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OPINION: "The benefits of cannabis far outweigh the risks"

OPINION:

Monday 27 June 2022

OPINION: "The benefits of cannabis far outweigh the risks"

Monday 27 June 2022


The Group CEO of the House of Green has provided an "industry rebuttal" to several amendments being laid before this week's debate on the Government Work Plan. You can read Paul Smith's letter to all deputies in full below:

"The proposals being put forward in Amendments 9 and 10 are flawed and entrenched in obsolete ideas. If approved, they will result in the continuation and deepening of the illegal cannabis black market where there are no controls over what fillers are being added to the cannabis, who it is being sold to and with the proceeds effectively being taken out of the economy as they are not taxable. That is what will be detrimental to Guernsey, not a well-regulated, transparent, and respectable industry that is making positive contributions to the environment, health and finances of Guernsey.

"The benefits of cannabis far outweigh the risks and the continuation of a socially unacceptable paradigm whereby cannabis is linked with hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin as a justification for its continued prohibition is totally outmoded and needs to be overturned. New scientific evidence is being published daily that supports the positive health attributes of cannabis and the wider benefits to the community through regulation, control, crime reduction and taxation.

"We therefore request that you vote as follows and have outlined our reasons below:

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"Amendment 9 needs to be voted out in its entirety as it is clearly aimed at obfuscating the debate on cannabis and could be considered a filibuster motion to delay the inevitable.

"Amendment 10 also needs to be voted out in its entirety as it contains a number of misleading, out of context and inaccurate statements. With this letter we aim to put the record straight and set out the reasons why the Proposed Amendment 10 should be rejected and Original Proposal 14B should be adopted.

"To set the scene, cannabis has been legal in Guernsey since 2018 for those able to afford, and eligible to receive, a medical prescription. This has resulted in somewhere in the region of 1,000 islanders now receiving medical benefits from the use of cannabis. There is a growing body of anecdotal and medical evidence to support the fact that cannabis is benefitting a significant number of islanders who are not able to obtain relief from various medical conditions through ‘accepted’ drugs. It is estimated that the average monthly prescription costs around £500. If there are 1,000 medical cannabis patients, this equates to £500,000 per month or £6 million per annum, the vast majority of which is going off island (Medicann, the largest clinic in Guernsey has all consultation fees and prescription costs being paid to its Jersey company) and therefore not subject to Guernsey tax. Under the existing regime Guernsey is therefore losing the opportunity to tax almost £4.5 million in cannabis sales, each year, right now.

"In 2018, Guernsey was seen as a leading jurisdiction with regard to the easing of cannabis laws and the introduction of a licensed cannabis cultivation and processing regime but, due to a variety of reasons, that position has been lost to Jersey and the Isle of Man who have seen significant inward investment to their islands in the past two years whilst Guernsey has seen the number of licensees reduce from 14 at its peak in 2020 to only 3 in 2022. Jersey is attracting new cannabis businesses whilst Guernsey is seeing cannabis businesses close down and no new businesses wishing to set up here. The States of Guernsey has failed to facilitate or support the establishment of this new industry and, in the past twelve months, has actually taken a backward step. Whilst the January 2022 Monitoring Report on the GWP states that “considerable co-ordinated effort is being applied to support emerging economic opportunities such as the pharmaceutical industry with its foundation in medicinal cannabis, with the first licence issued on 23rd November under the recently agreed MOU with the UK” we would suggest that the effort is being misdirected as it is certainly not supporting the wider cannabis industry. It is not, however, too late to address this and, provided action is swift and demonstrates “action this day”, you can provide Guernsey with a new industry that has a broad range of positive benefits for the island as a whole.

  • Diversification of the economy
  • Increased health benefits for islanders wishing to follow non-pharmaceutical treatment options particularly for pain management, sleep disorders, mental health problems and palliative care
  • Introduction of a green, sustainable industry and re-energisation of the horticultural sector
  • Generation of tax revenues on money currently being spent on the black market or off island
  • Elimination or significant reduction of the black market with corresponding reduction in crime
  • Reduction in government costs connected with enforcement, imprisonment, and courts
  • Participation of other industry sectors such as tourism, finance, intellectual property

"The GWP 2022 that is being debated on 29 June 2022, has the tag line “Investing in Islanders, Our Island and Our Future”. The establishment of a successful, well-regulated cannabis industry meets each one of these criteria. Indeed, the cannabis industry is synonymous with the stated vision for the GWP, i.e. to “... work in partnership to recover our economic prosperity, build on our inclusive community values and capitalise on our many strengths to make Guernsey a safe haven based on sustaining health, wealth and community” and it actually complies with every one of those elements. There are few, if any, industries that can say the same.

