An open letter to the Deputies of Guernsey in response to Deputy Rob Prow's open letter published in today's Guernsey Press on the subject of the upcoming debate on cannabis in the Government Work Plan.
- 'Legalising cannabis will not stop all drug crime'
- 'Potential legalisation of cannabis should not be on the list of priorities'
Deputy Prow, in his position as president of the Committee for Home Affairs, is continuing to exert his opposition to addressing the Island's approach to drugs.
We consider that the question of whether to prioritise Proposition 14B is best decided by all Deputies in open and factual debate in the States of Deliberation.
Deputy Prow states that Proposition 14B of the Government Work Plan has emerged
"completely out of left field".
As noted in our rebuttal to Amendment 10, the Sursis Motivé on the Justice Review Report directed the Committee for Health & Social Care and the Committee for Home Affairs to report on
"the potential for moving from a regime governed by the criminal law towards a partly or wholly regulatory approach to all aspects of personal drug use" in July 2020.
- A rebuttal of the amendment that seeks to prevent a review of the legal status of cannabis in Guernsey
- Sursis Motivé
This Resolution was subsequently
"rescinded and replaced" in the Government Work Plan. It should therefore not be a surprise to see the re-introduction of the Resolution in accordance with the Sursis Motivé.
Concerns are raised in the letter that those opposed to cannabis reform have not had their voices heard.
Addressing the concerns of all Islanders is a fundamental aspect of the proposed review of the legal status of cannabis, Resolution 4 of the Sursis Motivé having called for
"consultation with the community and key stake holders in respect of such alternative options."
The letter continues:
"...a key element that is continually lost in seemingly all discussions recently is that cannabis has the potential to cause harm to our community."
The potential harms of cannabis are best addressed via a harm reduction approach directed by the Combined Substance Use Strategy.
We would argue that it is in fact the harms of prohibition that are "continually lost":
"Public health professionals are advocating for the harm-reduction measures taken during the pandemic to support people who use drugs to be expanded or become permanent. But policy change is also crucial. Creating a drug-free world has been the goal of drug prohibition since the 1960s. Yet drug use persists at fairly stable levels in every country in the world. For far too long, many governments have pursued this prohibitionist approach to drugs in the name of public health, despite evidence that, as the Lancet Commission on Public Health and International Drug Policy observed in 2016, the public health “harms of prohibition far outweigh the benefits”. Now that a public health crisis has once again exacerbated the health harms of drug prohibition, the public health community needs to mobilise against attempts to persist with a fundamentally flawed drug policy approach."
From drug prohibition to regulation: a public health imperative, June 2022.
Deputy Prow writes:
"Even if legal sales were restricted to adults, the risks of cannabis diversion to children and young persons would increase as availability increases."
Evidence from other jurisdictions where cannabis laws have been liberalised indicates that this is not the case:
"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.
A regulated market provides safeguards relating to access by underaged individuals that the black market does not accommodate.
The familial risk of substance misuse and the provision of educational resources are the remit of the Combined Substance Use Strategy and should be addressed accordingly - regardless of the legal status of cannabis and other drugs.
The question of priorities in the Government Work Plan is surely a decision to be taken by States Members. Proposition 14B is presented as an alternative use of resources to Proposition 14A, which are for States Members to choose between based upon their merits.
While custodial sentences for cannabis possession are apparently rare, criminal records are still imposed upon those who are given alternative sentences.
As noted in the report accompanying Amendment 10,
"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."
Convictions for possession can severely impact upon an individual's opportunities for travel and employment. It is disingenuous to suggest that
"this is not the case".
Part of the problem with the work being undertaken by the Non-Punitive Approaches Project Board is that the issue of decriminalisation has been de-prioritised and associated with the issue of legalisation.
The diversionary approaches being investigated by the NPA Board are in fact a subset of decriminalisation. It therefore would have been prudent to also investigate wider decriminalisation as part of their current workstream.
Cannabis decriminalisation is not complicated - it simply requires the Attorney General to no longer deem it to be in the public interest to prosecute.
The reference to Amsterdam is a derogatory attempt at scaremongering. Amsterdam is a beautiful and vibrant city in a country that has decriminalised cannabis. Coffee shops have been tolerated since 1972.
How different jurisdictions approach decriminalisation and legalisation varies and there are a number of models that Guernsey can look to for reference as to what would best suit the Bailiwick and it's people - including the issue of access for tourists.
