Cannabis Conference: Shaping A New Agenda
February 19, 2002
The Conference, organised by HIT of Liverpool, was attended by approximately 200 delegates, mostly from the North West of England. These consisted of doctors, police, magistrates, probation officers, students union and youth group representatives, teachers, drug advisors and counsellors and other drug workers. There were very few cannabis campaigners present.
The Conference, which ran from 1 pm to about 4,30, consisted of two parts: the main speakers and a panel to answer questions from the audience.
The conference was introduced by Professor John Ashton, Director of Public
Health, NHS Executive
John Witton, National Addiction Centre, London: Cannabis: a review of the
John Witton is to release his book "Cannabis The Facts" later this year.
With the help of slides showing the various claims that cannabis is
dangerous to health, John systematically reduced each claim to mere
speculation. He said that we would hear words such as "may cause" and
"uncertain evidence" throughout his talk.
Cannabis, he stated, is entrenched in society and the harms need to be
based upon a systematic review of the hard evidence. In Britain it is used
by 25% of adults, 6% in the last month. Figures reflected in other
countries - Australia 39% have used, 4% use weekly - USA 35% have used and
5% use regularly..
The major recent reports worth considering are those from W.H.O., the US
Institute of Medicine 1999, and the National drug and Alcohol Research
The main problems in assessing harm are the variation in dosage,
combination with tobacco, the lack of any controlled long-term effect
studies, and the intermittent and limited use over time. These all
complicate the picture.
The usual claimed adverse effects, are rarely observed and mostly in novice
users; these are anxiety, dysploria, panic, paranoia, psychomotive
impairment, something like a psychotic reaction with high doses, and an
increased risk of low weight babies for mothers who smoke. In fact, these
effects are rare.
Gateway to hard drugs:
Respiratory system effects:
Cancer, the immune system and the reproductive system:
Cognitive functioning, memory, amotivation:
Major at-risk people:
Professor Martin Plant, Director, Alcohol and Health Research Centre, UWE:
Cannabis, other drugs and young people.
Deaths in the UK from tobacco are 120,000 annually, alcohol accounts for a further 20,000 plus, whereas all the illicit drugs account for just a few thousand. Very rarely does cannabis feature in drug death statistics and in those case it is mostly road accidents. Yet drug offences have increased over the last 10 years and cannabis accounts for over 70% of them.
Bob Keizer, drug policy Advisor of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and
Sports of the Netherlands.
In the Netherlands, the state does not interfere with individuals unless
problems are caused - there is no interference with moral standards. They
have diverse politics and the state and church are separated.
Drug use is not prohibited in the Netherlands, as indeed it is not under
the UK Misuse of Drugs Act. Youngsters are not given a criminal record
just for the possession of cannabis. Coffeeshops where small-scale supply
is tolerated account for half the supply.
They have an integrated approach and invest in addict care and prevention,
justice and public order, research and monitoring programs.
The principle is expediency and the goal is to decriminalise users and
separate the market from hard drugs.
Coffeeshops are not legal. They are tolerated and there are strict conditions:
According to the EMCCD in 1999, cannabis use in the last month for 15-16
year-olds in the Netherlands was 14%; in Ireland it is 15%, in the UK 16%,
in France 22%, in the US 19%.
Of the general population: Netherlands 5%; UK 9%, France 5%, USA 9%.
Hard drug use: Netherlands 2.5%; UK 5.6%; Sweden (hard line policies) 3%;
France 3.9%; Italy 7.2%.
The Netherlands has found opponents to its policies from around the world -
Germany, Sweden and the USA were main opponents. Germany is now becoming
more progressive and there is little criticism any more. France is also
less critical. They have yet to convince Sweden or the US. There is more
collaboration with European countries.
They are still fighting the hard drug trade and the organised drug trade
although it is practically impossible because they are an open country with
no border controls. They also seize large amounts of cannabis plants.
Unlike most countries, the average age of hard drug addicts is increasing
by one year each year.
There appeared to be very little objection from the audience of
delegates.to a change in law.
Brenda Fullard repeatedly stated that she feared a relaxation of the law on
cannabis would cause an increase in use of tobacco.
The panel were otherwise in support of a relaxation of the law although,
apart from the LCA who proposed full legalisation of possession,
cultivation and supply, there were no real ideas of how a change could
Dr Quinnell, who was initially reluctant to publicly announce that he
favoured legalisation, did precisely that in the Manchester Evening News
the next day.
Questions from the audience were about increased risk of progression to
hard drugs, effect of school work, possible effect on organised crime - and
the one token ex-heroin addict who blamed his problems on cannabis.
Overall, I personally felt that the Conference went very well and was very educational to most people present, myself included, and I gained a lot by being able to present LCA views alongside those of the professionals.
Report by Alun Buffry, National Coordinator, legalise Cannabis Alliance
Cannabis Conference: Shaping a New Agenda