An open letter to the Deputies of Guernsey ahead of the debate in the States of Deliberation on the on the Government Work Plan.
Amendment 10 is a wrecking motion that goes against the intent of the 2020 Sursis Motivé on the Justice Review Report. It is designed to prevent debate on cannabis in the States of Deliberation and undermine further work in this area.
Proposition 14B calls upon
"the Committee for Health & Social Care to develop the schedule of work and resource requirements necessary to implement Resolution 3(iii)... to enable the review of the legal status of cannabis to be undertaken."
According to the amendment, the Non-Punitive Approaches Project Board determined that Resolution 3
"would not be under consideration" as part of it's work on options for alternative and non-punitive approaches to the possession and use of small quantities of illegal drugs.
Proposition 14B is an attempt to re-introduce this aspect of the Sursis Motivé, while Amendment 10 suggests that it
"does not recognise the breadth of this work or the potential impact that scoping will have on other Committees and has the potential to divert resources away from work already prioritised by the Assembly and contained in the Government Work Plan."
Addressing the amendment, the timeline requested in the Sursis Motivé for the delivery of the review has already been removed from the
"rescinded and replaced" Resolution in the Government Work Plan. It is unclear from the amendment report why the timeline for the NPA Project Board is not sufficient to undertake this work or why it could not be extended.
In relation to Proposition 14B, Amendment 9 directs
"the Policy & Resources Committee to provide adequate cross-committee resources to support the scoping of this work to ensure that the exercise does not impact on the progress of current priority actions being delivered or result in a need to reprioritise action and that the resultant schedule of work and resource requirements reflects cross-committee needs."
This amendment addresses the concerns regarding the potential impact of Proposition 14B raised in Amendment 10 in a constructive manner that enables States Members to debate this issue.
On the principle of Amendment 10 to remove Proposition 14B from debate, it is apparent that many Deputies would like to see progress on addressing cannabis in the Bailiwick.
Aside from the adoption of the Sursis Motivé by a majority of States Members, Deputies brought three amendments to the Justice Review Report in relation to cannabis reform:
A majority of the members of the Committee for Health & Social Care favour a full review of the legal status of cannabis, which is also supported by the Vice President of the Policy & Resources Committee:
- PODCAST: P&R VP backs HSC on cannabis review, May 2022.
Deputies have also voiced their support of alternative approaches in the media:
- The islands are on a journey with cannabis – the sooner we reach the destination, the better for all, October 2021.
- Growing cannabis industry while punishing personal use "as hypocritical as Saudi Arabia hosting an international distillery", April 2021.
- Majority ‘would not be bothered’ if the use of cannabis is legalised – Deputy, March 2019.
Prior to the 2020 elections, the Deputies behind Amendment 10 voiced their support for
"proper investigation" and
"proper and sensible reasoned argument" of cannabis decriminalisation/legalisation:
"I support proper investigation of this subject."
Deputy Andrew Taylor.
"I support medicinal cannabis use without hesitation along whatever needs to be put in place to make this happen. I remain unconvinced that the time is right to legalise its recreational use. However, one of the duties of a Deputy is to listen to proper and sensible reasoned argument, and I would be willing to do so."
Deputy David Mahoney.
The Sursis Motivé called for
"the Committee for Home Affairs to pull together an evidence base in support of each [Proposition], and return to the States with clear recommendations as to the way forward."
It appears from the report on Amendment 10 that the Committee for Home Affairs has in fact sought to gather evidence against the Proposition, likely as a consequence of their reluctance to engage with this workstream.
- Leadbeater leaves Home Affairs after drug policy stand-off, October 2021.
The amendment report attempts to pre-empt Proposition 14B by summarising a number of concerns raised by the Non-Punitive Approaches Project Board.
However, there are a number of issues with the information presented in the amendment report that require redress as they demonstrate a limited understanding of the subject (see below).
In fact, the report on Amendment 10 exemplifies the need for a review of cannabis in order to gather credible evidence and provide appropriate recommendations - as required by the Sursis Motivé.
States Members deserve the opportunity to debate the merits of Proposition 14B and decide whether to commit resources to
"develop the schedule of work and resource requirements necessary to... enable the review of the legal status of cannabis to be undertaken."