"Cannabis is a hugely beneficial plant that offers many opportunities to individuals and governments wishing to promote a healthier alternative or a complimentary option to pharmaceutical drugs. Pharmaceutical drugs will always have a place in medicine, but it cannot be denied that many of them have significant side effects which are detrimental to health and/or require additional drugs to counter those side effects. One only has to look at the current situation regarding opioid addiction and the huge amounts of anti-depressants that are prescribed to see that this is a situation that can no longer be accepted as the ‘norm’ nor the only way to treat many common medical conditions such as pain management, sleep disorders, anxiety and mental health problems. Opioids such as Fentanyl have contributed to the sharp increase of deaths from opioid overdose whilst there have been no recorded deaths resulting from cannabis overdose. Yet opioids are deemed to be an ‘acceptable’ drug whilst cannabis continues to be ‘demonised’.

"In June 2011, the Global Commission on Drug Policy released a critical report declaring: "The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and years after President Nixon launched the US government's war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.". So why are some Deputies so adamant that this war should continue in Guernsey with respect to cannabis in particular?

"These fundamental reforms are starting to be implemented world-wide and adult-use cannabis is already legal in Canada and Uruguay and 19 states across America. Momentum is gathering worldwide with Thailand and Malta making cannabis legal for non-commercial sales, Switzerland and Luxembourg also making progress. Germany is probably the largest jurisdiction currently pressing ahead with total cannabis reform and their Health Minister, Karl Lauterbach, is pushing for cannabis legalisation to be included on the German government’s legislative agenda this summer. Malta’s first cannabis associations, which will grow cannabis and distribute it to their members, could open by the end of 2022, and Malta’s Reforms Minister Rebecca Buttigieg said the government was working to ensure that they have the necessary resources in place. The establishment of cannabis clubs is envisaged in the Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis Act, which was approved in December 2021. Italy is following Malta and Luxembourg’s lead and even Thailand has legalised the cultivation and consumption of cannabis, reversing a hard-line approach of long prison sentences or even the death penalty for drug offences.

"Turning to P.2020/41 Amdt 10, firstly, we would argue that the amendment fails in its first Rule 4(1) Information premise i.e. the Amendment does not “contribute to the States’ objectives and policy plans by focusing resources on identified priorities to maintain a safe, inclusive and equal community.”, in fact it does the opposite by maintaining an unsafe, exclusive and unequal community with regard to cannabis. Proposition 14B should be adopted by the States and proceeded with as a matter of urgency. The world is moving forward, and Guernsey cannot afford to be left behind.

"Secondly, we would argue that the four considerations put forward in the Amendment are erroneous and misleading, and our comments are set out below.

1. Cannabis use presents significant health risks

"The evidence to support the notion that cannabis presents significant health risks is limited with only specific, very high doses being shown to have adverse effects. It is, of course, accepted that cannabis should not be made available to minors or young children without medical supervision or advice. Specific reference is made to vaping which is a flawed argument based on erroneous examples. Evidence suggests that vaping, if undertaken using regulated and licensed products, is perfectly acceptable. That is why all medical cannabis prescriptions insist that dry herb vaping is the preferred method of application. Dry herb vapourisers are medical devices and should not be confused with e-cigarettes or vape juice vaping, which contain additives that can be harmful.

"There is a deliberate attempt to conflate the argument against cannabis with the argument against hard’ drugs such as cocaine and heroin. This is clearly scaremongering and is wholly inaccurate. Cannabis is now widely accepted as being less harmful than both tobacco and alcohol let alone hard’ drugs and even better and less addictive than the opioids that are routinely prescribed for pain management. The NHS, with lobbying by major pharmaceutical companies, is fighting public pressure to include cannabis as a medicine because of the potential cost. But the arguments that are quoted by the Report attached to the Amendment as being on the NHS Go website are outdated as more and more research is being completed and undertaken that counters the assertions made and legalising cannabis would reduce the cost of cannabis for patients. The NHS on its NHS Inform website now suggests that “If you’re smoking, consider using a vapouriser so you can remove the tobacco. This will reduce the risk of lung damage.

