in Washington and Colorado in November 2012 started a wave that moved from soft to hard defection, leading to treaty breaches. At the UN level the increased soft defection regarding Cannabis in some western countries led to a reaction at the 2002 session of the CND. The attempt was based on the 2001 annual report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), which contained strong language about the leniency trend. President of the INCB, Hamid Ghodse, stated: “In the light of the changes that are occurring in relation to Cannabis control in some countries, it would seem to be an appropriate time for the Commission to consider this issue in some detail to ensure the consistent application of the provisions of the 1961 Convention across the globe”. The hard liners in international ‘drug’ control took up this invitation and expressed grave concern. Morocco pointed at the emerging contradiction between the trend toward decriminalisation of Cannabis use and a continuing pressure on ‘southern’ countries to eradicate Cannabis with repressive means. Although Morocco, a major supplier of hashish for the European market, certainly had a point, one cannot ignore that in many so-called southern producer countries, often with a long tradition of Cannabis use, law-enforcement services habitually turn a blind eye to domestic use. In the end, the selective focus towards Cannabis use in developing countries and a variety of decriminalisation policies in western countries are similar. One could therefore point to the hypocrisy on both sides of the debate and the lack of realisation there is in fact more common ground than is apparent in arguing for a regime change, in particular where Cannabis is concerned.

Image result for United Nations Of­fice on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

The skirmishing about lenient policies continued at the CND in 2003, remaining unresolved. One of the outcomes of the debate was a request to the United Nations Of­fice on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to prepare a global market survey on Cannabis, which resulted in a special chapter in the 2006 World Drug Report, entitled ‘Cannabis: Why we should care’. In the report the UNODC recognised “much of the early material on Cannabis is now considered inaccurate, and that a series of studies in a range of countries have exonerated Cannabis of many of the charges levelled against it”. It goes on, “Medical use of the active ingredients, if not the plant itself, is championed by respected professionals”. That in itself is surely a valid reason to deschedule Cannabis. UNODC acknowledges the scientific basis for putting Cannabis on the list of the 1961 Single Convention at the same level as heroin as incorrect. However, the report is inconsistent due its effort to balance or counter scientific research with the political correctness of the global ‘drug’ prohibition regime. In its preface, written by then UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa, the unsubstantiated allegations about Cannabis re-emerged. According to Costa, “the characteristics of Cannabis are no longer that different from those of other plant-based ‘drugs’ such as cocaine and heroin”. The Executive Director echoed the unsubstantiated claims of Anslinger and Wolff from more than fifty years earlier. Central to the claims, emergence of high potency Cannabis on the market and failure to control supply at a global level. Costa’s strong language was at odds with the more cautious section about Cannabis in the World Drug Report. 

In Australia in 1985 the Federal and State Governments adopted a National Drug Strategy which included a pragmatic
mixture of prohibition and a stated objective of harm reduction. Harm reduction has been an official part of Australian
‘drugs’ policy ever since, although most resources by far are devoted to policing and border patrol attempts at interdiction
(supply reduction).  In  all  states,  the  impact  of   prohibitionist  laws  on  ‘drug’  users  is somewhat  modified  by  a
number of diversion programs, diverting some eligible users from the criminal justice system to cautions or treatment.

The claim of a devastating Cannabis pandemic is not substantiated. Further, the report suffers from an attempt to bridge the gap between the exaggerated claims in Costa’s preface and the more cautious content of the main text. Although it contains much valuable information, in trying to span the two the report tends to stress the negative and discard the positive. It basically ignores increased medical use of Cannabis. In discussing potential health and addiction problems the UNODC admits much of the scientific data is still inconclusive, but the report tends to highlight research that indicates problems, while research that contradicts these conclusions is disregarded. The report does, however, demonstrate supply reduction is impossible given the potential to grow the plant anywhere and all past attempts to control availability failed. In its final conclusion, the report raises the key issue concerning Cannabis today, as evidenced by the pioneering reform initiatives in Uruguay, Washington and Colorado: The world has failed to come to terms with Cannabis as a ‘drug’. In some countries, Cannabis use and trafficking are taken very seriously, while in others, virtually ignored. This incongruity undermines the credibility of the international system and the time for resolving global ambivalence on the issue is long overdue. Either the gap between the letter and spirit of the Single Convention, so manifest with Cannabis, needs to be bridged, or parties to the Convention need to discuss redefining the status of Cannabis. Given the fact some jurisdictions are allowing a regulated market for recreational use, the debate about a different status of Cannabis in the international ‘drug’ control regime seems to be more necessary than ever.

The Cannabis plant has been used for spiritual, medicinal and recreational purposes since the early days of civilisation

 

The Cannabis plant, used for spiritual, medicinal and recreational purposes since early civilisation, was condemned by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as a ‘psychoactive drug’ with ‘particularly dangerous properties’ and little therapeutic value. Ever since, increasing numbers of countries have shown discomfort with the treaty strictures through soft defections, stretching legal flexibility to questionable limits. Today’s political reality of regulated Cannabis markets in so many jurisdictions including Uruguay, Colorado, California and Canada, at odds with UN conventions, puts the discussion about options for reform on the table. Cracks in the Vienna consensus have reached treaty breach; no longer just a reformist fantasy. Easy options, however, do not exist; they all entail procedural complications and political obstacles. A coordinated initiative by a group of like-minded countries, deciding on a road map for the future, seems the most likely scenario moving forward. There are good reasons to question the prohibition model for Cannabis control. Not only is the original inclusion of Cannabis in the current framework the result of dubious procedures, but understanding of the ‘drug’ itself, dynamics of illicit markets and the unintended consequences of repressive control strategies has increased enormously. Prohibition has failed to have any sustained impact in reducing the market, while imposing heavy burdens upon criminal justice systems; producing profoundly negative social and public health impacts; creating criminal markets supporting organised crime, violence and corruption. The current policy trend towards legal regulation is a more promising model for protecting people’s health and safety. The question facing the international community is no longer whether or not there is a need to reassess and modernise the UN drug control system, but rather when and how to do it. (The Transnational Institute and the Global Drug Policy Observatory)

Continued from The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition (Part 2), The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition (Part 1), Extracted and Adapted from The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition

The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition (Part 2)

Harry J. Anslinger

At the time of the International Opium Convention of 1925 the United States (US) was busy ineffectually implementing a prohibition regime for alcohol (1920-1933). A moral panic fed by sensationalist newspaper reports about violence incited by ‘marijuana’ use among Mexican immigrants was building. Requests were made to include Cannabis in the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, a US federal law that regulated and taxed production, importation and distribution of opiates and coca products. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), established 1930, headed by Commissioner of Narcotics, Harry J. Anslinger (until 1962) at first argued Cannabis should be handled by the states. Heroin was considered a much more dangerous substance and Anslinger was cautious about committing the FBN to control a substance that grew across many southern US states. However, pressure to do something mounted; from local police in affected states, to governors and then the Secretary of the Treasury, Anslinger’s boss. Prior to efforts of the FBN to publicise the evils of ‘marijuana’ in the mid-1930’s, the ‘drug’ was virtually ignored on a national level. The Bureau’s attempts to design a federal law were initially based on treaty-making powers of federal government as the authority that could introduce an anti-Cannabis statute. That might explain the increased activity of the US at the Advisory Committee. Anslinger’s predecessors had used those tactics in 1912 and 1925 “to enforce domestic legislation in time to underline the seriousness of US intentions at international meetings and thereby increase their capacity to influence international decisions; at the same time, they used international obligations as an argument for domestic legislation”.

In 1926 Cannabis importation and use was prohibited by the Australian Commonwealth Government with federal legislation implementing the 1925 Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs.

Although not a member of the League of Nations, the US maintained extra-official presence as an observer in deliberations and voiced dissatisfaction with the lenient approach of European colonial powers with significant financial interests in production of opium, coca and manufacturing derivatives, morphine, heroin and cocaine. One of the reasons the US had withdrawn from the 1924-1925 Geneva Conference was producing countries’ refusal to commit to measures restricting production of raw opium and coca leaves to medical and scientific needs. Washington saw this as a major gap in the international system of control. Limitation of available supplies could not be achieved without control at the source: restricting cultivation. The US tried to introduce stricter measures, including for Cannabis, at the Conference for Suppression of the Illicit Traffic in Dangerous Drugs in Geneva, 1936. The Conference was convened to address the increasing problem of illicit ‘drug’ trafficking, an unintended consequence of increased effectiveness of the control regime imposed on licit international ‘drug’ markets. The US proposal included compulsory severe penalties for promoting or engaging in cultivation, production, manufacture or distribution for non-medical and non-scientific purposes. Other delegations rejected that path and reminiscent of the 1925 Geneva Conference, the US delegation walked out, dissatisfied. The US strategy was to influence its domestic policy, establishing a constitutional basis, via treaty, for federal regulation of cultivation and production of opium and Cannabis. According to historian William B. McAllister, “perhaps individual use as well”.

However, the delegation considered the 1936 Convention for Suppression of the Illicit Traffic in Dangerous Drugs “a retrograde step”. Shortly after, Anslinger and the Treasury Department went ahead with preparations for passage of a federal bill to control Cannabis, replete with an effective scare campaign on Capitol Hill and in the media. Following a well-practiced approach, in April 1937, he assured a House of Representatives committee that under the influence of Cannabis, “some people will fly into a delirious rage and may commit violent crimes”. In response to a follow-up question, he said the ‘drug’ was “dangerous to the mind and body and particularly dangerous to the criminal type, because it releases all of the inhibitions”. Anslinger testified most ‘marijuana’ smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, jazz musicians and entertainers. Their satanic music driven by ‘marijuana’ and smoking by white women makes them want sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and others. It causes insanity, criminality and death; most violence-causing ‘drug’ in the history of mankind! Such views were widely replicated on radio, in public forums, magazine articles and in the film ‘Reefer Madness’. Accompanying the racist and xenophobic undertone, the demonisation bordered on the ridiculous. Such was the atmosphere in August 1937 when federal government approved the Marijuana Tax Act, effectively banning Cannabis. The law imposed an occupational tax upon importers, sellers, dealers and anyone handling the ‘drug’. The provisions of the Act were not designed to raise revenue, or even regulate use. The purpose was to provide the legal mechanisms to enforce prohibition of all use of Cannabis.

reefermadness


Australian ‘Drug Control’ Timeline 1928-1959

1928 – Australian state of Victoria enacts Poisons Act, the first state to prohibit use of Cannabis; other Australian states followed suit slowly over next three decades.

1934 – South Australia prohibits use of Cannabis.

1935 – New South Wales prohibits use of Cannabis.

1937 – Queensland prohibits use of Cannabis.

1940 – Australian Commonwealth Government extended import restrictions onIndian hemp, including preparations containing hemp.

1950 – Western Australia prohibits use of Cannabis.

1959 – Tasmania prohibits use of Cannabis.


