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OPINION: "I am compelled to write..."

OPINION:

Monday 27 June 2022

OPINION: "I am compelled to write..."

Monday 27 June 2022


Deputy Marc Leadbeater has responded to an opinion piece in the Guernsey Press written by the President of the Committee for Home Affairs, Deputy Rob Prow. In it Deputy Prow argues against the legalisation of cannabis.

"I am compelled to write in response to the completely misleading article by Deputy Prow which featured in the Guernsey Press today, Monday 27th June. His article is very similar to the extremely biased report on cannabis put together by members of the Committee for Home Affairs and appended to Amendment 10 to the Government Work Plan, as proposed by Deputy Andy Taylor and seconded by Deputy Dave Mahoney.

"Firstly, Deputy Prow starts out by accusing the Committee for Health & Social Care (HSC) of bringing a proposition which “unashamedly seeks to make the recreational use of cannabis, a class b drug and in some cases, tetrahydrocannabinol, a class a drug, a legitimate reality”.

"Cannabis is currently a class b drug in Guernsey, and by majority, the members of HSC believe that it should not be treated in the same way that we treat the other harmful, addictive drugs which cause a great deal of harm to society. Based upon evidence from around the world, we are convinced that cannabis should be controlled and regulated by government and not just left to the black market to do as it wishes. HSC do not want to legalise drugs as Deputy Prow wrongly suggests, we want to take control of the large illegal cannabis black market and regulate it safely and responsibly. By Deputy Prow’s own admission in the Home Affairs report, there is a large, thriving cannabis black market in Guernsey. He seems to be content for that to continue, but at HSC we are not. The black market does not place age restrictions on its wares, the black market targets the more vulnerable in our society, the black market also offers a host of other drugs as well as cannabis – like the highly addictive life-taking kind that they find easy to smuggle along with their poor quality (often mixed with rubber and plastic) cannabis resin. In our view this is just not acceptable.

"Deputy Prow in his letter then moves on to the harms that could be caused by regular, sustained cannabis use and he lists them in 6 bullet points. Now I don’t think anyone is trying to say that everyone should use cannabis every day and all will be fine – at HSC we’re certainly not. Firstly, here we need to understand the difference between cannabis and the other drugs that are most prevalent in our society.

"The drugs that cause harm to people and families in the bailiwick are mainly (often diverted) prescription drugs. Valium, Gabapentin, Tramadol, Morphine, Fentanyl, etc. Virtually all the deaths that Guernsey has seen due to drugs have come from fatal overdoses of prescription drugs – there is no such thing as a fatal overdose of cannabis. Fentanyl has caused by far the most deaths over the last 20 years, but I don’t see the Committee for Home Affairs on the front page of the Guernsey Press shouting about how concerned they are when another poor soul is taken from their loved ones - but a cannabis sweet bought locally has slightly too much of one cannabinoid in it and they are swinging from the rafters! Let’s just consider what I said just a few seconds ago – there’s no such thing as a fatal cannabis overdose. If the Committee for Home Affairs think that cannabis is so bad, and by their own admission it is easily obtainable in the Bailiwick, then why on earth do they not want it to be regulated and controlled? There is absolutely no sense in their argument whatsoever."

Deputy Marc Leadbeater

Pictured: Deputy Leadbeater resigned from the Committee for Home Affairs in 2021 because his views on cannabis conflicted with the Committee's.

"Deputy Prow’s letter goes on to talk about how changing the legal status of cannabis will increase its availability to children and young people, but that’s completely the opposite to what the evidence tells us. Remember what I said about the black-market dealers not caring who they sell their wares to? Evidence from Canada and the USA tells us that in countries/States where they have introduced adult use cannabis regimes, youth consumption has reduced by about 50%. That’s right, kids using cannabis dropped by a half, and that took just one year in Canada after the adoption of its regime in 2018 - the stats don’t lie. 

"Deputy Prow also tells people that HSC are trying to shoehorn this work on the blindside into the Government Work Plan (GWP), but again this is completely untrue. Many months ago, I met with Deputy Soulsby, the architect of the GWP, to discuss a potential Requete. I had been in discussions with quite a few states members regarding the potential for a Requete on the legal status of cannabis, which was no secret.