We urge States Members to vote against Amendment 10 and allow for the debate on Proposition 14B to take place.
Time constraints have prevented a full response to all of the issues raised in the amendment report, in which cases links have been provided for further information.
Regarding the various concerns raised in the report on Amendment 10:
Cannabis use presents significant health risks.
Looking at the evidence base, it would be correct to say that cannabis use presents undetermined health risks. Research into the role of cannabis on specific health conditions has often conflated correlation with causation. Further research is required to clarify the risk but it is widely accepted that cannabis has extremely low toxicity and that the majority of users do not encounter associated health problems.
The potential health risks of cannabis exist regardless of the legal status of cannabis. The question for Government is how to best mitigate those risks through harm reduction, which is the primary concern of the Committee for Health and Social Care in the implementation of the Combined Substance Use Strategy.
Regarding schizophrenia and psychosis, it is generally accepted that adolescents who have a genetic susceptibility are at a higher risk of developing symptoms:
"It is evident that the majority of young cannabis users do not develop psychotic illnesses. Those who do so must have one or more predisposing factors."
Cannabis: Classification and Public Health, Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, 2008
"Today, medical science lacks sufficient data to make a definitive claim regarding whether smoking cannabis induces psychosis. If you’re young, consume a lot of high-dose cannabis products every day, and possess a genetic predisposition to psychosis, then yes, you are at risk. Numerous studies during the past decade have demonstrated that people who use cannabis and who progress to schizophrenia have a significantly higher familial risk for psychosis as compared with people who use cannabis but do not progress to schizophrenia.
Thus, if you’re middle age, occasionally consume marijuana, and carry no known genetic predispositions, then no, you are not at risk. That last condition, your genetics, is the wild card in your genetic deck since science still lacks the ability to define the genetics of psychosis. In spite of the lack of certainty, it is very likely that many people will go ahead and spin the wheel of genetic roulette."
Cannabis and Schizophrenia: Which Users Are at Risk?, Psychology Today, February 2022.
Evidence from England and Wales indicates that despite an increase in the number of cannabis users in recent decades, incidences of schizophrenia/psychosis declined over the period:
- Rise in incidence and prevalence of cannabis use since 1970 in England and Wales
- Self-reported cannabis use and prevalence/incidence rates of schizophrenia and psychoses in England, 1996 to 2005/06
- Medical Marijuana Legalization Linked To Reduced Drunk Driving And Safer Roads, Study On Auto Insurance Data Suggests, June 2022.
- “Groundbreaking” US study reveals real impact of cannabis on driving, January 2022.
- Medical cannabis and road safety - A research report for the Department for Transport, June 2021.
Substance misuse may lead to familial risk. This occurs regardless of the legal status of the substance and the instance of misuse is accepted to be around 10% of users for a given substance.
As previously mentioned, the issue of substance misuse is the remit of the Committee for Health & Social Services and the Combined Substance Use Strategy.
Risks of vaping.
The cases cited in the amendment report relating to serious lung disease and death in the USA as a consequence of vaping THC was due to the presence of Vitamin E acetate in illicit e-liquids - a direct consequence of being an unregulated product.
While e-liquids of CBD and/or THC are available in some jurisdictions, cannabis is predominantly vaped in dry herb form rather than as an e-liquid and so vitamin E acetate contamination is not a legitimate concern.
At the very least, the risks of smoking cannabis, especially in combination with tobacco, should be dissuaded in favour of vaping as a harm reduction measure.
Changing the legal status of cannabis could be at odds with the States' own health directives.
Decriminalisation and regulation is entirely compatible with preventing and delaying substance use:
"The World Health Organization (WHO) made a clear call for broad drug policy reforms, including decriminalization of drug use, harm reduction practices... and a ban on compulsory treatment for people who use drugs."
World Health Organization Calls for Drug Decriminalization and Broad Drug Policy Reforms, Drug Policy Alliance, July 2014.
While the below cases relate to instances of supply and importation, such sentences should be taken into consideration as part of the review as drug use does not occur in isolation to supply:
- OPINION: The huge costs of sending mums to prison, January 2022.
- The callousness of Guernsey’s harsh drugs laws, October 2021.