This was the case even though debate for the passage of the bill in the House of Representatives lasted only half an hour and contained no medical or scientific data. Reflecting the laxity and indifference of discussion, Texas Congressman Sam Rayburn responded to a question about the bill’s provisions: “It is something to do with something that is called ‘marijuana’. I believe it is a narcotic of some kind”. Before introduction of the law only four states enacted prohibitions against non-medical use, California (1915), Texas (1919), Louisiana (1924) and New York (1927), but in 1937, forty-six of the nation’s forty-eight states had banned the substance. The US subsequently reinforced its drive to strengthen international control and lead the international anti-Cannabis movement. It presented extensive documentation to a sub-committee of the League of Nation’s Advisory Committee, claiming a link between crime, dementia and Cannabis, whilst promoting the gateway theory that Cannabis use led to heroin addiction. Anslinger declared in 1938 before the Advisory Committee: “[…] the ‘drug’ [marihuana] maintains its ancient, worldwide tradition of murder, assault, rape, physical and mental deterioration. The office’s archives prove that its use is associated with dementia and crime. Thus, from the point of view of policing, it is a more dangerous ‘drug’ than heroin or cocaine”. In contrast, one of the most important documents produced by the sub-committee insists there is no link between violence and Cannabis in Africa. The sub-committee’s work, completed in December 1939, demonstrated sensitivity to cultural differences in Cannabis use, even though the Indian situation and lessons from the Hemp Commission were again ignored.

The subcommittee concluded more studies were necessary on the precise content of Cannabis, the causes of addiction and its connection with dementia and crime and the growing phenomenon of substitution of Cannabis with heroin in North Africa, Egypt and Turkey. In an earlier report an increase in heroin use in Tunisia was attributed to Cannabis control and raised concern, “[…] at present, total suppression (at least in countries where Cannabis use is a very ancient custom) would result in an increase in addiction to manufactured drugs, which are far more dangerous […]”. The work of the League of Nations ended with the Second World War. After 1945, with the full weight of the US brought into play, parameters for international Cannabis control changed significantly. Meanwhile, attracting little if any attention, other control models persisted. In India, Tunisia and French Morocco, systems of controlled sales had been adopted. With the creation of the United Nations (UN), the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) replaced the Advisory Committee of the League of Nations. During its first meeting in 1946 future discrepancies in the Cannabis debate were already beginning to show. The Mexican representative claimed too many restrictions on Cannabis could lead to it being substituted by alcohol, which would have worse consequences. The Indian delegate declared Indians used ganja and bhang in moderation. The US representative, Anslinger, insisted on proving the connection between Cannabis use and crime and launched an attack against a report issued in 1944 by New York’s mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, the goal of which was to provide a thorough, impartial and scientific analysis of ‘marijuana’ smoking among the city’s Latin and black population.

In Morocco, according to a 1917 decree, ‘kif’ had to be sold to a multinational company in Tangier, largely controlled by French capital, with a monopoly to trade Cannabis and tobacco. In 1912, the country was divided into two, one under French administration, the other under Spanish rule, the latter comprising the Cannabis cultivation zone. The aim of regulating cultivation, transport, sale and consumption of kif was to protect interests of the monopoly against clandestine producers and sellers. Farmers depended on the company for permission to grow and were obliged to hand in their harvest in Tangiers and Casablanca where it was processed for commercial sale in tobacco shops. Use was largely unproblematic. Many smoked a few pipes in the evening, sipping coffee or tea. “The number of these ‘careful’ smokers is fairly high in the towns among artisans and small shopkeepers”, a UN study in 1951 reported. In Tunisia, during the French protectorate until 1956, a similar system of “controlled toleration” existed, restricting contraband and maintaining consumption within limits. The sale of chopped Cannabis ready for smoking (takrouri) was organised by a state monopoly. The Direction des monopoles issued cultivation permits, fixed areas of authorised plantations yearly and bought entire crops from producers. The Tunis Tobacco Factory prepared takrouri and distributed it in packets of five grams, sold in all the tobacco shops of the Tunis Regency.

 

Based on five years of interdisciplinary research, the study refuted the scare stories the FBN was circulating in the media and claims by officials about dangers of Cannabis. Among its conclusions was the “practice of smoking ‘marijuana’ does not lead to addiction in the medical sense of the word” and the ‘drug’ was “not the determining factor in the commission of major crimes”. Moreover, “publicity concerning the catastrophic ef­fects of ‘marijuana’ is unfounded […] There is no direct relationship between the commission of crimes of violence and marihuana … Marihuana itself has no specific stimulant effect in regard to sexual desires” and “use of marihuana does not lead to morphine or cocaine or heroin addiction”. In light of such findings, it called for an intelligent approach. In the absence of an international normative consensus about ‘drug’ use and the willing capacity to coerce nations to adhere to stringent control policies the League of Nations had been unable to secure global prohibition of certain ‘drugs’ for non-medical purposes. The voluntary nature of adherence to the conventions ensured the pre-UN framework had a more regulatory character, concerned predominantly with “restrictive commodity agreements”. This was about to change. After the Second World War the US was the dominant world power and could persuade other states to adopt stricter policies. This power shift led to dismissing impartial evidence on benefits, risk and harms of Cannabis and its potential medical usefulness and eased the way for providing biased evidence supporting the US decision to prohibit the substance. A CND secretariat paper continuing the work of the subcommittee from the 1930’s omitted all references to the La Guardia report because the US did not submit it. 

In 1948 the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) approved a US-drafted and CND-sponsored resolution requesting the UN’s Secretary General draft a new convention replacing all the existing treaties from the 1912 Hague Convention onward. Owing much to Anslinger’s endeavours, work on a single or unified treaty began. It would have three core objectives: limiting production of raw materials; codifying existing conventions into one; and simplifying the existing ‘drug’ control apparatus. Between 1950 and 1958, the nascent document went through three drafts. A first draft was presented in February 1950 by the CND Secretariat. The proposals for Cannabis were drastic. The draft text incorporated two approaches, both holding recreational Cannabis use needed to be rigorously discouraged. The first alternative worked on conjecture Cannabis had no legitimate medical use that could not be met by other “less dangerous substances”. With the exception of small amounts for scientific purposes, production of Cannabis would be prohibited completely. The second option recognised Cannabis had legitimate medical purposes. It should be produced and traded exclusively by a state monopoly only for medical and scientific ends. To ensure no Cannabis leaked into “illicit traf­fic” a range of measures, state-run cultivation and uprooting of wild plants, was proposed. In countries with significant traditional recreational use, “a reservation” could allow production on the strict condition the reservation would “cease to be effective unless renewed by annual notification […] accompanied by a description of the progress in the preceding year towards the abolition of such non-medical use and by explanation of the continued reasons for the temporary retention of such use”. 

No agreement was reached and decisive action was stalled. More information was needed as “a rigid limitation of the use of ‘drugs’ under control to exclusively medical and scientific needs does not sufficiently take into consideration long established customs and traditions which persist in particular in territories of the Middle and Far East and which is impossible to abolish by a simple decree of prohibition”. The draft boldly claimed all non-medical consumption of Cannabis was harmful and recommended countries in which traditional recreational use was common should be obliged to ban such practices, denying social use of Cannabis in many southern countries was commonly accepted by many as a phenomenon comparable to social use of alcohol in the US and Europe. Years later, Hans Halbach, head of the WHO Section on Addiction Producing Drugs, 1954-1970, pointed out the cultural bias: “If in those days the opium-producing countries had been as concerned about alcohol as Western countries were concerned about opium, we might have had an international convention on alcohol”. By deferring Cannabis for further study the issue risked ending up in the same indecisive state as in the pre-war period under the League of Nations, when it was studied year in year out, without a noticeable impact on the decision-making process. Much valuable information was gathered, but its often contradictory nature did not help to reach a suitable policy conclusion. The dominant position of the US and the emergence in the post-war years of what historian McAllister has called an “inner circle” of drug control advocates at the UN who were determined to set a “radical” agenda were central to breaking the impasse.

One of the crucial issues was whether Cannabis had any justifiable medical use. The body mandated to determine medicinal utility was the WHO Expert Committee on Drugs Liable to Produce Addiction. In 1952 the Committee declared “Cannabis preparations are practically obsolete. So far as we can see, there is no justification for the medical use of Cannabis preparations”. That verdict was not substantiated by any evidence and was clearly influenced by ideological positions of certain individuals holding powerful positions. The secretary of the Expert Committee was Pablo Osvaldo Wolff, head of the Addiction Producing Drugs Section of the WHO (1949-1954). Wolff, described as an American protégé, was part of that “inner circle” of control advocates and was made the WHO’s resident Cannabis expert due to vigorous US sponsorship. Anslinger wrote the preface to the 1949 English edition of Wolff ’s booklet ‘Marijuana in Latin America: The Threat It Constitutes’, as a polemic against the La Guardia report that argued, in contrast to Anslinger and Wolff ’s opinion, the use of Cannabis did not lead to mental and moral degeneration. Wolff ’s work supported the pre-war claims and arguments of the US government, such as the estimate there were 200 million Cannabis addicts in the world. The booklet has been qualified as “primarily a diatribe against marihuana […] practically devoid of hard data” that provided little to no scientific evidence regarding the alleged association between Cannabis and crime. Not a credible study, it is a pamphlet admonishing Cannabis’ purported menacing effect.

“With every reason, marihuana […] has been closely associated since the most remote time with insanity, crime, violence, and brutality”, Wolff concludes. The bombastic language discredits any scientific reliability and impartiality. For example, Cannabis: “changes thousands of persons into nothing more than human scum” and “this vice … should be suppressed at any cost”. Cannabis is labelled as a “weed of the brutal crime and of the burning hell” an “exterminating demon which is now attacking our country”. Users are referred to as addicts whose “motive belongs to a strain which is pure viciousness”. Wolff distorted available evidence by cherry-picking from reports to support his position, claiming, “an American commission which studied ‘marijuana’ addiction in the Panama garrisons found among the addicts individuals who were under charges of violence and insubordination”. That commission was the Panama Canal Zone, which had reached the diametrically opposite conclusion based on evidence, acts of violence and insubordination had little to no relation to Cannabis, but were, in fact, caused by alcohol. Wolff ’s claim there was “no medical indication whatsoever that will justify its use in the present day” was taken onboard by the WHO expert committee about Cannabis in 1952, of which he was the secretary. The deliberations from 1950 to 1955 would determine the status of Cannabis in the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Wolff practically unilaterally determined the WHO position during these crucial years. 

At the 1953 CND meeting a study programme was approved to evaluate existing control regimes in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the WHO. The importance of the WHO undertaking a study on the physical and mental effects was stressed. When the CND met in 1955, delegates were presented a report, ‘The Physical and Mental Effects of Cannabis’, written by Wolff. Little more than an update of his earlier booklet and no less biased, it concludes, “Cannabis constitutes a dangerous ‘drug’ from every point of view, whether physical, mental, social or criminological” and “not only is marihuana smoking per se a danger but that its use eventually leads the smoker to turn to intravenous heroin injections”. Wolff has little indulgence for those “inclined to minimise the importance of smoking marihuana”. The literature cited is highly selective and work of the League’s Subcommittee in the 1930’s barely acknowledged. There are also serious doubts about the official status of the document: it did not represent the WHO’s institutional point of view and was not endorsed by the relevant expert committee nor mentioned in reports. Wolff ’s successor, Hans Halbach, referred to the report “as a working paper for the WHO Secretariat […] made available for distribution by the WHO Secretariat”. However, at the CND meeting, many delegates perceived the document as representing the WHO position.

Continued from The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition (Part 1), Extracted and Adapted from The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition

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The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition (Part 1)

Cannabis plants were sent to Australia by Sir Joseph Banks on the First Fleet, in the hope that
the new colony might grow enough hemp to supply the British Navy with rope.

