End Cannabis Prohibition Jersey
for Reform.


The time has come to discuss Jersey's approach to cannabis.

The Weekend Essay – Rethinking Cannabis.

The essay reproduced below appeared in the Weekend edition of the Jersey Evening Post published on the .

The time has come to discuss Jersey's approach to cannabis

"The long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom."

Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776.

There are many customs and beliefs that were once widely accepted across society, which we have since come to realise were mistaken.

Slavery, segregation, the denial of women's rights, and the criminalisation of homosexuality were all once considered the norm.

Our approach to these issues has, thankfully, evolved over time. Arguably, there is still much work to be done in some of these areas, but the majority of people now accept the new status quo of modern society.

The prohibition of cannabis, however, is an issue where we remain mistaken.

In 1966, Jersey became the last part of the British Isles to prohibit the possession, procurement, and supply of cannabis – over 30 years after Guernsey and the UK.

The States of Jersey Police Annual Reports from the late 60s onwards consistently record cannabis as the most commonly found illicit drug in the island. This remains the case to the present day, with approximately two-thirds of all drug offences in recent years being cannabis related.

Over the last six decades, thousands of islanders have been stopped and searched, and arrested for cannabis offences, the majority of whom will have received a criminal record that would have affected their employment and travel prospects for life.

Tens of millions of pounds has been diverted to the black market over the years to meet the demand for cannabis that persists in Jersey, despite it being illegal.

Millions of pounds has been spent by the Police, Customs, Courts and Prison Service on enforcement and incarceration relating to cannabis offences.

Many islanders are ambivalent to this status quo. Some argue that greater enforcement and stricter penalties are required to crack down on people who use cannabis. But an increasing number demand reform and an end to criminalisation.

Not many people realise it, but the possession of cannabis has in fact been partially decriminalised in Jersey since 1998.

In guidance to Centeniers at Parish Hall Enquiries, Attorney General Directive 1/98 provided instructions for the handling of first-time offences of possession of small amounts of Class B and C drugs, instead of referral to Magistrate's Court.

Persons found in possession of up to 7g of cannabis or cannabis resin would be referred to a Drugs Awareness Course, upon completion of which they would receive a Written Caution and no permanent criminal record.

The amount of cannabis or cannabis resin for which a Written Caution could be given for a first offence was increased to 15g in 2015, and was extended to a second offence in 2019, provided a year had passed since the first offence.

The Crime (Public Order) Law passed by the States Assembly last month included an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Law that permits Centeniers to issue £200 fines for the repeat possession of small amounts of Class B and C drugs, with no criminal record.

Given this trajectory of decreasing punitive sanctions for cannabis possession in Jersey, it is pertinent that we now consider whether we want to continue in this direction and, if so, what the next steps could be.

Cannabis itself is not illegal; specific acts in relation to cannabis are prohibited in our laws, such as the possession, cultivation, supply, import, and export of the plant and its products.

In recent years, a number of exceptions have been made that permit certain acts in relation to cannabis, such as:

  • adopting the proposition that "all medical professionals with the right to prescribe should be permitted to prescribe" medicinal cannabis in 2018;
  • the issuing of the first licences for the cultivation of hemp in 2017 and medicinal cannabis in 2020;
  • allowing for the presence of a small amount of THC (the primary psychoactive chemical in cannabis) in over-the-counter CBD products in 2019; and
  • amending our Proceeds of Crime Law in 2021 to allow investment in cannabis companies in approved jurisdictions.

Consequently, there are now five private clinics specialising in medicinal cannabis in Jersey, with an estimated 3,000 adult patients prescribed oil and flower products for a variety of ailments.

Half-a-dozen companies are involved in the cultivation of medicinal cannabis (Northern Leaf being the first to market last November), and a couple of specialist shops in town sell CBD products and cannabis paraphernalia.

Similar developments are happening around the world, with different jurisdictions implementing legislation to permit and regulate certain aspects of cannabis.

There is much we can learn from these different models of regulation and their outcomes, which can help inform our approach to cannabis in Jersey.

Last month, Germany became the third country in Europe to legalise the personal possession of cannabis with the aim "to crack down on the black market and improve protection of children and young people", following in the footsteps of Malta and Luxembourg.

These three countries allow their adult citizens to possess a specified amount of cannabis in public, along with permitting the cultivation of a small number of cannabis plants at home. Malta and Germany also allow the establishment of non-profit social clubs for collective cultivation.

The Czech Republic is likely to introduce similar legislation later this year, while experiments in legal sales of cannabis are currently underway in Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Canada legalised the possession, sale, and production of cannabis in 2018. Twenty-four US states, including New Jersey, have also now fully legalised cannabis.

France and Italy, meanwhile, allow the possession and sale of hemp flowers, also known as "cannabis light", which contain barely any THC.

There are no signs of the sky falling down in any of these jurisdictions.