- Young ex-drug traffickers on living with a conviction, August 2021.
"The more intensive Standard and Enhanced checks, which may be used by employers seeking employees to work with children or vulnerable adults, do show both spent and unspent convictions and cautions."
Evidently, criminal records can therefore impinge upon future employment prospects.
Education provision and the implementation of the Combined Substance Use Strategy are crucial to reducing risks associated with cannabis - regardless of whether it is illegal or not.
- Admissions to substance use treatment facilities for cannabis use disorder, 2000–2017: Does legalization matter?, April 2022.
Potential increases in cannabis diversion and drug-driving.
"Our findings do not support any considerable impact of cannabis legislation on the prevalence of recreational cannabis use among youth and young adults in Europe."
Changes in cannabis policy and prevalence of recreational cannabis use among adolescents and young adults in Europe — An interrupted time-series analysis, PLOS ONE, January 2022.
Regarding the accusation of cannabis diversion in a local Facebook group, I have been a member of several Guernsey cannabis and drug reform groups on Facebook for the last couple of years and I have never witnessed any instances of
"medicinal cannabis being offered for sale".
Facebook is particularly strict on any such posts and comments on it's platform and it restricts access of offending users.
The illegal drugs market and associated criminality could increase.
Regarding the UK Government's report on drugs by Professor Dame Carol Black, the issue of decriminalisation or legalisation was excluded from the scope of the review:
"The Government has, however, explicitly ruled out any consideration of drug legislation from the review. While predictable (the same exclusion was applied to phase 1), this restriction is patently absurd. It is like commissioning a report on climate change, but telling investigators not to consider the role of carbon emissions."
Part two of the Black Review: hands still tied on key policy questions, Transform Drug Policy Foundation, July 2020.
The cannabis industry / International relations.
In relation to the review itself, there is an opportunity to work with the new Government of Jersey who may be interested in pooling resources on this subject, as well as the London Drug Commission that was recently established by the Mayor of London to look at drug legislation with a particular focus on cannabis.
Notably, the LDC is chaired by Lord Falconer, who was previously the Minister with responsibility for the Crown Dependencies.
Many jurisdictions are now looking at or developing cannabis policy. Guernsey need not reinvent the wheel and should look to opportunities for collaboration.
Many jurisdictions have or are in the process of decriminalising or legalising cannabis. Reputational risk does not appear to be a concern in implementing such legislative change:
- German Cannabis Bill By Year End With Adult-Use Launch Likely In Early 2024, June 2022.
- Luxembourg Presents Draft Law On Cannabis Legalization, June 2022.
- Malta to legalise cannabis for personal use in European first, December 2021.
- Interactive Map: Drug Decriminalisation Across the World
Data has recently been collected on
"Islander's attitudes to the potential legalisation of cannabis":
- Islanders asked for their views on health-oriented approaches to substance use as part of improvements under Justice, February 2022.
- Drug crime survey garners more than 850 responses, March 2022.
Cannabis regulation should not be viewed through the lens of popularism but simply as the right approach to take on human rights grounds.
The questions posed at the end of the amendment report are best answered by the undertaking of the proposed review on the legal status of cannabis.
Jurisdictions that have liberalised cannabis law are seeing adverse impacts.
"50% of cannabis sales in Canada now stem from the illegal market", which is a dramatic reduction from 100% of cannabis sales being from the illegal market prior to Canada's legalisation of cannabis in 2018.
- Canada’s legal cannabis market continues to erode illicit market’s share, May 2021.
- Why cannabis users still head for black market, October 2019.
The prevalence of the black market in California is directly linked to high cultivation taxes, which the Governor has recently addressed in the May budget:
Further critique of the amendment report can be found in the following Facebook thread.
In conclusion, there is simply far too much unfounded supposition in the report than should be acceptable in an amendment presented to the States of Deliberation.
The demand for a review of the legal status of cannabis is not going to diminish. Kicking the can down the road will only result in further time wasted in the States Chamber in debating future propositions on the subject.
The opportunity to address cannabis concerns is at hand. Please support Proposition 14B so that the scoping of the review of the legal status of cannabis may proceed.
The ECPJ Team.