Mullaways_Medical_Cannabis_Research_Crop

Cannabis is the most widely used illicit substance worldwide, produced in virtually every country, with the 2019 World Drug Report estimating 188 million people used Cannabis in 2017. Cannabis was adopted for religious, medicinal, industrial and recreational purposes by early mankind. First described in a medical context by Chinese Emperor Shen-Nung in 2700 BCE to treat “beri-beri, constipation, female weakness, gout, malaria, rheumatism and absentmindedness’’. Hemp fibre was used to produce paper, rope and sailcloth, enabling Europeans to build colonial empires. They discovered the plant was widely used for its euphoric and medicinal properties. In 1961, the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the bedrock of the United Nations (UN) ‘drug’ control system, limited “production, manufacture, export, import, distribution of, trade in, use and possession” of Cannabis “exclusively to medical and scientific purposes”During negotiations there was even a failed attempt to make Cannabis the only fully prohibited substance on the premise, “the medical use of Cannabis was practically obsolete and that such use was no longer justified”. It was included under the strictest controls in the Convention, listed twice: in Schedules I and IV; substances, highly addictive and liable to abuse, with “particularly dangerous properties” and little or no therapeutic value! Just as with opium poppy and coca bush the control debate preceded the UN and the League of Nations. A report by the 2002 Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs in Canada about the emergence of the international ‘drug’ control regime summarised the situation:

The international regime for the control of ‘psychoactive’ substances, beyond any moral or even racist roots it may initially have had, is first and foremost a system that reflects the geopolitics of North-South relations in the 20th century. Indeed, the strictest controls were placed on organic substances – coca, poppy and Cannabis – which are often part of the ancestral traditions of the countries where the plants originate, whereas the North’s cultural products, tobacco and alcohol, were ignored and the synthetic substances produced by the North’s pharmaceutical industry were subject to regulation rather than prohibition. 

2020Indianhash1894Early measures were implemented as social control. Authorities in the Arab world regarded hashish use as a loathsome habit, associated with the economically and socially disadvantaged. Following Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798, soldiers were forbidden to smoke or drink extracts out of fear Cannabis would provoke a loss of fighting spirit. A three-month prison term was imposed, perhaps the first penal law on Cannabis. In Egypt, Turkey and Greece, Cannabis prevalence was high and attracted strong legal responses, with hashish banned in Egypt followed by cultivation, use and importation being forbidden in 1868. The first Australian ‘drug’ law was an 1857 Act imposing an import duty on opium. The primary purpose was to discourage entry of Chinese into Australia, rather than restrict importation of opium itself. The first laws were carefully worded to apply to opium in smokeable form only, not as taken by the European population. Australians in the 19th century were among the world’s biggest consumers of opiates in patent medicines, alongside alcohol, morphine or both. Laudanum (opium and alcohol) was taken regularly by adults and children to calm them. In Egypt, a tax on Cannabis imports was imposed in 1874, despite possession being illegal. In 1877, a nationwide campaign was launched to confiscate and destroy Cannabis, followed by a law in 1879, making cultivation and importation illegal. In 1884, cultivation of Cannabis became a criminal offence. Customs officers, however, were allowed to sell hashish abroad, instead of destroying confiscated amounts, to pay informers and customs officers for seizures.

These early attempts to outlaw Cannabis, reissued in 1891 and 1894, had little effect on recreational and medicinal use among Egypt’s urban and rural poor. Exemptions for non-Egyptians and enforcement issues made the laws largely ineffectual. Cultivation, importation and use was banned in Greece in 1890. Hashish was considered an “imminent threat to society” particularly among urban poor and in cafes in Piraeus and central Athens. Hashish continued to be widely used and Greece remained a significant exporter to Turkey and Egypt into the 1920’s. South Africa was another of the first states to control Cannabis. An 1870 law, tightened in 1887, prohibited use and possession by Indian immigrants, due to the perception white rule was threatened by consumption of dagga, as it was known. Cannabis was used for pleasure, medicinal and religious purposes by rural Africans and did not constitute a problem. However, pressure to prohibit Cannabis was growing in the 1880’s, temperance movements expanded their mandate from alcohol to other substances and ‘intoxication’ in general. The pragmatic recommendations of one of the first and still one of the most exhaustive studies about the effects of Cannabis, the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report in 1894, pointed in another direction. Unfortunately, the seven-volume report’s wealth of information was largely ignored in the debates on Cannabis control in the international arena under the League of Nations and the UN, 1920’s, 1930’s and 1950’s. Temperance crusaders raised a question in the British House of Commons due to concern about effects of the production and consumption of hemp and claimed, falsely, “lunatic asylums of India are filled with ganja smokers”.

Its absence from international discussions is pertinent since almost nothing of significance in the conclusions of this landmark report on the Cannabis problem in India has been proven wrong in over a century. The Commission looked into earlier considerations in India to prohibit Cannabis in 1798, 1872 and 1892, concluding proposals had always been rejected because the plant grew wild everywhere and attempts to stop the habit in various forms could provoke use of more harmful ‘intoxicants’. The report concluded: “In respect to the alleged mental effects of the ‘drugs’, the Commission have come to the conclusion that the moderate use of hemp ‘drugs’ produces no injurious ef­fects on the mind. […] As a rule these ‘drugs’ do not tend to crime and violence”.  The report also noted “moderate use of these ‘drugs’ is the rule, and that the excessive use is comparatively exceptional. The moderate use produces practically no ill effects”. Had the wisdom of the Indian Hemp Commission’s recommendations prevailed, we might now have a system not dissimilar to legislation on Cannabis regulation adopted in Uruguay. Unfortunately, the international community chose to take another course of action and decided to ban Cannabis in the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. As the name suggests, the Single Convention is a consolidation of a series of multilateral ‘drug’ control treaties negotiated from 1912-1953. Internationally the drive to control ‘psychoactive’ substances was initially concentrated on opium, particularly in China, where Western missionaries were appalled by widespread and, in their eyes, destructive use. National control measures and prohibitions were internationalised, leading to bans in other countries.

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Before Cannabis became subject of the international drive to control ‘psychoactive’ substances, two very distinct models were competing in the few countries that imposed controls: a prohibition model, largely ineffective; and a more sophisticated model of regulation. The large majority of countries did not have controls at all. The path towards prohibition was not straightforward and even when a ban was introduced, it was not always effectively enforced. In Egypt, by 1892, the Cannabis ban was being reconsidered. Egypt’s prohibition had generated trafficking networks supplying the country with all the hashish the clandestine market demanded, as well as smoking dens, smuggling and corruption. It was suggested the Egyptian government should duplicate control and restriction policies in place in India to contain excessive use and allow for moderate consumption. Licences and taxation in India were providing revenue, while consumption diminished. As with opium, it was clear prohibition at the national level was unworkable without control of international trade. Subsequently, Cannabis was included in the preparations for the International Opium Conference in 1911 in The Hague. The Conference would lead to the 1912 International Opium Convention. The Italian delegation, worried by hashish smuggling in its North African colonies (present day Libya), raised the issue of international Cannabis control. Many delegates were bewildered by the introduction of Cannabis into discussions. Pharmaceutical Cannabis products were widespread in the early 20th century and participants had no substantive knowledge or even a clear scientific definition of the substance. Dutch chairman, Jacob Theodor Cremer, suggested countries deal with Cannabis internally. The United States (US) alone supported Italy.

The US was only able to obtain a resolution in the addendum: The Conference considers it desirable to study the question of Indian hemp from the statistical and scientific point of view, with the object of regulating its abuses, should the necessity thereof be felt, by international legislation or by an international agreement. Hamilton Wright, US State Department official, who coordinated international aspects of US ‘drug’ control policy and drafted domestic ‘drug’ legislation had in 1910 tried to include Cannabis in a bill. He argued if one ‘dangerous drug’ would be effectively prohibited, habitual users would switch to another. Anticipating a shift away from opiates and cocaine, Cannabis should be prohibited, he reasoned. And as many ‘psychoactive’ substances as possible should be banned. His bill (a precursor of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914 to control opiates and cocaine) was defeated, mainly due to opposition from the pharmaceutical industry. Cannabis would not be federally prohibited in the US until 1937. The 1912 Hague Convention called upon signatories to licence manufacturers, regulate distribution and halt exports to jurisdictions that prohibited import. The main concern was unregulated free trade in opium, heroin, morphine and cocaine would lead to an increase in domestic ‘drug’ use. Basic controls on international trade had to be introduced. As most states were reluctant to penalise non-medical use of ‘psychoactive’ substances, the treaty predominantly addressed supply-oriented regulation of the licit trade and availability for medical purposes. However, the discussion on Cannabis at the Conference had early repercussions.

The colonial government of Jamaica added Cannabis to their legislation when they ratified the 1912 Hague Convention in 1913 and outlawed it a decade later. Cannabis had been introduced on the island by Indian contract labourers after abolition of slavery in 1838. British Guyana and Trinidad passed legislation that prohibited cultivation of Cannabis and regulated sale and possession. Cannabis was sold under licence to Indian plantation workers until 1928. The League of Nations, through the Advisory Committee on Traffic in Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs, continued to strengthen transnational aspects of the emergent international ‘drug’ control system and to institute controls over a wider range of ‘drugs’. A letter from South Africa to the Committee in November 1923 put Cannabis back on the agenda. The South Africans, who proclaimed a nationwide ban on cultivation, sale, possession and use of Cannabis in June 1922, wrote, “the most important of all the habit-forming ‘drugs’” was Cannabis. The Advisory Committee asked governments for information on production, use and trade in November 1924. A Second Opium Conference was convened to discuss measures to be taken to implement the 1912 Opium Convention and set maximum limits on production of opium, morphine, cocaine and restrict production of raw opium and coca leaf exported for medicinal and scientific purposes. Mohamed El Guindy, delegate from Egypt (nominally independent from Great Britain), proposed inclusion of Cannabis. He asserted hashish was “at least as harmful as opium, if not more so”.


In Australia, Cannabis was not consumed on a large scale, although it was
readily available for sale as cigarettes called ‘Cigares de Joy’ until the 1920’s.


Support came from Turkey, Greece, South Africa and Brazil, countries with experience or had banned Cannabis, with limited or no success. Despite the British delegation’s argument Cannabis was not on the official agenda, El Guindy submitted an official proposal. He painted a horrific picture of the effects of hashish, although he conceded, taken “occasionally and in small doses, hashish perhaps does not offer much danger”. He stressed once a person “acquires the habit and becomes addicted … it is very difficult to escape”; “under the influence of hashish presents symptoms very similar to those of hysteria”; the individual’s “intellectual faculties gradually weaken and the whole organism decays”; and “the proportion of cases of insanity caused by the use of hashish varies from 30-60% of the total number of cases occurring in Egypt”. Cannabis not only led to insanity, according to El Guindy, but was a gateway to other drugs and vice versa. If it was not included on the list with opium and cocaine, Cannabis would replace them and “become a terrible menace to the whole world”, he predicted. Most countries at the Conference had little to no experience with Cannabis and inclined to rely upon those that did, notably Egypt, Turkey and Greece. The Egyptian ban on Cannabis affected the entire eastern Mediterranean and beyond. Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine were requested to assist Egypt’s law enforcement authorities restrict cultivation and trade. El Guindy’s proposal was motivated by failed efforts to stem smuggling into Egypt. Despite lack of evidence in his speech supporting his claims about the effects of hashish, delegates were unprepared to contradict them.

