DECEMBER 11th 1997


Rosie Boycott, Editor Independent on Sunday
Gianfranco Dell'Alba MEP, European Deputy for Lista Panella, Italian Radical Party
Professor John Strang, Director of addiction Research, National Addiction Centre
Anita Roddick, Body Shop owner
Nigel Evans MP, Opposition Frontbench Spokesman for Constitutional Matters
Mike Goodman, Barrister, Director of Release
Peter Stoker, Director National Drug Prevention Alliance,
Professor Colin Blakemore, Chairman of British Neuroscientific Association
David Partington, Chairman International Substance Abuse and Addiction Coalition and Chairman Evangelical Coalition on Drugs
Professor Lynn Zimmer, Lindesmith Institute, New York and co-author of Marijuana Myths

Chairman: Jon Snow

The conference was opened by Rosie Boycott, the Editor of the Independent on Sunday. After a brief explanation about why the Independent on Sunday started their campaign to decriminalise cannabis Rosie complained that the law denied a very benign drug to sufferers of MS and recreational users alike. Later Rosie answered a question from the floor saying that she saw decriminalisation as a step towards a desired full legalisation and envisaged a system something similar to the licensing of outlets in Holland.

Professor John Strang. Consultant Advisor to Dept of Health, Director National Addiction Centre. Prof Strang said that he could see that the issue was not a simple yes or no debate, that approach is too simple. He said that science in the Uk has not served the debate well. Cannabis was eclipsed by other drug issues such as AIDS and crime. He believed there should be immediate depenalisation and on-the-spot fines such as the system used at Heathrow airport. In the mid 1980's about 10% of those arrested for cannabis were cautioned, now it is over 50%. He was concerned that the law had changed and could be changed without public consultation, debate, or even awareness. What should we be seeking to achieve from our drugs policy? Reduce individual harm and reduce public harm. We should compare the levels of harm with those of alcohol and tobacco. We should conduct a careful audit of harms associated with cannabis use and the harms associated with our response to the problems. What significance is attached to different forms of cannabis particularly now that there are new high purity forms now grown. We must consider the relationship of physical harm - nature, extent, duration - lung cancers etc - and psychological harms - nature, extent and duration. At first glance the research suggests that cancer is associated with long-term continuous use. Then there is the gateway concept - what is the evidence? - public and scientific confusion over the causes and consequences; heroin addicts who first took cannabis are no help as there were other gateways too. Would reducing cannabis use reduce use of heroin and cocaine? Then we must consider the effects on driving skills; cannabis is fat-soluble and there are reports suggesting it impairs beyond the level of intoxication; we should use alcohol as our yardstick. We must consider the therapeutic values and try to identify new classes of drugs. The BMA review is a good starting point.. There are matters about changes in national policy and legal status in different countries and states. Data is manipulated by parties with vested interest. What happened in Holland and the USA. We need to compare systems and results.

From the floor
Barry Clark,
an MS sufferer said he wanted to use legal cannabis.
Austin Mitchell MP said he is open-minded on legalisation but concerned that cannabis' therapeutic values had been used up until 1971, then it had been defined as a drug with no therapeutic value. The BMA Report changes that, and on Monday he had asked for cannabis to be transferred from Schedule I to II and encourage research, but the Government had dismissed both. Something has to be done quickly.

Clare Hodges from ACT spoke about her MS and cannabis.

Anita Roddick, owner of the Body Shop chain. Cannabis also has a use during cancer chemotherapy treatments. The Human face of compassion for sufferers of MS, glaucoma, wasting syndrome of AIDS, asthma, epileptic fits etc. I would want access. Cannabis is a substance which gives cause for celebration. Since the ancient world to the time of Queen Victoria cannabis was a medical asset. ""Ignorance is highly addictive whereas marijuana has absolutely no proven addictive power and is not a gateway drug." Tobacco is a politically protected industry, but why is marijuana illegal? It is not dangerous in comparison with alcohol and tobacco. Is it addictive? No. "Marijuana isn't a health issue at all", it is one of politics and economics, controlled by the pharmacology giants; where are the drug companies represented here today? There is no money in marketing marijuana so they sell marinol instead, and the law turns the sick into criminals. How can compassion be seen as a wrong signal? In response to a question from the floor about other uses of cannabis and hemp oil, she explained that the Body Shop had been preparing a range of hemp seed oil products but the only place they could buy the oil was China.

Nigel Evans MP, opposition Frontbench spokesman for constitutional matters. Contrary to what has been said there have been debates in the House of Commons on drugs and also in many committee rooms. The two major parties have both said that they have no intention of decriminalising any drug. Jack Straw's policy is getting harder. More availability leads to more use. The BMA Report says there are over 400 compounds in cannabis. The law is the only way of keeping consumption down. Alaska decriminalised but the use by minors doubled, so they criminalised again. Health considerations for keeping control. The BMA says there is three times as much tar from smoking cannabis than from cigarettes.. There can be mental health problems. People who do take drugs are harming others because it does lead to other drugs, although "cannabis in itself is not addictive". There is anecdotal evidence of therapeutic use, we cannot say no to that, but we do say that more research is needed and like other medicinal drugs it must go through a process of stringent control.