"The advice then from the Deputy Chief Minister, P&R’s lead on the GWP, was that if HSC by majority wants to progress this work, which we do, then rather than a Requete, the best way to do it was through the GWP process, which is why it is included. The advice from the architect of the plan was that this was where this piece of works belonged, so we have been corporate players and submitted this workstream in the GWP to keep things nice and tidy. Now according to Deputy Prow, including this workstream is an abuse of the Government Work Plan process, but how can that be? When its inclusion was based upon the advice from the lead of the plan – the architect of the plan. This is not trying to shoehorn a workstream in on the blind side, indeed it’s completely the opposite.

"Deputy Prow then moves on to the penalties received in Guernsey for the possession of personal amounts of cannabis and informs us that these days few people receive prison sentences for possession, and because of this, our current sentencing arrangements are just fine and dandy. Well, I have yet to meet someone else to agree with that. Everyone processed by the police or Border Agency for cannabis possession no matter how small an amount, will still receive a criminal conviction even if not sent to prison. That criminal conviction, even once considered “spent”, will remain on that person’s record for the remainder of their life and limit their employment and travel opportunities. The committee for Home Affairs thinks that this is acceptable but at HSC we do not."

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Pictured: The future legality of cannabis is set to be a hot topic in this month's States' debate.

"Deputy Prow’s next sensationalised statement tells us that “This could be the start of a process of enabling Guernsey to become the Amsterdam of the British Isles. It would pioneer the culture of open recreational drug use, drug tourism and cannabis cafes”. I very nearly spilt my cuppa upon reading that bit. Firstly, there is nothing recreational about cannabis use – tennis is recreational or walking or cycling – I wish people wouldn’t use that term. Deputy Prow needs to look at places like Canada or Colorado, he will not find “cannabis cafes” or “open recreational drug use” as he suggests – he clearly has no clue of how a well-regulated regime works. They are seeing exceptional benefits since introducing their regimes. They haven’t experienced the kind of negatives that Deputy Prow would have you believe and there is plenty of evidence to back that up. 

(Colorado uses its cannabis tax wisely. In 2017 $3.1m went into opioid intervention, $16m into affordable housing and $19m into capital investment. In 2018 $20m went to grants for school health professionals and early literacy programs, $10m was used to fund after school programs and $9m towards affordable housing. As of March 2022, $538.7m of the total revenue generated from cannabis taxes has been dedicated to improving Colorado’s state school provision.)

"Deputy Prow continues by making a meal out of how Guernsey would be perceived internationally if we were to scope this work. He says, “the legalisation, or even decriminalisation, of cannabis also flies in the face of UK government policy” and he warns that any such moves would harm our status as an international finance centre. First of all, HSC do not want to decriminalise any drugs as is being intimated by Deputy Prow, we want to control and regulate the large amount of cannabis that is already circulating in our community. I don’t think Deputy Prow is aware, but Malta has just introduced adult use cannabis legislation, and Germany, Europe’s largest economy, has put a budget aside for 10 extra Officers and Lawyers to expedite its adult use cannabis legislation this term.

"Their Minister for Health, Karl Lauterbach, speaking to the German newspaper Handelsblatt, explained he has changed his mind on the topic of legal cannabis and that he believes the risks of continuing prohibition far outweigh the risks of legalisation. He said, “I’ve always been opposed to cannabis legalisation, but I revised my position about a year ago” Isn’t it refreshing to see such a senior politician change their long-held views when presented with the evidence to do so – I wonder if we’ll see that in Guernsey? I won’t hold my breath. Germany’s Minister for Justice, Marco Buschmann, has initiated technical preparations for the policy change in partnership with the Ministry for Health. Across Europe, countries are catching up with the US and Canada. Luxembourg has announced that it will introduce adult use cannabis legislation, and it will be available for sale in dispensaries in Zurich later this year. We have air links with Zurich, and both these jurisdictions are international finance centres too, so again, that dispels that myth. 