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The assertion 30-60% of insanity was caused by hashish was, to be generous, an exaggeration. The 1920-21 annual report, Abbasiya Asylum in Cairo, larger of Egypt’s two mental hospitals, recorded 715 admissions. Only 19 (2.7%) were attributed to hashish, considerably less than the 48 attributed to alcohol. Moreover, even the modest number of cases attributed to Cannabis were “not, strictly speaking, causes, but conditions associated with the mental disease”El Guindy’s excessive claims caused moral panic among ill-informed delegates who applauded his intervention, admitting their knowledge was limited. However. India, the United Kingdom (UK) and France expressed sympathy for the Egyptian delegate’s position, but argued, as his government had failed to give prior notice to the secretariat, the Conference was not competent to apply the provisions of the 1912 Hague Convention to hashish. The issue was referred to a sub-committee for further study, in which El Guindy introduced the proviso: The use of Indian hemp and the preparations derived therefrom may only be authorised for medical and scientific purposes. The raw resin (charas) … extracted from the female tops of the Cannabis sativa, together with the various preparations (hashish chira, esrar, diamba, etc.) of which it forms the basis, not being at present utilised for medical purposes and only being susceptible of utilisation for harmful purpose, in the same manner as other narcotics, may not be produced, sold, traded in, etc., under any circumstances whatsoever. The sub-committee reported in favour of complete prohibition of Cannabis.

Only three of sixteen nations represented on the committee (UK, India and the Netherlands) opposed the drastic step. Curiously, neither Indian nor British delegates mentioned the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission’s report, which offered a much more nuanced assessment of benefits, risks and purported harms of Cannabis. The British and Indian delegates attached reservations to Guindy’s controversial paragraph. Beyond restriction of international trade, it interfered in domestic policy and legislation, a step too far. The US had wanted to introduce similar provisions for opium, but was blocked, precipitating America’s angry departure. Recommendations were diluted significantly by the drafting committee despite what the sub-committee chairman qualified as “somewhat uncompromising insistence” of El Guindy, a reprimand uncommon in the diplomatic world. Cannabis was included in the International Opium Convention of 1925, under a limited regime of international control: prohibition of Cannabis exportation to countries where it was illegal and requirement of an import certificate for countries that allowed use. Without due consideration of relevant evidence to support the necessity for control and at the request of Egypt alone, the Conference decided formally, ‘Indian hemp’ was as addictive and dangerous as opium and should be treated accordingly. Cannabis was placed under legal international control in the 1925 Geneva Convention.

The Convention dealt with the transnational dimension of the Cannabis trade and did not prohibit production or domestic trade in Cannabis; did not impose measures to reduce domestic consumption; nor ask governments to provide Cannabis production estimates to the Permanent Central Opium Board (PCOB) to monitor and supervise the licit international trade, the main source of supply for illicit markets. Following approval of the 1925 International Opium Convention, European countries gradually outlawed Cannabis possession and use (UK’s Dangerous Drugs Act, 1928; revised Dutch Opium Law, 1928; Germany’s second Opium Law, 1929). The laws exceeded obligations in the Convention, despite absence of problems related to Cannabis use in those countries. Bans issued on a national level on a substance demonised on the basis of questionable evidence set into motion stricter controls internationally. After Egypt forced Cannabis control onto the international agenda, more powerful countries became entangled in the process of increasing criminalisation and sought tighter international prohibitive measures. British ‘drugs’ law would serve as a model for legislation in the British West Indies. In the 1930’s the League of Nations Advisory Committee began to pay increasing attention to Cannabis, under pressure from Egypt, the US and Canada. At the Committee’s 19th session, 1934, a report was tabled that estimated there were 200 million Cannabis users worldwide, although it was unclear how that figure was arrived at. The Egyptian delegation demanded “worldwide outlawing of the Cannabis indica plant”, but other delegations were unimpressed by the poorly substantiated statements. The issue was referred to a sub-committee.2020AdvisoryComTrafficOpium1930s


Australian ‘Drug Control’ Timeline 1901-1926

1901 – Customs Act

1913 – Australia signed the Hague International Opium Convention on narcotics (well over 100 narcotic ‘drugs’ were controlled under the Convention) and extended importation controls over ‘drugs’ other than opium.

1925 – The Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs imposed restrictions on the manufacture, importation, sale, distribution, exportation and use of cannabis, opium, cocaine, morphine and heroin allowing for medical and scientific purposes only, despite the fact that Cannabis use as a medication was rare in Australia at the time.

1926 – Cannabis importation and use was prohibited by the Australian Commonwealth Government with federal legislation implementing the 1925 Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs.


Image result for 1894 Indian Hemp Drugs Commission report,A 1926 New York Times article questioned El Guindy’s allegations against Cannabis. The article quoted the 1894 Indian Hemp Drugs Commission report, contending neither insanity nor criminality was related to Cannabis, “but when excesses were noted they were usually connected with other vices, such as alcohol and opium. Not a single medical witness could clearly prove the habit gave rise to mental aberration”. The article referred to research among US military personnel in the Panama Canal Zone with 17 volunteers smoking ‘marijuana’ under medical supervision. The investigating committee reported “influence of the ‘drug’ when used for smoking is uncertain and appears to have been greatly exaggerated” and concluded “there is no medical evidence that it causes insanity” and “there is no evidence that the ‘marijuana’ grown locally is a habit-forming ‘drug’ […] or that it has any appreciable deleterious effects on the individuals using it”. The committee recommended “no steps be taken by the authorities of the Canal Zone to prevent sale or use of ‘marijuana’ and no special legislation […] was needed”.

 

Extracted and Adapted from The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition
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History of Cannabis and Insanity

Tobacco and pipe shop, Cairo Egypt, 1860-1880

A recurrent issue in the debate on whether or not to prohibit Cannabis is the supposed link between Cannabis and insanity, or as the debate evolved, Cannabis and psychosis / schizophrenia. Since the 1840’s Cannabis has been accused of triggering insanity and hailed as a cure for it. One of the key components of Cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), might sometimes induce ‘psychosis-like’ effects, such as anxiety and transient paranoia, but they are not schizophrenia. Persistent Cannabis use (or that of any kind of ‘psychoactive’ substance) may precipitate psychosis in individuals with genetically predisposing factors and complicate or worsen symptoms in a person with schizophrenia, but there is no evidence it can cause psychosis. However, key components in Cannabis provide powerful anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety properties, so effective they “may be a future therapeutic option in psychosis, in general and in schizophrenia, in particular”. This might explain why people with schizophrenia or those predisposed to psychotic symptoms report relief after using Cannabis.

Although the number of users has increased and the average strength of Cannabis has risen significantly, the numbers of people being diagnosed with schizophrenia has remained stable over time. That is not to say Cannabis is completely harmless, but the purported harms are temporary, over-exaggerated and with other environmental factors, such as alcohol for instance, frequently overlooked. A systematic review of epidemiological data on Cannabis ‘dependence’ (1990-2008) indicates: the modest increase in risk and the low prevalence of schizophrenia mean that regular Cannabis use accounts for only a very small proportion of the disability associated with schizophrenia. From a population health perspective, this raises doubt about the likely impact of preventing Cannabis use on the incidence or prevalence of schizophrenia […]. However, the objective here is not to review all the often conflicting evidence on the relation between Cannabis and psychosis, but how one argument, that Cannabis causes insanity, prevailed.

Women smoking a water pipe in North Africa, 1860’s

This position prevailed despite the lack of evidence to substantiate the claim over-riding significant doubts about the relationship that existed from the beginning of the debate. One of the earliest inquiries, by the colonial government of India in 1872, did indeed conclude habitual ganja use tended to produce insanity, but a careful examination of the evidence presented in the reports underlying that conclusion shows the alleged relationship lacked “solid or sound foundations” and its accuracy was often disputed by medical officers. However, “bad information, administrative expedience and colonial misunderstandings of a complex society” turned into statistics and the statistics provided the “evidence” that Cannabis led to mental illness. The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission in 1894 was instigated by claims the lunatic asylums of India were filled with ganja smokers. After extensive research into the nature of asylum statistics the majority of the Commission members agreed “that the effect of hemp ‘drugs’ in this respect had hitherto been greatly exaggerated”.

Most medical doctors involved were convinced Cannabis use did not cause insanity, but rather stimulated a mental illness that “was already lurking in the mind of the individual” and that alcohol played at least an equal if not a more important role. That conclusion seems to summarise current opinions about the relationship between Cannabis and psychosis. The dramatic announcements on the mental health implications of Cannabis use by the Egyptian delegate Mohammed El Guindy at the Geneva conference had a significant impact on the deliberations to include Cannabis in the 1925 Convention. El Guindy produced statistics supporting his claims that 30-60% of cases of insanity were caused by hashish. In a subsequent Memorandum with reference to hashish as it concerned Egypt, submitted by the Egyptian delegation to support El Guindy, the figure was even more alarming, claiming “about 70% of insane people in lunatic asylums in Egypt are hashish eaters or smokers”.

Cannabis shop in Khandesh, India, late-19th century.

Cannabis shop, Khandesh India, late 1800’s

The 1920-21 annual report of the Abbasiya Asylum in Cairo, the larger of Egypt’s two mental hospitals only attributed 2.7% of its admissions to Cannabis and even that modest number represented “not, strictly speaking, causes, but conditions associated with the mental disease”.

El Guindy’s figures were probably based on the observations of John Warnock, the head of the Egyptian Lunacy Department from 1895-1923, published in an article in the Journal of Mental Science in 1924. However, as historian James Mills showed, Warnock made broad generalisations about Cannabis and its users despite that those he saw were only the small proportion of them in hospitals. Whether this was an accurate picture of Cannabis use in Egypt did not seem a relevant question to him. Other Egyptian statistics showed a very different picture. This tendency among some doctors to extrapolate their experiences in mental health departments to society at large was common in many studies in many countries and resulted in ignoring the fact the vast majority of Cannabis users did so without any problem. Studies often generalised cases of a few single individuals with personality disorders to make broad claims about the overall harmful effects of Cannabis.

Not all directors of mental health hospitals reached the same conclusions. The Mexican psychiatrist Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra, for instance, who earned a reputation as a result of his work with addicts in the national mental health hospital, refuted the existence of a ‘marijuana’ psychosis. In an article in 1938, entitled El mito de la marihuana (The Myth of Marijuana), he argued that assumption in public and scientific opinion was based in myth. The link of the substance with insanity, violence and crime, which had dominated the public discourse in Mexico since the 1850’s, was the result of sensational media reports and, in later years, US ‘drug’ enforcement authorities. According to Salazar, at least in Mexico, alcohol played a much more important role in the onset of psychosis and social problems. Shortly after he was appointed as head of Mexico’s Federal Narcotics Service, he told US officials the only way to stem the flow of illicit ‘drugs’ was through government controlled distribution.

Grape seller with Kif smokers, Tétouan Morocco, 1920

Due to Mexico’s 1920 Cannabis prohibition, about 80% of the ‘drug’ law violators were Cannabis users. He argued Mexico should repeal Cannabis prohibition to undercut illicit trafficking (the suppression of which he considered impossible in Mexico due to widespread corruption) and focus on the much more serious problems of alcohol and opiates. In 1939, he initiated a programme of clinics dispensing a month’s supply of opiates to addicts through a state monopoly. Salazar argued the traditional perceptions of addicts and addiction had to be revised, including “the concept of the addict as a blameworthy, anti-social individual”. In doing so, Salazar not only made an enemy of the powerful US Commissioner of Narcotics, Anslinger, who had used the alleged relation to push through the prohibitive Marijuana Tax Act, but also went against the opinions of the established medical opinion in Mexico.

Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra “had the audacity to point out certain facts that are now virtual givens in the literature on ‘drug’ policy—that prohibition merely spawned a black market whose results were much worse than ‘drug’ use itself and that, in particular, ‘marijuana’ prohibition led to the harassment and imprisonment of thousands of users who posed very little threat to society […] Though historians have correctly viewed Salazar as a victim of an increasingly imperialist US ‘drug’ policy, it has not been sufficiently emphasised that he was also a victim of Mexico’s homegrown anti-‘drug’ ideology […]”.