"The familial risks associated with cannabis are limited and the implication made by the Amendment is that cannabis should be considered alongside cocaine and heroin. It should not. No reference is made by the Report to the familial damage caused by alcohol or tobacco consumption and yet these drugs are far more detrimental to health and pose a far greater risk to family and society as a whole despite being legal and readily accepted.

"Local data on cannabis use is sparce and even statistics on the medical licences for prescriptions has been misleading. Cannabis clinics have been set up in Guernsey without any corresponding regulatory or reporting requirements and so this key opportunity for data collection is currently not utilised. Addressing the bullet points in the Report to the Amendment;

  • More people are using cannabis now as they are reading publicly available information and making their own choices regarding how they address their health concerns.
  • The percentage of people using alcohol and also using illegal drugs would also be high.
  • The comment that “The reported use of cannabis was higher among people who have a longstanding mental or emotional health condition, or have low mental wellbeing” is to be expected given that one of the key benefits of cannabis is the improvement of mental health and the reduction of anxiety. This is a positive being presented as a negative.
"The report by Professor Harry Sumnall referenced in the Amendment also stated that, ”sixty four percent of respondents disagreed with the statement adults who commit minor offences should be given a criminal record even if it may affect their chances of getting a job” and over 50% (precise percentages not reported) disagreed with the statements very short prison sentences (of less than three months) should be given by courts even if they may not work to prevent future offending’”. These present a very different view from the impression being given in the Amendment.

"The quote provided on the vaping risk is misleading and has since been shown to be inaccurate in its conclusions. The deaths and illnesses recorded in the United States were as the result of an illegal vitamin E additive that was included in illegal cannabis vapes that were acquired via the black market. The deaths were not the result of cannabis. This strengthens the argument for the introduction of a legal, licensed, regulated market in which consumers are protected and the products are of a high standard.

"We would argue that the initiative to legalise cannabis would be consistent with the Combined Substance Use Strategy for Guernsey and Alderney 2021 – 2026. The strategy’s aim is stated as being to achieve “A safe and healthier Guernsey and Alderney where the harms caused by tobacco, drugs and alcohol are minimised and islanders are empowered to improve theirhealth and wellbeing.”. Cannabis can be demonstrated to be a positive part of this aim by enabling individuals to avoid the harmful and highly addictive drugs such as opioids and transitioning to a non-chemical, organic, herbal alternative thereby empowering them to “improve their health and wellbeing”. There is no denying that any substance can cause dependencies in certain individuals, even caffeine or sugar, but rather than banning such substances, taxes raised from the sale of those substances should be used to provide appropriate support to those that need it.

2. The ‘problems’ that the 2020 Resolution 3 seeks to solve barely exist

"The aforementioned report by Professor Harry Sumnall as referenced by the Amendment shows that Court disposals for possession offences over the period covered by the report were:

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This indicates that:

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"Once again, this paints a very different picture to that being presented by the Amendment and negates the comments made by the Amendment concerning ‘Criminal Records’.

3. Exploring a change to the legal status of cannabis would be complicated, risky and resource- intensive

"There is no need to overthink this, whatever laws are in place for cigarettes or alcohol can be adapted for cannabis. A change to the legal status of cannabis would be very simple; remove cannabis from the schedule of controlled substances, then take the currently working liquor laws, for example, delete the word ‘liquor’ and replace it with ‘cannabis’.

"The issue regarding health risks has already been covered – the benefits far outweigh the risks and those risks that do exist can be mitigated against.

"The matter of cannabis diversion is one that has, in part, been caused by the States’ actions to date on cannabis. If cannabis is legal then the matter of diversion would largely fall away as there would be no incentive for a black market to exist.

"Drug driving is, of course, a risk and is one that would have to be addressed with suitable laws and tests much the same as there are in place for driving under the influence of alcohol.

"There is absolutely no evidence to support the assertion that the illegal drugs market and criminality would increase – but there is plenty evidence to support the opposite (see the comments under Canada below). It stands to reason that, if cannabis is readily available legally, there will be no need for an illegal market and, as prices would come down, any associated criminality to support the purchase of cannabis would also reduce.

"We agree that decriminalisation would not be a positive step as this simply enables black market dealers to increase their customer base and, far from removing the problem of associated criminality, it could increase it. Legalisation on the other hand negates the need for an illegal market, ensures that the cannabis being supplied is safe, controlled, regulated and monitored and actually contributes to the economy of the island.