The residents of the Channel Islands had no say in Brexit. Consequently, the Bailiwicks should now be seeking each and every available opportunity for our Islands through our relationship with the UK.
Jersey and Guernsey are already taking a lead on the UK in the provision of medicinal cannabis by GPs and the development of our respective cannabis cultivation industries.
It is therefore entirely appropriate to discuss further opportunities that would come with the legalisation of cannabis with the UK Home and Foreign Offices and address concerns relating to the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the Common Travel Area.
Ideally, the Bailiwicks should cooperate on this issue.
Both Dame Black's report and the UK's new drug strategy avoid consideration of the legal status of drugs, much to their detriment.
Regarding Dame Carol Black's Independent Report on Drugs:
"Of course, the elephant in the room for both this and the first review is that Dame Carol was prevented from considering the role of the legal framework in creating, exacerbating or mitigating the harms her reports address. So, while discussing the huge costs of policing and imprisonment in Phase 1, she was not able to consider how criminalisation caused those harms. Similarly, in Phase 2, there is no mention of the extent to which criminalisation exacerbates mental health harms and undermines life chances (the word ‘criminalisation’ does not feature even once). There is no consideration of how illegal markets lead to the widespread promotion of the strongest and most addictive forms of drugs; or how many of the deaths due to adulteration or unknown potency are a consequence of the market being entirely unregulated."
Black Review: strong on treatment, but avoids law reform, July 2021.
Regarding the UK government's new drug strategy:
"While there is much to welcome in the strategy on the drug service front, it can be hard to see through the thicket of drug war polemic. More seriously, the strategy fails to engage with the wider systemic problems of the overarching punitive legal framework, instead doubling down on the failed “tough enforcement” approaches of the past, while claiming to be doing things differently. There is no acknowledgement of the growing cross-party calls in Parliament for a comprehensive review of the 50 year old Misuse of Drugs Act. Until this changes, the positive elements of the strategy are likely to remain symptomatic responses to problems in large part fuelled by the laws they operate under."
The tortured double think of the new drug strategy, February 2022.
The online and front page headline in today's Guernsey Press appears to be a misquote:
"Legalising cannabis will not stop all drug crime".
Deputy Prow's open letter in fact states that:
"Home Affairs service leads have briefed the committee and advised that legalising the recreational use of drugs, including cannabis, will not mean that the illegal drugs market will disappear or reduce."
It is evident that drugs markets do indeed reduce after legalisation, for example in Canada:
However, it takes time to reduce or eradicate
"established supply systems" and for regulated supplies to become established:
Appropriate regulations are required to reduce black market demand, which can be seen in California where high cultivation taxes are being cut in order to combat the illicit market:
The suggestion that those involved in the drug trade are inherently criminal is assumptive. Given a regulated market with associated job opportunities, many of those previously involved in the illicit market would likely seek gainful employment.
Reputational concerns relating to
"liberalising drug law" do not appear to have been
"crucial" considerations for Portugal, South Africa, Canada, 19 US States, Malta, Luxembourg, Germany or Thailand (among others).
The Channel Islands have a reputation for being well-regulated. The development of an effective and appropriate regulatory framework for cannabis is entirely compatible with our existing reputation.
Drug harms may be statistically lower in Guernsey than elsewhere, but those figures could be reduced further if drug possession were to be decriminalised.
"Portugal’s example is pragmatic policymaking in action: these reforms to the justice system not only save lives and reduce addiction rates, but reduce the burden on the criminal justice system, and save money that can then be redirected elsewhere. And that’s leaving out its countless social and economic knock-on effects."
Portugal’s Drugs Strategy Could Work in Britain, April 2021.
Finally, we return to the issues of priorities. There are of course higher priorities than cannabis. However, all that Proposition 14B calls for is
"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."
There has been extensive work undertaken in recent years on the subject of cannabis legalisation and the issues involved that can likely form the basis of the scoping of the review, such as the following publication from the Transform Drug Policy Foundation:
- How to Regulate Cannabis, 3rd Edition, April 2022.
The debate on the issue of cannabis in the Government Work Plan this week is not to decide whether cannabis should be legalised. It simply seeks to undertake the initial scoping work ahead of next year's update to the GWP, at which point a better informed Assembly can debate whether to continue with this workstream.
The question of whether Proposition 14B should be prioritised over Proposition 14A is for States Members to decide.
The ECPJ Team.