As a delegate to the Advisory Committee of the League of Nations and participating in its meeting in Geneva in May 1939, he saw the intolerance of and demands for prohibiting Cannabis had increased exponentially under leadership of the American delegates and allies. He infuriated Anslinger with his proposal to treat addicts in and out of prison with a morphine step-down project. In Mexico, in an article in the Gaceta Medica de México, he challenged the validity of the data relating hashish to schizophrenia in a report from Turkey submitted to the Committee. Salazar considered the then existing international ‘drug’ control conventions “as practically without effect”. His opinions opposed Washington’s punitive supply-side approach on ‘drug’ control and he stepped on too many toes nationally and internationally. The US consul general in Mexico suggested ridicule would be the best way to stop the “dangerous theories” of Salazar. After a concerted campaign in which US and Mexican officials set out to destroy him personally, the Mexican press depicted him as a madman and “propagandist for ‘marijuana’”.

Bedouin smoker, 1920

Due to the intense diplomatic and public pressures, he was forced to resign as head of the Federal Narcotics Service and was replaced by someone more complaisant in the eyes of the US State Department and the FBN. Not surprisingly, Salazar’s work was dismissed by Pablo Osvaldo Wolff in his booklet Marihuana in Latin America. Wolff, who claimed Cannabis did cause psychosis, was much more astute in assuring his opinions were dominant across the relevant UN institutions. Nevertheless, after the 1961 Single Convention was adopted, the UN Bulletin on Narcotics published a review in 1963 that shed substantial doubt on the relationship and, if there was one, about its relevance. In the review, Canadian psychiatrist H.B.M. Murphy concluded: “It is exceedingly difficult to distinguish a psychosis due to Cannabis from other acute or chronic psychoses, and several suggest that Cannabis is the relatively unimportant precipitating agent only”.

He elucidated, “it probably produces a specific psychosis, but this must be quite rare, since the prevalence of psychosis in Cannabis users is only doubtfully higher than the prevalence in general populations”. The debate continues and opinions on how and why Cannabis use is related to psychosis and schizophrenia still spark debate among medical observers today. A 2010 editorial in the International Drug Policy Journal called for a more rational approach, decrying “overemphasis on this question by policymakers has distracted from more pressing issues” and concluded they should give greater voice to the risks and harms associated with particular Cannabis policies and to the evaluation of alternative regulatory frameworks. Given the decades of research and experience with Cannabis prohibition, it seems reasonable to reorient the Cannabis policy debate based on known policy attributable harms rather than to continue to speculate on questions of causality that will not be definitively answered any time soon.

Actress Betty Blythe with water pipe, early 1920s

Extracted and Adapted from The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition

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Why the ‘War on Drugs’ Must End

Punishing people who make the personal choice to consume
an illicit substance has no place in the 21st century.


There’s a dangerous myth in sections of the public that the ‘War on Drugs’ is coming to an end. It’s an idea that as Cannabis legalisation sweeps across the United States (US) and many other nations around the world, legal prohibitions against ‘drug’ use will soon be reduced or removed entirely. In reality, the ‘drug’ war has never been more ferocious, targeting minorities and the most vulnerable in the US and abroad. In 2018 there were more arrests for Cannabis in the US than in 2017, despite 11 states allowing legal Cannabis for citizens over 21 years of age. The FBI released figures that detailed 663,367 Cannabis arrests in the country in 2018. In Australia, Cannabis arrests account for the largest proportion of illicit ‘drug’ arrests. ‘Drug’-related offences take up a lot of the resources within Australia’s criminal justice system.

In 2016–2017 law enforcement made 113,533 illicit ‘drug’ seizures and 154,650 ‘drug’-related arrests. Indicators of Cannabis supply and demand in Australia provide a mixed picture, but overall point to a large, relatively stable market in 2016–2017. Specifically:
There was a record 10,987 Cannabis detections at the Australian border.
The number of national Cannabis seizures decreased this reporting period from a record high in 2015–2016, while the weight of Cannabis seized in 2016–2017 increased.
While national Cannabis arrests decreased this reporting period, the 77,549 arrests reported in 2016–2017 is the second highest on record. 


“‘Drug’ prohibition has been the main basis for police corruption since the 1970’s. And you had the US soldiers bringing in all these ‘drugs’ from Vietnam, so there was a huge supply coming in. So, you got a transition in the major source of money for corrupt police and it moves to ‘drugs’ very quickly by about 1970. And that’s just the criminal justice cost”, Dr John Jiggens, Author and Journalist, Queensland, Australia


methauslegal
Australia has paid a huge price, due in part to its policy of Cannabis prohibition, with an incredible increase in prison populations since the ‘War on Drugs’. In 2012 (figures for 2010-11) around 85,000 ‘drug’ offences were prosecuted in Australia. The cost to the criminal justice system in terms of law enforcement alone was $1.2 billion. About 60% of that went on policing: $800 million. 30% on prisons, not including cost of building new prisons. 10% went on the court system, largely because people pay their own costs. In 2015-16 it had gone up to 145,000 ‘drug’ offences prosecuted that financial year. The cost of ‘drug’ law enforcement, based on those figures, was about $3 billion, of which about $2 billion was going to the police, with most of the rest going to prisons.

The majority of Americans, according to polls in the last few years, support Cannabis legalisation. “Americans should be outraged police departments across the country continue to waste tax dollars and limited law enforcement resources on arresting otherwise law-abiding citizens for simple ‘marijuana’ possession”, National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Executive Director Erik Altieri said. Approval for legalisation of recreational Cannabis in Australia purportedly sits at around 42%, however, Cannabis possession and use is currently illegal. But around 30 years ago, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory removed criminal penalties for personal use of Cannabis. That means it’s illegal, but not a criminal offence. In all other Australian jurisdictions, charges of possession can be subject to diversion by police or court, allowing ‘offenders to avoid a criminal penalty. 

The global ‘War on Drugs’ has been fought for 50 years, without preventing the long-term trend of increasing supply and use. Beyond this failure, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has identified many serious negative unintended consequences. These costs are distinct from those relating to use and stem from taking a punitive enforcement-led approach that, by its nature, criminalises many users and places organised criminals in control of the trade. Although the list of negative consequences detailed by the UNODC is useful, it is incomplete. The costs of the ‘War on Drugs’ extend to seven key policy areas: economy, international development and security, environment, crime, public health, human rights, stigma and discrimination. Given the negative impacts of the ‘War on Drugs’, there is an urgent need to explore alternative policies that would deliver better outcomes.

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In Australia, at the end of January 2017, Sydney’s senior law enforcement agency made the admission they had lost the ‘War on Drugs’. The revelation came that organised crime in NSW was out of control and anti-drug agencies were failing dismally to stem the tsunami of illicit substances flooding the streets.

“Organised crime in this state and the rest of the country is out of control and cannot be stopped without a radical change”, New South Wales (NSW) Crime Commission

The revelation followed a report by the NSW Crime Commission which found the rise of public enemies was “almost entirely driven by the prohibited drugs market”, and “Prosecution of offshore principals is complex, costly and generally beyond the capability of state agencies”. A senior law enforcement insider said. “We are not losing the war on drugs, we have lost it”. Current approaches to ‘drug’ policy in Australia and elsewhere have yielded limited success. The reliance on crude messages (total abstinence, Just say no to ‘drugs’!) and even cruder enforcement strategies (harsher penalties, criminalisation of users) have had little or no impact on the use of ‘drugs’ or the harmful effects on the community.

Across the world, Cannabis is just the tip of the ‘drug’ war iceberg. In the US, although the current incumbent in the office of President has spoken regularly about escalating the ‘War on Drugs’, blamed Mexico and drug cartels on the huge amounts of illicit substances entering the US – heroin, cocaine, opioids and fentanyl – he has largely ignored the elephant in the room; millions of Americans want and need illegal ‘drugs’ and illegality won’t stop them. According to a report from RAND corporation, in 2016, US citizens spent $150 billion on Cannabis, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines. The opioid epidemic is the worst drug crisis in the country’s history, killing hundreds of thousands of people and costing trillions of dollars. Partly caused by pharmaceutical companies that saw an opportunity to make a fortune, some of the biggest, such as the Sackler family, are set to walk away from multi-billion dollar settlements with billions of dollars still in the bank.

pills and tablets

Over the past five years, the ‘War on Drugs’ around the world has continued. Honduras, for example, is a nation wracked by extreme violence and gang warfare. Much of the cocaine flowing into the US from South America transits through Honduras and the effect is a narco-state fully backed by the current US administration (and the one before them). Hundreds of millions of dollars of US military support has created a population fleeing its borders in huge numbers. Honduras is a failed state, partly destroyed by the immense power of drug cartels and criminal gangs trying to control the huge cocaine trade. The Trump era is seeing many vulnerable Honduran refugees being sent back to Honduras where they face threats and death. 

Guinea-Bissau in West Africa is a key cocaine transit hub between South America and Europe. Labelled a narco-state by the UN, 2019 saw the country’s biggest ever drug bust, nearly two tonnes of cocaine. Ongoing political instability ensures drug cartels view Guinea-Bissau as ripe for abuse. In the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte, at least 30,000 mostly poor civilians have been murdered in the last three and a half years. Duterte remains a popular leader, able to convince a fearful population his deadly approach on methamphetamine users will bring societal renewal. The Philippines is what happens when the ‘War on Drugs’ becomes quasi-genocidal. In the UK, conservative governments have continued to punish the most vulnerable people with ‘drug’ dependence.

While use and abuse is soaring in the UK, the so-called ‘Uberisation’ of the trade in Britain has made it the cocaine capital of Europe, vast parts of the country lost to devastating austerity policies. These harsh economic cuts are directly tied to unhealthy use and abuse of cocaine, heroin and other illicit substances. The newly elected Boris Johnson government is deaf to the need for radical changes around ‘drug’ prohibition.


“The United Nations should exercise its leadership, as is its mandate … and conduct deep reflection to analyse all available options, including regulatory or market measures, in order to establish a new paradigm that prevents the flow of resources to organised crime organisations”, President Santos, Colombia; President Calderón, Mexico; and President Molina, Guatemala. Joint statement to the United Nations General Assembly, October 2012


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Ethan Nadelmann
, widely regarded as an outstanding proponent of drug policy reform both in the US and abroad, founded and directed the Drug Policy Alliance (2000-2017) and in a 2014 TED talk asked, “What has the War on Drugs done to the world? Look at the murder and mayhem in Mexico, Central America, so many other parts of the planet, the global black market estimated at $300 billion a year, prisons packed in the United States and elsewhere, police and military drawn into an unwinnable war that violates basic rights and ordinary citizens just hope they don’t get caught in the crossfire; meanwhile, more people using more ‘drugs’ than ever. It’s my country’s history with alcohol prohibition and Al Capone, times 50”. 

“It’s particularly galling to me as an American that we’ve been the driving force behind this global ‘drug’ war. Ask why so many countries criminalise ‘drugs’ they’d never heard of, why the UN ‘drug’ treaties emphasise criminalisation over health, even why most of the money worldwide for dealing with ‘drug’ abuse goes not to helping agencies but those that punish, and you’ll find the good old U. S. of A”. According to Nadelmann, the good news is most politicians in the US wanted to roll back the ‘War on Drugs’ and put fewer people behind bars, not more. America was leading the world in reforming Cannabis policies with Cannabis legal for medical purposes in almost half the US’ 50 states. Millions of Americans can legally purchase Cannabis in government-licensed dispensaries.

