Deputies opposed to legalising or decriminalising cannabis have launched a pre-emptive strike against reviewing the legal status of the drug ahead of next week's States' meeting.
The Policy & Resources Committee is offering to include a "review of the legal status of cannabis" in the States' Work Plan from 2023 if the States shelve work they previously agreed to change public health laws and the powers of the Medical Officer of Health.
But Deputies Andrew Taylor and David Mahoney published an amendment yesterday which tries to take away the choice currently facing deputies between a review of public health laws and a review of cannabis laws and proposes completely removing the option of voting for a review of cannabis laws.
Approving a review of cannabis laws would significantly increase the chances of a debate in the current States' term about whether cannabis should be decriminalised or legalised. Whereas approving the amendment submitted by Deputies Taylor and Mahoney would be more likely to end any further consideration of cannabis laws before the next election in 2025.
Pictured: Cannabis laws look to be one of the major issues which the States will debate next week when they meet to discuss their work plan for the remainder of their term.
Deputies Taylor and Mahoney have issued an 11-page report in support of their amendment to remove the option of voting for a review of cannabis laws from next week's debate.
"The considerations that weigh against approving a review of the legal status of cannabis are many," said Deputies Taylor and Mahoney.
They said they include that "cannabis use presents significant health risks, exploring a change to the legal status of cannabis would be complicated, risky and resource-intensive [and] jurisdictions that have liberalised cannabis law are seeing adverse impacts".
Deputies Taylor and Mahoney criticised a decision made by the previous States' Assembly in 2020 which directed relevant committees to report to the States on options for alternative and non-punitive approaches to the possession and use of small quantities of illegal drugs. They said: "The problems that [direction] seeks to solve barely exist."
Pictured: Members of the Committee for Health & Social Care, which wants to set the wheels in motion for a full review of the legal status of cannabis.
The Committee for Health & Social Care and Committee for Home Affairs have been reviewing whether to adopt more of a health-based approach to drug abuse.
However, a majority of the members of the Committee for Health & Social Care have consistently favoured a full review of the legal status of cannabis, and they eventually decided to use their votes on the Committee to attempt to insert such a review into the States' Work Plan.
The members of the Committee for Home Affairs responded by issuing a statement in which they said they were unanimously opposed to a full review of the legal status of cannabis at this time.
Deputy Taylor is a member of the Committee for Home Affairs. Deputy Mahoney is a member of the Policy & Resources Committee, which submitted the original proposals in the Government Work Plan for debate next week.
Their amendment which proposes removing the option of voting for a review of cannabis laws was published on the same afternoon that the Royal Court was handing down lengthy prison sentences to two people and a suspended sentence to a third for various cannabis-related offences in one of the highest-profile cases of its kind in recent years.
Pictured: Supporters outside the Royal Court yesterday as one of the island's highest-profile cannabis cases of recent years reached sentencing - a week before a States' debate on whether to review the legal status of cannabis.
"The health risks associated with substance use, and cannabis specifically, have been well-documented. These include risks to the physical and mental health of adults, children and young persons. Furthermore, there are health risks associated with some of the delivery methods used in cannabis consumption, in particular vaping," said Deputies Taylor and Mahoney.
"It is well-documented that the effects of an individual’s substance use disorder can be felt by the whole family, and indeed by any person who is connected to the drug user. Each close contact is uniquely affected by the individual using substances, which can result in problems that include instability, impaired attachment, neglect, emotional distress, unemployment, economic hardship and legal proceedings. For children, there is also an increased risk of developing a substance use disorder themselves.
"People whose only offence is possession of a small amount of an illegal drug are not routinely sent to prison. Statistics collated by the Prison show that between 2019 to 8 June 2021 there were no individuals awarded custodial sentences for possession of cannabis as a standalone offence. Custodial sentences can occur, however, when someone is found to be in possession of small amounts together with committing another crime with a harsher penalty such as importation or supply of drugs or for non-payment of fines.
"There are misperceptions in the community in relation to these outcomes. There is clearly a need for a public awareness-raising campaign to clarify these aspects. Non-punitive approaches are already available in the Bailiwick."
Pictured: Deputies Andrew Taylor and David Mahoney claim that legalising cannabis would provide a boost to the market in illegal drugs.
"Legalising the recreational use of drugs, including cannabis, will not mean that the illegal drugs market will disappear or reduce. Those making money from illegal drugs are not going to become legitimate tradespeople overnight, paying taxes and complying with regulations. It is suggested that legalising the recreational use of cannabis will enlarge the drugs market, opening up this activity to a wider audience.
"Those currently in this trade will simply evolve and promote other substances or higher strengths, undercutting legal sales. It is unlikely they will be concerned with the age of customers, identification, quality of product or the amount consumed. The risk of an increasing illegal drugs trade has been borne out by evidence in places such as Canada and California, which have liberalised their cannabis laws.
"In this post-Brexit era, Guernsey’s relationship with the UK Government, and indeed with other countries, stands at an important stage. The priority status given to managing the impact of Brexit...reflects this. Any consideration of changes to long-standing, agreed laws, policies and international agreements could have serious ramifications for these vital external relationships."
Main picture: Deputy Andrew Taylor (top) and Deputy David Mahoney.