"Also, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn, has announced a commission to examine the effectiveness of the UK’s drug laws, with a particular focus on cannabis, and he said on a recent trip to the US “The illegal drug trade causes huge damage to our society and we need to do more to tackle this epidemic and further the debate around drug laws. That’s why I’m here today in LA, to see first-hand the approach they have taken to cannabis”. Lord Faulkner, who has been appointed Chair of the commission, said “I’m honoured to have been appointed Chair of the London Drugs Commission. We need rigorously to identify what is the best approach to reduce harm to our communities. A National debate is long overdue. We aim to make recommendations to bring about effective and lasting change”.

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Pictured: The President of Home Affairs, Deputy Prow, is very critical of making cannabis legal.

"The next supposition in Deputy Prow’s letter tells us “It is suggested that legalising the recreational use of cannabis will enlarge the drugs market, opening up this activity to a wider audience”. Again, all evidence shows us that, in jurisdictions that have introduced adult use legislation, the complete opposite has happened. Drug related crime has reduced, and alcohol and tobacco use has also fallen in those jurisdictions too. Again, completely misleading.

"I am unsure if everyone understands why Guernsey has become such a target for overseas drug gangs to smuggle cannabis to so I will touch on that now. In the Bailiwick we have very secure borders with tough laws on cannabis smuggling and also tough penalties for dealing and possession. These factors together mean that we have exceptionally high street prices compared to neighbouring jurisdictions. This reason that overseas gangs target the Bailiwick are purely financial. If Guernsey were to introduce an adult use regime similar to that in Canada, the over-the-counter price of cannabis would be on average £5 per gram for a good quality product. The street price in Guernsey currently is around £35 - £45 per gram for a poor quality product. The street price in the UK and neighbouring jurisdictions is circa £10 per gram to put things into context.

"So, taking this into consideration, why would overseas drug gangs continue to target Guernsey with their cannabis when they can get a higher price for it where they live without the massive risk involved in smuggling into the Bailiwick? It’s hardly rocket science. That illegal market will fall away overnight with the introduction of an adult use regime it’s as simple as that. Another thing to consider is that these gangs operating currently in the lucrative local cannabis black market also smuggle other, more harmful drugs along with their cannabis. So taking control of that market would cut off this supply chain too. Deputy Prow suggests that smugglers will simply move to other substances but that is again not justified. Luckily enough in Guernsey there is not a massive demand for drugs such as heroin and our Border Agency do a very good job of keeping our streets clean of this type of drug. The overseas gangs would simply look for another jurisdiction with high street prices to sell to – most probably Jersey where the street prices are higher than the UK but lower than Guernsey.

"The next part of the letter talks of a “lengthy public review” but again this statement is wildly misleading. All HSC are asking is to let us scope this work – not a lengthy review. It won’t consume massive amounts of Officer time as Deputy Prow wrongly suggests and we have been assured by Dr Brink that Public Health will have the resources available for this scoping exercise in Q1 of 2023. Deputy Prow and the supporters of the Taylor/Mahoney Amendment continue to mislead the public by claiming that this scoping exercise will be costly and resource intensive but as I have just outlined, that again, is simply not true.

"The last part of his letter lost me a bit. He talks of comparisons with drug deaths between Guernsey and the UK and deduces “It must mean that the drug strategies employed locally over the previous decades have had largely a very positive impact when considering the community as a whole, which must be the focus of government”. Over the last couple of decades how many deaths have we seen from prescription drug overdoses? Far, far too many so to try and say that our drug laws have had a “largely positive impact” again is not what the evidence tells us.

"So, to conclude, it appears that deputy Prow and his committee will try any trick in the book to avoid the States of Deliberation ever having a well-reasoned, evidence-based debate on the merits or otherwise of adult use cannabis legislation. But one thing he doesn’t have up his sleeve is any evidence to back up the supposition he’s resorted to using in the Home Affairs report and in his article in the Guernsey Press. I find it alarming that such a poor, unevidenced, biased report should be appended to an amendment to such an important piece of work that is the GWP."

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