Over half of all US citizens say it’s time to legally regulate and tax Cannabis, more or less like alcohol, as Colorado and Washington do. As for other drugs, look at Portugal, where nobody goes to jail for possession and government has made a serious commitment to treating addiction as a health issue. Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, England, where people who have been addicted to heroin for many years and repeatedly tried to quit and failed can get pharmaceutical heroin and help services in medical clinics. The results are: illegal ‘drug’ abuse, disease, overdoses, crime and arrests all go down, health and well-being improve, taxpayers benefit and many users put addiction behind them.

leap-3

Most of the US Democratic candidates for President in 2020 have ‘drug’ policies that were unimaginable four years ago. Bernie Sanders advocates federal Cannabis legalisation by executive order, ending the ‘War on Drugs’, eliminating private prisons and reparation for communities disproportionately affected (largely minorities and people of colour). Joe Biden’s position on Cannabis appears to be he doesn’t support full legalisation (making him an outlier in the Democratic field). Elizabeth Warren has been vocal in her opposition to the ‘War on Drugs’, backs legalised Cannabis and safe injecting centres (a practice that already exists successfully in Europe and Australia).

One of the more exciting aspects of future US drug policy revolves around the medical use of such as LSD, ecstasy and psilocybin (‘magic mushrooms). Last year, Oakland, California became the second US city (after Denver, Colorado) to decriminalise magic mushrooms. The potential use of these to treat mental health issues, PTSD, addictions and end-of-life trauma are profound and scientific studies concur. Ecstasy could be legally available through a registered doctor by the beginning of the next decade.


“By maintaining prohibition and suppressing or avoiding debate about its costs and benefits, it can be argued justifiably that our governments and other community leaders are standing idly by while our children are killed and criminalised”, Australia21


CorporateCannabis
Ethan Nadelmann posed the question, “Is legalisation the answer?” Legally regulating and taxing most ‘drugs’ that are now criminalised would radically reduce the crime, violence, corruption, black markets, problems of adulterated and unregulated ‘drugs’, improve public safety and allow taxpayer resources to be directed to more useful purposes. The markets in Cannabis, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine are global commodities markets just like the global markets in alcohol, tobacco, coffee, sugar etc. Where there is a demand, there will be a supply. Knock out one source and another inevitably emerges.

People tend to think of prohibition as the ultimate form of regulation when it represents abdication of regulation with criminals filling the void. Which is why putting criminal laws and police front-and-centre in trying to control a dynamic global commodities market is a recipe for disaster. What we really need to do is bring the underground markets as much as possible above ground and regulate them intelligently to minimise the harms of ‘drugs’ and prohibitionist policies. The Australian Greens have made calls to end the ‘War on Drugs’ and legalise Cannabis, stating the ‘War on Drugs’ has been an expensive failure … Australia needs a new, realistic and evidence-based approach to ‘drug’ policy that reflects the reality of people’s lives.


Over the past few decades, the potential benefits of ‘harm reduction’ programmes in relation to a variety of social problems have been recognised. Such programmes accept risky behaviours cannot be completely eliminated and it is a valid aim of public health policy to reduce adverse outcomes they cause. Since the 1970’s this approach has been applied successfully in many areas, including road safety campaigns and programmes to reduce impact of alcohol and tobacco use and prevent spread of blood‐borne viral infections. One of the first harm minimisation programmes was introduction of compulsory use of seat-belts throughout Australia, early 1970’s. At the time, controversial, with opponents arguing it would cause drivers to behave more recklessly and actually increase the road toll. This did not happen and many other successful harm reduction programmes followed, including random breath testing, wearing helmets by bike riders, education campaigns about tobacco and alcohol use, introduction of needle exchange and methadone treatments, promotion of condom use and safe sex practices and widespread access to effective treatments for hepatitis C. Each of these programmes had to overcome vigorous and sustained hostility from opponents who argued they would do more harm than good, but in all cases the pessimists were wrong. As a result, the health burden from car accidents, alcohol and tobacco use, iHIV, hepatitis C and other dangers have been dramatically reduced.


plant
Of course, ‘drug’ legalisation is only one aspect of changing societal attitudes towards ‘drugs’. Stigmas and stereotypes around use and abuse, pushed by many in the media for decades, must change. How we think, write and talk about ‘drugs’ has contributed to politicians believing they could prosecute a racialised ‘drug’ war for over 100 years. For example, racial bias is endemic within the management of the opioid crisis in the US; white sufferers benefit from doctors prescribing drugs to treat their problems while black sufferers are either ignored or denied appropriate medication. Ending the drug war is more imaginable now than at any time in the last half century. It won’t happen overnight, nor with Trump in the White House, but the appeal of harsh prohibition is dwindling. While the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) continues to receive obscenely huge amounts of government largesse, so many Americans now use and abuse ‘drugs’ it’s the height of futility to try to stop it. Punishing individuals who make the personal choice to consume an illicit substance has no place in the 21st century.

“We need to turn our backs on the failed prohibitions of the past and embrace new ‘drug’ policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights, where people who come from across the political spectrum and every other spectrum as well, where people who love ‘drugs’, people who hate ‘drugs’ and people who don’t give a damn about ‘drugs’, but every one of us believes that this ‘War on Drugs’, this backward, heartless, disastrous ‘War on Drugs’, has got to end”, Ethan Nadelmann

Adapted from Why the War on Drugs Must End with Australian Law Enforcement have lost the “War on Drugs”Pill testing warrants assessment in careful pilot programmesHistory, not harm, dictates why some drugs are legal and others aren’t, The War on Drugs: Options and Alternatives and Why we need to end the war on drugs

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HEMP Party (Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) Party)

hemp-party

  • The HEMP Party is all about re-legalising the whole plant including recreational Cannabis.
  • We do what we can, when we can, with very limited funds.
  • The HEMP Party would like to see an end to the demonisation of Cannabis in every way.
  • And for very good reasons; food, fuel, fibre, medicine and recreation.

PLEASE DONATE WHAT YOU CAN TODAY

Uruguay, Where Public Health + Safety Over Profit = Legal Cannabis

Image result for uruguay cannabis

When Uruguay became the first nation in the modern era to legalise Cannabis in 2013, most of its citizens were against it (only 28% supported legalising for use other than medical in 2013; this figure increased to 33.6% in 2014). Yet, despite deep public scepticism, none of the challenges or perceived failures of the law have been enough to generate momentum to try and reverse it. Instead, during the first round of national elections in October 2019, Cannabis legalisation had all but been forgotten as an issue. It had retreated into the political background. What has happened in Uruguay sets a surprising precedent, because ‘drug’ legalisation is widely seen by politicians as a huge political risk. But then it happened again, in Canada, in October 2018. The second country to legalise Cannabis also re-elected the architect of Canadian ‘drug’ reform, President Justin Trudeau, in October 2019 with the Cannabis issue largely taking a backseat. 

In June 2012, then Uruguayan President José Mujica proposed government legalise and distribute Cannabis to cut off revenue to ‘drug’ dealers. In November a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives outlining a framework for government regulation of Cannabis production, sales and consumption. By the end of December 2013, the House and Senate had passed the bill and Mujica had signed it into law.

Image result for uruguay cannabis

The Uruguayan government’s plans were motivated primarily by concerns about crime, insecurity and public safety – its rationale being that a legal Cannabis market would reclaim most of the trade from organised crime groups and subsequently reduce rates of violence. An additional stated aim was to separate the market for Cannabis from the markets for actual drugs of addiction, such as cocaine, widely used in South America.  “People have seen that legal Cannabis hasn’t resulted in mass panic or zombies roaming the streets of Montevideo”, said Geoff Ramsey, Washington Office on Latin America  (WOLA, a US think tank), co-author of a 2018 report on the impacts of Uruguay’s Cannabis laws. “It simply hasn’t impacted most people’s daily lives”. Since April 2018, more Uruguayans are now in favour of legal Cannabis than against it.

The rules on Cannabis in Uruguay allow people to grow their own plants for consumption or to create collectives for group grows. But perhaps the biggest deal for Cannabis users was in 2017 when pharmacies started selling Cannabis, causing a surge in interest, with people signing on to a legal register if they wanted to buy. The number of Uruguayans on the purchaser registry increased from roughly 4,900 to over 13,000 in the first month. We sold a lot of Cannabis on the first day”, said Esteban Riviera, a pharmacy-owner in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital. We sold 1,250 packages in six hours. There was a two-block queue …”. The legal sale of Cannabis had been much anticipated and began on 19 July 2017, more than three-and-a-half years after Uruguay’s Cannabis law had been passed. “It took them time, the government said, because they want to do it precisely and step by step”, said Guillermo Draper, a Uruguayan journalist. 

Customers queue outside a pharmacy to buy weed In Uruguay, customers queue outside a pharmacy to buy Cannabis

A young woman in a queue outside a Montevideo pharmacy said, I am standing in the sun, burning hot, waiting for 2 pm when they’ll start selling. This is one of the pharmacies who have more packages to sell without reserving online. There’s a lot of pharmacies who have less, so a lot of people go home without weed and that’s pretty sad”. The system is tightly controlled. Customers have to register with the regulator and are limited to buying 10 grams a week. The regulator also controls levels of cannabinoids – THC is limited and balanced with CBD. In pharmacies, there are just four different strains available to buy, none of which is especially strong. The price – around US$6.50 (AU$9.00) for a five-gram packet – is also set by the regulator. Pharmacy owner Gabriel Llano says he only gets about 20% of the purchase price from each packet he sells, although there’s a higher profit margin on related products like snacks and smoking papers, a slightly odd sight in a pharmacy. 

Customers come in one at a time and put a thumb and finger on a print reader to prove they’re registered to buy and haven’t already reached their limit for the month. Then they hand over cash. It has to be cash, that’s the condition on which Gabriels bank has let him keep his account. Uruguay might be a sovereign country, but it’s still affected by the United States’ strict finance laws on controlled substances. The USA Patriot Act, which dictates US banks cannot do business with companies involved in the sale or distribution of a controlled substance posed a problem for retailers in Uruguay because the Act extends the reach of the law to foreign banks with an inter-bank account in the US. “This situation left Uruguayan banks with a choice: shut down Cannabis-selling pharmacies or risk the withdrawal of major American financial institutions from the country”, Ramsey’s report said. “For Uruguayan banks, the choice was an obvious one, and pharmacies were notified that their accounts would be closed”.

Image result for uruguayan banks cannabis

The pharmacies still selling Cannabis either work with local banks that don’t have relationships with American banks, or with cash-only. The rationale for changing the law was to move buyers from the illegal market to a legal one. But queues outside pharmacies suggest the legal market isn’t meeting demand with supply shortages from the only two authorised suppliers across Uruguay. Additionally, because tourists can’t legally buy Cannabis, black-market demand—a trend that goes against the original objective to legalising, i.e., to shrink illegal markets—has remained steady. That said, how the legal industry operates is still a work in progress. Stringent state regulation and banking issues have led to there being only 17 licensed pharmacies, across a country of 3.5 million people, that can sell legal Cannabis. “Some Uruguayan home growers and clubs have attempted to get around the ban on selling to tourists by offering ‘Cannabis tours’ … in which participants are free to sample Cannabis while on a paid tour. Others simply sell directly to tourists behind closed doors, a grey market quietly operating via word of mouth”, stated Ramsey’s report.