"The additional resources required to enact new laws, or repurpose existing laws, would be quickly offset by the increased tax revenues generated by a healthy and growing industry and cost savings in law enforcement, court time and incarceration. It should be a key requirement of the States of Guernsey to invest in the cannabis industry in the same way that it has done for the finance and e-gaming industries, both significant contributors to the island economy and good examples of Guernsey working to internationally recognised standards.

"Much supposition and spin are placed upon so-called reputational risks and cultural mismatch, but no answers are given, nor is any data provided to support these assertions. There is, however, a clear bias towards the continuance of an outdated and unfit for purpose set of laws and regulations. There is little or no risk to the finance sector in introducing a properly regulated cannabis industry in Guernsey and this is evidenced by the fact that the Committee for Policy and Resources and the Guernsey Financial Services Commission have made it clear that Guernsey-based investment vehicles are able to invest in suitably licensed cannabis companies.

4. Jurisdictions that have liberalised cannabis law are seeing adverse impacts

"This is untrue and misleading. All the current studies show that, where cannabis is legalised, crime drops, alcohol related crime drops and the under-age use of cannabis drops.

"Canada has reported decreased crime and a reduction in the consumption of cannabis by minors since it was legalised. Three separate studies published in the US National Library of Medicine have arrived at the following conclusions following the legalisation of cannabis in Canada:

  • “Immediately after cannabis legalization, police-reported criminal incidents among male and female youth for cannabis-related crimes dropped significantly by 55 to 65 per cent”,
  • Implementation of the Cannabis Act was not associated with evidence of significant post-legalization changes in traffic-injury ED* visits in Ontario or Alberta among all drivers or youth drivers, in particular., and (*emergency department)
  • Implementation of Canada's cannabis legalization framework was not associated with evidence of significant changes in cannabis-induced psychosis or schizophrenia ED presentations”.
"Of course, recorded cannabis consumption in Canada has increased since it was made legal, but the amount of illegal cannabis being consumed has fallen dramatically and there are indications that alcohol and tobacco consumption are also falling.

"California made the mistake of taxing the legal cannabis market to such an extent that the illegal market is more lucrative. Steps are being made by the State of California to amend its taxation so that this is remedied.

"In Colorado, where a reasonable taxation system was in place when cannabis was legalised, the state collected more taxes than their tax cap allowed, and citizens were granted tax rebates. Follow this link to see a report on Colorado’s Cannabis Market.

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"We have also attached to this letter a copy of an article published by Visual Capitalist on 12 April 2022 entitled “Catching the Growth of the Cannabis Industry”, which provides some insight into the future that Guernsey could be a part of and benefit from – or we could leave it to Jersey and other jurisdictions. Further information on Drug Decriminalisation Across the World can be found here.

"The time for Guernsey to act is now. Any further delays will result in Guernsey missing the boat and failing to reap the benefits of a fully regulated, legal cannabis industry. This is the last opportunity for our greenhouses to be saved and returned to horticultural use, providing a green and sustainable industry that diversifies the economy and provides health and financial benefits to islanders.

"Cannabis, or any drug for that matter, is much safer when well-regulated and monitored. History has shown that people will take cannabis whether it is legal or not, so it is much better that it is dealt with in a transparent and open manner rather than allowing the black market to thrive with all of the risks that it brings. Any figures on cannabis prior to legalisation will of course be distorted due to the lack of regulation as there is no requirement or incentive for criminals to report on what they are doing. Any action that results in the continuation of or increase in the black market will continue to be detrimental to society as a whole. No jurisdiction that has legalised cannabis has subsequently decided that it was the wrong course of action and the list of countries realising that cannabis should be legalised and taking the appropriate steps to make the change is growing by the day.

"Prohibition has been shown not to work and we need to move forward as a society and embrace change. The unintended consequence of Amendments 9 and 10 will be to push cannabis back to the black market in Guernsey with added requirements for policing and no controls of where, how or to whom the cannabis is being sold and society unable to benefit financially from this illegal trade.

"Please vote AGAINST Amendments 9 and 10 and Proposition 2022/41 14A and IN FAVOUR of Proposition 2022/41 14B.

"We would be happy to discuss any of the matters raised in this letter with anyone who wishes to do so."

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