In a recent Scrutiny hearing with the former Health Minister, the Associate Director of Health Policy described our drug laws as being "barely fit for purpose".

A review of the Misuse of Drugs laws is due to be undertaken by the Health Department this year, with the drafting of a new law proposed for 2025.

We now have an opportune moment to reflect on how we approach cannabis in Jersey and to consider how we shape appropriate legislation for the future.

All sides of the debate can agree that we do not want anyone to come to harm from using cannabis. The question, therefore, is how can we best mitigate potential harms?

Prohibition and criminalisation are blunt instruments. They are intended to act as deterrents against the use of cannabis; don't conform, and you will be punished.

Yet many islanders continue to consume illicit cannabis and are prosecuted for it year on year. Evidently, the problem is not going away.

People use cannabis in Jersey, whether it be obtained legally by prescription or illegally from the black market via the Internet, or otherwise. We deem some use of cannabis to be acceptable but other use criminal.

If, as a society, we accept the principles of bodily autonomy and the right to live our lives privately, is it in the public interest to continue to prosecute fellow islanders for cannabis possession?

Our most effective tool for reducing the potential harms from cannabis use is not the scare tactics of police enforcement, but instead honest, accessible, evidence-informed education and appropriate regulation. Cannabis use should be considered a health matter, not a criminal one.

Once we come to accept and tolerate the existing use of cannabis in our community, we can then go about determining what regulations are best suited for the island.

If we accept that there is a demand for cannabis, then we must also accept the need for a corresponding supply.

The simplest approach implemented in other jurisdictions to address the issue of supply is to allow adults to grow a number of cannabis plants at home, thereby reducing the demand on the black market – as in Luxembourg, for example.

For some people, it may not be feasible for them to grow their own cannabis at home, in which case some jurisdictions allow for collective cultivation, whereby others can grow plants on their behalf.

There is also the concept of private non-profit social clubs, as implemented in Spain, Malta and shortly Germany, where members of a collective can distribute and, in some instances, consume cannabis on the premises.

Dispensaries and cannabis consumption lounges that permit the sale and/or use of cannabis, such as the coffeeshops of Amsterdam, can provide a public means of access but would likely be a later addition to any change in regime.

A change of approach could also allow for the implementation of a simplified medicinal cannabis prescription model, as well as bringing about greater use of hemp as a sustainable resource.

If Jersey is to become a "centre of excellence" for cannabis, as promoted by Deputy Lyndon Farnham at the Cannabis Europa conference in London in 2021, then we should cultivate home-grown talent and expertise.

Many people have legitimate concerns about decriminalising or legalising cannabis.

Driving under the influence is often cited as a potential issue when it comes to changing our laws around cannabis.

At present, there is no effective roadside test to determine impairment. Unlike alcohol, blood concentrations of THC do not correlate to how impaired a person may be. Traditional methods are therefore required to adequately assess impairment under the Road Traffic Law.

When it comes to the issue of young people using cannabis, data from the Jersey Children and Young People's Surveys shows that the percentage of those in Year 10 who have ever used cannabis has declined over the years, from a high of 36% of students in 2002 to around 11% today.

Data from jurisdictions that have legalised cannabis suggests that there is no corresponding increase in youth use following the change in legislation and the implementation of age restrictions.

In order not to impose on others, consideration may be required to address the use of cannabis in public, with perhaps greater enforcement of no smoking/vaping areas in town, around schools, and elsewhere.

Education is of paramount importance to reduce harm, regardless of whether we change our approach or not; e.g., we should encourage the use of vaporisers as an alternative to smoking cannabis.

Cannabis reform should not be imposed on the people of Jersey without due care and consideration, and it must include the implementation of appropriate regulation, oversight, monitoring, and public messaging.

Perpetuating the current status quo will not stop people from using cannabis in Jersey.

We should consider a change of direction.

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

Unknown, often wrongly attributed to Albert Einstein.

I have yet to come across a legitimate argument for why cannabis remains prohibited; cannabis is illegal simply because it is illegal.

That's not to say cannabis is harmless, but the vast majority of adult users do not experience any adverse effects from cannabis use. Many, in fact, experience therapeutic benefits.

Unfortunately, there is a distinct lack of knowledge and understanding of cannabis among States Members, Government and the Health Department in particular. There's a lot of stigma that still surrounds this topic, which disappointingly impedes any discussion of reform.

Let's speak to experts in the field, learn from the experiences of other jurisdictions, and hold an open, evidence-informed debate on our approach to cannabis.

Prohibition does not work. It is a paternalistic and ineffective deterrent that unnecessarily impinges upon our human right to a private life.

One day, we'll look back and realise how mistaken we were to prohibit cannabis in Jersey and criminalise so many people.

It's just a matter of time.

À bétôt et à la préchaine,
The ECPJ Team.