Snapshot of recreational Cannabis in Uruguay, as at end of June 2019

  • 36,487 customers.
  • 7,163 home growers.
  • >3,400 members of 123 Cannabis clubs where collective growing is allowed.
  • Two companies have a licence to grow high-THC medical Cannabis, at least a dozen to grow hemp and at least another dozen to perform Cannabis research.
  • Only a handful of licences for manufacturing have been granted so far.
  • As of mid-2019, approximately 3,000 kilograms of recreational Cannabis had been sold in pharmacies to registered customers.
  • In the recreational market, users have a choice of two strains of flower capped at 9% THC.

Uruguay Cannabis

Snapshot of medicinal Cannabis in Uruguay, as at end of June 2019Image result for epifractan

  • The medical market is limited.
  • One domestic company, Medicplast, registered a medical Cannabis product—Epifractan—an oil available with either 2% or 5% CBD and <0.5% THC. The company also registered a topical CBD product. The raw material for manufacturing these products is imported from Switzerland.
  • Patients are allowed to import individual products from other countries on a case-by-case basis. Bulk imports for distribution are prohibited.

“They have a lot of work to do to expand legal access and over time if they can address the banking issues—they will get there”, said John Walsh of WOLA. Perhaps even more significant is that public opinion has turned towards favouring the law despite the teething problems and even though some trends in the country go against its initial goals—not just the continued presence of the black-market, but a rise in violence generally. In the first half of 2018, 221 people were murdered compared to 131 in the same period in 2017. That has fallen off in 2019, with 171 murders between January and June, a 22% drop. The authorities attribute around half of the killings this year to organised crime. Even so, analysis by one think tank says there is little evidence to link the growing violence to the ‘drug’ trade. Some observers have said the violence is more likely due to deepening inequality, especially that which confines people to densely populated, poor communities. Image result for Fotmer Life Sciences Uruguay export to Australia

In September 2019, Uruguayan Cannabis company Fotmer Life Sciences carried out its first export of ‘medicinal Cannabis product’, to Australia. The 10 kg shipment was the first Uruguayan commercial export since legalisation in 2013. Since 2016, Fotmer Life Sciences has established itself as a leader in the field of ‘medicinal Cannabis’ in Uruguay. In 2017, the Institute for Regulation and Cannabis Control (IRCCA) granted Fotmer Life Sciences a licence to produce up to five tons of high-THC Cannabis for medical use, the highest quota ever permitted in Latin America. Uruguayan media outlet El Observador reported CEO Jordan Lewis was optimistic about the prospect of exports. “Uruguay has clearly established itself as the leading Latin American country in the incipient world Cannabis industry. The projections show that medicinal Cannabis will play an important role in the Uruguayan economy by providing jobs, attracting international investment and bringing necessary income for [marijuana*-related] investigation and development, which is vitally important. Our objective is to establish Cannabis as one of Uruguay’s main exports in the next five years”, he said.

Uruguay’s Cannabis law: Pioneering a new paradigm – 2018 Report, Key Findings

– Uruguay should consider long-term measures to ensure that Cannabis business entities have access to financial institutions, including outreach to other jurisdictions shifting toward Cannabis regulation, such as Canada.
– The medical and law enforcement sectors require substantial education and training, particularly regarding the aims and expected benefits of Cannabis regulation, how to broaden access to medical Cannabis and the new enforcement rules under the law.
– Implementation of commercial sales so far has been marked by shortcomings in distribution. Uruguay can overcome these obstacles by widening legal points of sale to include not only pharmacies, but a new form of dispensary, which authorities are already planning.
– In order for the regulated Cannabis market to displace the black-market more effectively, authorities may need to reconsider rules that require users to choose only one of the three legal forms of Cannabis supply: home-growing, clubs, or commercial purchase.
– Uruguayan authorities may also need to address a growing informal market by allowing legal sales to non-citizen tourists.
– In order to better position themselves to assess these adjustments, authorities should work closer with independent researchers and civil society to ensure they have access to key information and institutional support for their work.
Download the full report in English or Spanish.

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Canada, the second country to legalise Cannabis, in what was widely seen as one of the most momentous pieces of ‘drug’ reform in recent times, also saw the topic fade from view. Apart from some fear-mongering disinformation, Cannabis was a virtual non-issue in their 2019 election. The Conservative party tried hammering Trudeau and the Liberals with crass scare stories about Cannabis legalisation, but it ultimately failed to hit home. However, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association reported in 2018, “The way the Federal Government has decided to pursue legalisation of Cannabis is concerning. Many Canadians think … Cannabis will be legal – maybe not legal like buying milk or eggs – but something akin to alcohol, or tobacco. The belief is Cannabis will be a tightly regulated substance that people of a certain age are pretty much entrusted to use as they see fit. This is a mistake. There are a raft of new criminal offences … The fact you have a patchwork of provincial, territorial and municipal laws and by-laws that interact with the federal criminal prohibitions means something that’s perfectly legal at home may be a crime when you’re visiting your friend in another city”.

report released in March 2019 from the United Nations System Coordination Task Team describes punitive ‘drug’ policies as “ineffective in reducing drug trafficking or in addressing non-medical drug use and supply”. It goes on to say that such approaches “undermine the human rights and well-being of persons who use drugs, as well as of their families and communities”. The report represents a clear rejection of policies based on criminalisation, punishment and harsh enforcement, instead endorsing evidence based policy rooted in public health, sustainable development and respect for human rights. As such it marks a major shift in collective thinking across the leading UN agencies – and a major victory for civil society reform advocates. The Task Team was established with the purpose of reviewing the impact and effectiveness of global ‘drug’ policy. Image result for uruguay cannabis

In addition to repeatedly setting out the ineffectiveness and injustices of punitive policies, the report rejects the simplistic view that ‘drug harms’ are unrelated to the social and life experiences of ‘drug’ users, as well as pointing to the serious harms that can arise from the unnecessary imprisonment of people who use ‘drugs’. The report also provides support for a range of health and harm-reduction measures and ‘proportionate and effective policies’ including diversion of people caught in possession away from criminal justice and into support. In doing so, it clearly describes how criminal justice approaches impact disproportionately on the poor and the marginalised, creating both stigma, social inequality, health harms and human rights abuses. It also highlights major concerns with supply side enforcement that enriches organised crime and can increase levels of violence and conflict.

Overall, the report calls for policies based on evidence, human rights and social justice, stating, “… if not based on human rights standards and a solid evidence base, drug policies can have a counterproductive effect on development. Abusive, repressive and disproportionate drug control policies and laws are counterproductive, while also violating human rights, undercutting public health and wasting vital public resources”. The report also suggests making changes to both ‘drug’ laws and policing; “Structural changes in legislation and law enforcement practices can facilitate the delivery of services, including minimising the adverse consequence of drug use”. The unenlightened and uneducated express massive concerns about legalisation of Cannabis, but when they come to the realisation that it’s better than what they had before, they eventually accept it and move on. Fear of the unknown is being eradicated by the mundanity of reality.

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Adapted from Weed-Curious Politicians Should Look to Uruguay, Where There’s No Fuss Over Legal PotGlobal Cannabis: Uruguay, Major UN report condemns punitive drugs policiesUruguay: The world’s marijuana pioneer and Uruguay makes first marijuana export to Australia

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*Cannabis is the correct botanical term, marijuana is a North American colloquialism, at best.

Excessive Regulation Keeps Illegal Cannabis Markets in the Black!

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Since 2012 many American states and Canada legalised use and sale of recreational Cannabis. An expected benefit of legalisation is establishment of a legal Cannabis market to eliminate the black-market. Even though legal options are available for Cannabis producers and consumers, the black-market is still thriving. The reasons behind the persistence of the Cannabis black-market are complex but one main argument is, legalised states have failed to establish a regulatory framework which effectively keeps producers and consumers in the legal market. Instead, strict regulations and the high cost of compliance have created an environment favourable to big players, driving small-scale businesses to the black-market. Published in July 2019 the study, Effects of Regulation Intensity on Marijuana* Black-Market After Legalisation (the Oregon study), found excessive US state regulations may be the reason illegal Cannabis markets continue to exist post-legalisation. The research looked at data from the first two US states to end Cannabis prohibition, Colorado and Washington.

“The qualitative analysis of news reports reveals that regulation is one of the main reasons that people stay in the illicit market. The comparison of marijuana* crime trends in Colorado and Washington shows mixed findings. While -offence rates in Colorado largely remained steady over the years, those in Washington increased dramatically after the implementation of more intensive regulations”.

Meanwhile, in ‘Cannabis-legal’ California, in July 2019, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department served search warrants on 56 illegal Cannabis cultivation sites. Spearheaded by 390 law enforcement personnel, whose mission was to combat the ongoing problem of illegal Cannabis cultivation sites throughout California, the raids resulted in:

  • 47,939 Cannabis plants confiscated
  • 2,132 pounds of processed Cannabis
  • 47 tons of Cannabis plants disposed
  • 2 Butane Honey Oil Labs located
  • 71 firearms
  • 49 arrests

Illegal cultivation is far from just a California problem, however. If Oregon halted Cannabis production today, the state would not experience a shortage; it has a six-year surplus! But, US states that legalised recreational Cannabis with the intent of re-imagining the vast underground market as an above-board business to bolster state economies via transparent dealings have been disappointed as, to date, the US Federal Government has refused to budge regarding Cannabis’ status as an illegal Schedule 1 substance. One of the tenets of legalising Cannabis is stemming the proliferation of black-market suppliers and reducing negative effects of the ‘war on drugs’, particularly on minorities. These positive impetuses have yet to flourish as a result of the illegal status of Cannabis at US federal level leaving Cannabis-legal states to operate as islands. Taking legally purchased Cannabis from a legal to an illegal state is not only illegal, but confusing and a recipe for complications, leaving Cannabis-legal states vulnerable in an environment extremely hospitable to black-market activity.

US states that legalised production have inadvertently made it easier for illegal producers to hide in plain sight where the line between legal and illegal operations blurs. Black-market growers in legal states destabilise the market as legitimate companies pay taxes and jump through every legal hoop and cannot compete. This creates frustrations for law enforcement and cuts into the legal trade. But putting the genie of legalised recreational Cannabis back in the bottle simply isn’t feasible for operational, financial and political reasons in North America. With the proliferation of attendant illegal operations it is however becoming clearer that some form of US federal legalisation is inevitable. In legal states, growers, sellers and consumers have legitimate channelsto produce, trade and obtain Cannabis, and as such, illegal avenues should diminish, yet research shows they havent disappeared. A 2018 report found 18% of Cannabis consumers in California purchased Cannabis products from an unlicensed seller.

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An association between how intense state Cannabis-related regulations are and the extent of the remaining illegal market has been investigated. In Washington (from June 2016) and in Colorado (from November 2015 and January 2017 [in 2017 Colorado lawmakers passed new rules regarding labelling and packaging of Cannabis flower and trim, concentrates and other products]), most people grew or sold illegally due to “strict regulations and the high cost associated with the compliance … ‘over-regulation’, ‘cost of compliance’, ‘high taxes’ … Other reasons for staying in the illegal market included market fluctuations and organised crime. Washington’s crime rate increased after the state introduced more regulations. “In 2014 and 2015, marijuana* crime rates/100,000 residents were around 26. This number increased to >28 incidents in 2016. In 2017, 2,628 -crimes were reported, making the annual crime rate 35.96/capita”. Colorado did not see any significant short/long-term changes to its Cannabis-related crime rates after they implemented new regulations. 

“Although the findings are not conclusive, the results of Washington data show regulation intensity may be one of the main factors that influences or explains the persistence of illegal Cannabis transactions after the legalisation”, and, “The fact that Washington’s black-market kept growing after the implementation of more complex and sophisticated regulations at least indicates a correlation between regulation intensity and the increase of the black-market …”, the Oregon study stated.