From the Floor Brian Iddon MP - I have been campaigning since the shooting of a child in Bolton in the summer. On a Granada TV program 150,000 people phoned in and 75% said yes to legalisation. George Howarth says there were 1.5 million users in the UK, in 1996, but there are many more than that.

Gianfranco Dell'Alba MEP, European Deputy for Lista Panella, Italian Radical Party. Apologised for being late but there was at this moment another conference in Brussels. He prefers to say 'legalise' not decriminalise. He has joined the campaign and has been in the Transnational Radical party since 1975, calling for the legalisation of all drugs. The Civil Liberty European Parliament committee supported a report, one month ago, and they have raised two half million signature petition in Italy, calling for a referendum. IN 1993 53% voted to decriminalise cannabis use. In November they handed out cigarettes and whisky, two of the most dangerous drugs, to the public in Rome and nothing happened, then they handed out packages of cannabis (like this one - don't worry this box is empty) and were arrested - it had been in the same quantities as is allowed for personal consumption in Italy. It is the prohibition, not the drug, which is the main problem. Decriminalisation is not a strong enough step to break the illegal market in drugs. We need to start an international campaign. In June 1998 there would be another UN meeting on drugs

Mike Goodman, Release. In 1967 here were 2293 cannabis offences. In 1995 it was 76,694. By the year 2000 there will have been over 1 million prosecutions for cannabis in the UK The figures show that prohibition does not work. 37% of 15 & 16 year-olds admit to having tried cannabis and %quot;nobody on this side of the debate says cannabis is risk-free, of course it isn't." Options for cannabis controls: Prohibition. Quasi-prohibition and treatment. Decriminalisation - we do not need to reform the Single Convention on Drugs or other international agreements. This is a half-way house implimentable now, but the ultimate model is legalisation or licensing with controls on quality and consumer protection. That would be the biggest blow to the Mafia etc.

Peter Stoker. Tackling drugs together aims for a drug-free society. The Government says no debate because it's all been heard before and the facts contradict the evidence; own experience disproves claims of safety. We cannot deal with this as a simple yes or no question. Would it increase use? Yes. Would problems increase with use? Yes Has experience elsewhere. Need to separate medicinal use from recreational use. They do not favour each other. But there are health issue to consider nobody suggests under 18's should be allowed cannabis. The stuff about the hemp point is "bullshit", according to "one of your cannabis guru's of the sixties"

Professor Colin Blakemore, Chairman of British Neuroscientific Association. The rise in the use of drugs is one of the most damaging changes in this country in my lifetime. Mainly concerned with addictive drugs. But cannabis can be damaging to the very young and can be destructive and ruin lives. That is all true despite draconian measures and despite massive police and customs efforts. If we are concerned about damaging effects then prohibition is not working. Favours decriminalisation. It is human nature - drug use goes back to the beginnings of recorded history. Those with addictive personalities are not helped by arresting the vast majority who do not suffer from the problem. Little f any evidence of harm to the brain, immune system, fertility. The effect on the lungs remains unproven but it is unlikely to be damaging. Very few psychotic conditions. The lethal dose is some 40,000 times the average dose for a high; there have been no cannabis deaths. There is a modest effect on reaction times and memory. The case should not be made on the back of the therapeutic case. The BMA accepts the medical use but it is a different issue to social use, Present methods of preventing supply are failing. Freedom is important. There are 250 million users world-wide; in 1995 50% of America 18-25 year-olds used cannabis. What fraction of the population needs to commit a crime for it to stop being a crime? Need to de-couple soft and hard drug use. In Holland 2% of cannabis users admitted cocaine use, in the USA it is 30%. Criminalise = glamorise. It does not control profiteering and drug-related crime; it destroys lives.

Davis Partington, SCODA. It is the death warrant for society if instant pleasure and gratification overrides concern for harm for the vulnerable. There is damage - to the lungs, and there is a psychological dependency.

Professor Lynn Zimmer. Has a copy of her book Marijuana Myths free for Nigel Evans. Draws parallel with adultery and gambling; both could be explained in the same terms of gateways and addictions, social disapproval etc, harmfulness, associated crime etc. For instance, flirting could be considered a gateway to adultery, if the Government declared 'war'on adulterers would they arrest flirts? Cannabis has some small harmful effects, but these are a long way from the myths exposed in her book "Marijuana Myths Marijuana Facts".

From the floor
Free Rob Cannabis
only seemed to get the Microphone after Jon Snow asked for it to be given to another man who passed it over to Rob. Rob said that he had been distributing medical marijuana with police knowledge since the September and that the police had actually wished him good luck and said that prosecution was not in public interest. Rob said that he has been fined and will not pay and is using this and his forthcoming imprisonment to raise funds to give out more medical cannabis.

Another speaker referred to the environmental and economic benefits of using cannabis as a fuel and cited the

Cannabis Biomass Energy Equation.

The conference closed suddenly as it was late and other speakers from the floor missed out. Throughout the program most people had spoken in favour of decriminalisation or legalisation; there had been three against. One was a lady from Holland who said that the Dutch figure were wrong but she did not have any figures with her, but use amongst children had risen, policy failed and the people did not want it; she was immediately contradicted by a Dutch Gentleman. There were several sufferers of MS who spoke out.

At the end a show of hands revealed an almost unanimous support for legalisation for medical use; the hall was in majority support of a Royal Commission.

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