Similar findings were not reported in Colorado suggesting “the magnitude of illicit marijuana* activities may be affected by regulation intensity …”. These results raise questions about “possible adverse effect of intensive regulations to researchers and policy-makers”. If one of the goals of Cannabis legalisation is to eliminate the unregulated market, it’s important lawmakers consider the implications of unnecessarily strict rules and focus on creating an “equitable and accessible market that allows the coexistence of both large and small businesses. The cost of compliance to regulations should be reduced to remove the barriers of establishing a legal -business”, the study concluded, and, “future policies should also pay more attention to cracking down on persistent illegal growers/ sellers and organised crime groups unwilling to participate in the legal market”.  Thus, the question may no longer be, should the US legalise Cannabis federally, but, howA path forward needs to be found. Cobbling together a pastiche of laws inevitably bolsters black-market activity as quasi-legislation at state level provides neither a check nor balance. The most likely next step for US public health, stemming black-market activity and generating maximum revenues is comprehensive national legalisation, sooner rather than later.

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In Australia, Cannabis legislation remains incredibly complicated despite changes to the Narcotic Drugs Act in 2016, to purportedly allow Cannabis to be legally grown for medical and scientific purposes. The uptake of ‘medicinal Cannabis’ has been slow, with access incredibly difficult due to long waiting periods, high costs and uninformed doctors. Canada legalised Cannabis, 17 October 2018, with ‘medicinal Cannabis’ available since 2001. However, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association reported in 2018, “The way the Federal Government has decided to pursue legalisation of Cannabis is concerning. Many Canadians think … Cannabis will be legal – maybe not legal like buying milk or eggs – but something akin to alcohol, or tobacco. The belief is Cannabis will be a tightly regulated substance that people of a certain age are pretty much entrusted to use as they see fit. This is a mistake. There are a raft of new criminal offences … The fact you have a patchwork of provincial, territorial and municipal laws and by-laws that interact with the federal criminal prohibitions means something that’s perfectly legal at home may be a crime when you’re visiting your friend in another city”.

“As of 2016, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimated that some 10.4% of the total population used Cannabis and that the tolerance for regular use had risen from 9.8% to 14.5% between 2013 and 2016. It is not completely unrealistic that the number of recreational users could double as a percentage of the population over the next decade, although this would be tempered by the fact that many users are likely to remain light or occasional users”, said Prohibition Partners Head of Insights, Alexandra Curley. In January 2018 the Australian Federal Government announced plans to become the fourth country in the world to legalise ‘medicinal Cannabis’ exports. Shares soared for the >20 Cannabis producers on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) and Cannabis Jobs Australia estimated by 2028 there would be 50,000 Cannabis jobs in Australia. The climate makes it the perfect place for growth with a potential for two crops a year in areas with high sunlight.

“Australia boasts an optimum climate for growing some strains of Cannabis that are expensive to produce in more established markets such as Canada. This, coupled with anticipated changes to the law, will create an environment that will enable the region to capitalise on strong growth within the industry. That’s going to make Australia a very attractive proposition to investors”, Alexandra Curley, Prohibition Partners.

The bill that would legalise Cannabis for personal use in the ACT could be passed next week.

However, growers are unable to use the outdoor environment according to Barry Lambert, chairman of Ecofibre, an industrial hemp company. “On the growing side, we can only grow it indoors … Compare that to where we (Ecofibre) grow in the US … outdoors under the Kentucky sun”, he said. According to Statistics Canada, close to 5.4 million Canadians will buy Cannabis over the next 12 months. The US is also a growing market for exporters where sales grew by 30% in 2016 to US$6.7 b, without it being legal nationwide. The US now makes up 90% of the Cannabis stock trade, which can only go up with federal legislation. But Mr Lambert said there was no market in those countries for Cannabis exporters. “Who are they going to export it to? America, you can buy it over the counter at a fraction of the price. Canada, it has been legal for some time to sell Cannabis and they are trying to export it”

HLB Mann Judd (Accounting and Financial firm) partner Marcus Ohm says there are a lot of uncertainties in the industry. “Australia is at an early stage in relation to the regulatory environment relative to other jurisdictions … countries vary on whether marijuana* is illegal, permitted for medicinal purposes or permitted for recreational and medicinal use. Australia has eased some aspects … but compared to the US (state level) and Canada (federal), Australia has narrower applications”Mr Lambert said, “I personally haven’t invested in any other company … and I see no reason why I would …”, further stating most of the companies on the stock exchange are not making money, but spending it. “Australian companies will find it very hard ever to make a dollar … There’s no revenue and they’re spending millions …”.

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President of the Australian Industrial Hemp Alliance, James Vosper, said, “There is a lot of investment in the industry but there have been some issues with people getting access to medicines so therefore the number of people being treated in Australia isn’t as high as it could be”Mr Lambert said legalising ‘medicinal Cannabis’ in Australia did absolutely nothing for promotion of the industry. There are two reasons. One … no demand for the product because the rules around getting the product are unworkable … no doctor understands it because they aren’t trained … until 2016 it had been illegal. Secondly, there’s been no research in this country because it’s been illegal. So, doctors don’t know about it, therefore they don’t prescribe it”Mr Lambert said the US system allowed for ‘medicinal Cannabis’ to be sold over the counter, a system Australia needed to adopt. Without that the industry was dead before it even began.

“We don’t believe that the prescription system works. And, therefore, those medical Cannabis companies are going to find it very hard or impossible to be successful and that their solution is adoption of the American system”, Barry Lambert, Ecofibre.

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Others remain more optimistic, with Mr Vosper saying the future looked bright. “I think Australia has a great future in this industry. The whole world is moving towards an organic model and Australia has half of the world’s organic farmland. Put that with a great reputation for products and you have a great future in the medicinal Cannabis industry”The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government passed laws in September 2019 that essentially fully decriminalised Cannabis under certain and very specific conditions.  When the legislation comes into effect on 31 January, 2020, it will be legal, under ACT law, for adults in Canberra to grow, smoke and own small amounts of Cannabis (50 grams). But the Commonwealth has laws of its own in this area and those laws explicitly prohibit possessing any quantity of Cannabis (with the exception of ‘medicinal Cannabis’, a completely separate thing). Introduced by Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson in 2018, to legalise possession of 50 grams of Cannabis for adults, the ACT Government stated, 

“It is important to note that, even after the passage of this bill, possessing and growing Cannabis will carry a degree of risk arising from interactions between territory and Commonwealth law”. Mr Pettersson said, “In order to reduce harm and stigma, we need to make sure that people can feel free to come forward and get help. In order to do this, we need to remove the penalties and charges associated with the possession and use of small amounts of Cannabis …”.

Across the ditch (from Australia) in New Zealand, Cannabis is classified as an illegal ‘drug’ under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 and possession, use and supply are subject variously to penalties ranging from fines to many years imprisonment. The Helen Clark (former Prime Minister of New Zealand and member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy) Foundation, released a report setting out the case for legalising and regulating Cannabis. The prospect of invoking criminal sanctions has had little impact on people’s behaviour as longitudinal studies indicate by age 25, 80% of New Zealanders had tried Cannabis at least once. Simply, prohibition-based policy approaches have not eradicated and will not eradicate Cannabis consumption and supply in New Zealand or anywhere else where use is established. The New Zealand Referendum due in 2020 will be to legalise and regulate. Decriminalisation is not expected to be an option.Image result for new zealand cannabis

Helen Clark herself stated, “The time has come for New Zealand to face up to the widespread use and supply of Cannabis in the country and to legalise and regulate it accordingly. No useful purpose is served by maintaining its illegal status. A “yes” vote in the 2020 referendum will be positive for social justice and equity, contribute to reducing the country’s excessively large prison population and enable those health issues associated with Cannabis to be dealt with upfront. These are the reasons why I support legalisation”. However, in legalising and regulating in New Zealand, it will be important not to create another ‘big tobacco’ or ‘big alcohol’. Both industries fought and continue to fight efforts to reduce harm they cause, including regulation of access, product promotion and taxation aimed at disincentivising use.

503e589cab97b59cc53421127b6291af_400x400On the weighted score for harms of drugs in the United Kingdom developed by scientist David Nutt, former chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and colleagues, published in the Lancet in 2010, Cannabis is assessed as immensely less harmful to those who use it and to others, than is alcohol. Various other rankings concur Cannabis use is significantly less problematic for individual health than either tobacco or alcohol. The classification of drugs  pursuant to international drug conventions, however, is based on more cultural and political factors than scientific evidence. Those classifications have scarred the lives of countless millions of people worldwide, caught up in the criminal net cast over what is deemed to be illegal ‘drug’ possession, use and supply. It is not surprising, therefore, a growing number of jurisdictions have been moving away from the prohibitionist approach promoted by the international conventions.

Countries and individual states/provinces/territories have legalised possession, use and supply of Cannabis. Other jurisdictions have decriminalised personal possession and use. President of New Zealand’s criminal lawyers’ society supports legalising Cannabis for personal use and says existing law criminalises too many people. Len Andersen, Criminal Bar Association President, said banning Cannabis created demand for more harmful drugs, including synthetic ‘cannabinoids​’, implicated in at least 70 deaths. Mr Andersen said prohibition put otherwise law-abiding people who chose to use Cannabis “in the position of constant illegality”. The Association said its membership comprised 700 practising criminal lawyers across New Zealand. “I think most members would support legalisation of Cannabis for personal use”, Andersen said. An amendment to New Zealand’s Misuse of Drugs Act directed police only to prosecute those using ‘drugs’ when there is ‘public interest’. The New Zealand Federal Government has been clear it wants to take a health and well-being-based approach. Drug law reform, including legalisation of Cannabis, helps meet both objectives.

thewholeplant

The ‘war on drugs’ has failed. In Australia, 35% have tried Cannabis, but this choice could earn a criminal record, just for having a small amount of Cannabis in your possession (or system). This ‘tough on drugs’ approach causes enormous harm, driving people away from getting help and exposing them to a dangerous black-market. From Uruguay to Spain, New Zealand to the US and Canada, countries around the world are realising prohibition causes more harm than it prevents. Cannabis use is a health issue, not a criminal one. Legalising Cannabis use would reduce harm, increase protection for vulnerable people and break the business model of criminal gangs. World-wide, the Cannabis ‘cake’ should be big enough for everybody; corporates, government/s, home-growers, not-for-profits and the most-oft-forgotten sick and suffering, to get a slice. It’s all in how you carve it up, and it could and should be, equitable. The world has seen enough of the double-standards, mass-hypocrisy and worst of all, ignorance of science fact, because it is not profitable. It is way past time to put people before profits and free Cannabis from the constraints of prohibitionistic regulations and the out-and-out lies that have besmirched this wonderfully efficacious herb for far too long! Save lives and legalise!

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Adapted from Heavy Regulations Allow Illegal Marijuana Sales to Persist, Study Argues with Effects of Regulation Intensity on Marijuana Black-Market After LegalizationStemming the Cannabis Black-MarketTHE BLUNT TRUTH, Cannabis prohibition doesn’t work anywhere. It’s New Zealand’s turn to legalise itLaws to legalise cannabis for personal use in the ACT could pass next weekCannabis laws bound for the courtroom to work out whether ACT or Commonwealth is rightLegalise weed, criminal lawyer group president says and Legalise It

*marijuana – Cannabis sativa is the correct botanical term for the plant, the term marijuana is a North American colloquialism, at best.

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