It seems unfathomable now but way back in 2010 there were, on occasion, quirky stories in the press that perplexed or delighted in equal measure. Some would be whimsical…
KITTEN COMPLETES RUBIKS CUBE IN WORLD RECORD TIME. GIVES ZERO F’S.
While others would be a bit mad…
NOEL EDMONDS CONFIRMS HE IS 78% LION.
Back before the spewing circus of bile that constitutes our present news-feeds, these little wonders were attributed in media circles to “slow news days”.
Presumably then, this accounts for the bizarre corner of the internet that rock god and Botox prototype, Mick Jagger found himself in. The balloon-lipped relic spoke candidly, and rather discourteously, of using the Isle of Man as a litmus test for drug decriminalisation and nobody thought much else of it. Fast forward the best part of a decade and now, it doesn’t seem so crazy at all.
The Manx Hemp Association are now in existence, a petition on change.org has garnered over 1500 signatures calling to legalise cannabis for medical and recreational use while some of our leading politicians have already voiced their support. Our small yet progressive Island will have a public consultation before the end of 2018 on the medical use of marijuana.
There has been a global shift in people’s attitudes toward marijuana in recreational form too. Canada and Uruguay have legalised it entirely, several US states have permitted sales and consumption whilst the likes of South Africa have recently allowed personal farming of the drug. Comedian Bill Hicks once pondered “Doesn’t the idea of making nature against the law seem to you a bit…unnatural?”
The world is starting to think that way and maybe our Island is too. Gef investigates…
Are we stretching police resources for petty crime?
Recently, IOM Chief Constable Gary Roberts tweeted that, for the first time ever, drug offences were the most prevalent type of crime recorded on Island.
Of those drug offences, approximately 60% were for marijuana possession. This highlights the hard graft of our police officers but also, arguably, constitutes a waste in resource which could be much better served elsewhere.
Roberts has previously called for a “scientifically-based debate on drugs and drugs law” and what would constitute a pragmatic approach to possession. The hope would be to cut administrative costs to an already overstretched budget, to free up police time for other areas and to prevent the tarnishing of individuals who enter the criminal system.
This bone of contention has been gnawed on by our political powers on many occasions. Back in 2014, our then Chief Minister Alan Bell suggested the link between drug use and criminality was skewed and in fact, an unfair one – “The vast majority of people who do drugs do it recreationally and should not be considered criminals”.
Things have been moving politically in more recent times. The IOM Government has produced its official ‘Substance Misuse Strategy’ outlined for 2018-2023 as part of a 5 year plan. In it they speak of reviewing the evidence “for the clinical effectiveness of medical cannabis” as well as to “undertake an evidence-based review on decriminalising small amounts of cannabis for personal use, based on experience elsewhere” and, crucially, “both reviews will include evidence of the health benefits and health harms and the findings will become part of the wider debate to inform future policy and strategy”.
What are the benefits?
Researchers still haven’t conducted enough in-depth research on the benefits of medical marijuana but there is an acceptance – to varying degrees – that it can be beneficial. Cannabis oils are now available in most British pharmacies and they are said to reduce anxiety, stress and also improve sleep patterns. The recent case of 12-year-old Billy Caldwell proves unequivocally the necessary medical impact of higher strain cannabis oil. The young Northern Irishman was left fighting for his life after his treatment for his severe epilepsy was seized. Thankfully this was soon overturned and went some way to raising the profile of medical cannabis. Just a few days ago, the UK Government announced specialist doctors can prescribe medical marijuana as from 1 November 2018. Perhaps as important as the legislation is the fact it does not limit the types of conditions that can be deemed worthy of such treatment. Doctors also now have autonomy to make the call themselves rather than seeking approval from a panel of experts.
A Harvard study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found all chronic pain patients who used medical marijuana saw a reduction in pain levels. There is an increased appreciation for cannabis as an alternative to far more damaging drugs such as opioids. There is evidence that proposes prescribing medical marijuana can reduce side effects of other stronger pain relief and act as a far less addictive pain substitute for cancer, chronic pain, sleep deprivation, multiple sclerosis, depression and anxiety.
Harvard Medical School also found that whilst medical marijuana was not strong enough for many severe pain cases, it acted as a muscle relaxant and lessened tremors for sufferers of Parkinson’s disease. There is also a promising area of research commencing from them in the use of CBD for helping PTSD suffering veterans when returning from combat zones.
It is still early days but now the stigma is being alleviated, funding for further research should be much easier to come by and then, its full impact can be quantified.
If the Island decriminalises or legalises recreational cannabis use, there is potential for an injection of much-needed revenue to the Island. Tax revenue allied to increased employment opportunities and tourist appeal could revitalise us economically. We could be the Amsterdam of the British Isles! Then, perhaps, our kooky little quirks will make a bit more sense to befuddled tourists.
The Health Poverty Action group issued a report earlier this year which suggested legalising cannabis could earn the UK Treasury between £1bn and £3.5bn a year in tax revenue. This is all proportional for our little Isle of course, but it’s hard not to be enticed by the pound signs. It’s also difficult not to picture a bleary-eyed Scrooge McDuck, lolling about upon his raft of gold, quacking incessantly about a crippling need for Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough. Or maybe that’s just me…
In what seems like an outrageously progressive move, in 2001, Portugal became the first – and still only – country to decriminalise all drugs. At the time, the country was undergoing an opioid crisis, a serious HIV problem and an overstretched police force dealt with Europe’s highest drug crime rates. The results have been staggering. Now, the focus is on educating and rehabilitating rather than punishment. With decriminalisation, offenders were given warnings, fines or offered treatment or a gateway into the support services system. This was about a cultural shift in how a populace sees drug addiction and drugs themselves. The shifting rhetoric from junkies, thieves, ne’er’do wells to troubled souls or those who used for solely recreational use in small quantities. The global war on drugs has been an exorbitantly expensive war, one in which taxpayers would fork out on a cyclical loop of chaos that would seemingly never end. Maybe this war has created a tantalising appeal – a rebellious urge due to the forbidden nature of illegal narcotics. Portugal’s theory was borne from desperation; a country at its lowest ebb and their philosophy is that drugs only become a problem when the individual experienced major disruption to their lives due to their use.
The Doctor who pioneered this innovation was Dr. Joao Goulao who said “The biggest effect (of criminalisation) has been to allow the stigma of drug addiction to fall, to let people speak clearly and to pursue professional help without dear”.
This is the world’s most extreme example of progressive drug policy change but it raises some interesting points about the conversation of drugs and how, if we change the nature of that dialogue, we may be able to help reduce drug addiction or abuse. The aforementioned Substance Abuse Report made for damning reading and reiterated the need for education on the dangers of drugs. The Island’s death rate from drug misuse was proportionally higher than England’s – 8.5 deaths from 100,000 people between 2013 and 2015. In 2015, Portugal had a ratio of 3 deaths per 1 million people. Education is needed, in some form.
What are the risks?
Marijuana has, during various studies, shown it can have negative impacts on the brain. A study from New Zealand conducted at Duke University showed people who smoked marijuana heavily in their teens and continued to do so into adulthood lost an average of 8 IQ points between the ages of 13 and 38. So that explains flat earth theorists…
Another study between twins showed a significant decline in general knowledge and verbal ability between pre-teen and early adulthood but there was no overt difference found between the twins when one used marijuana and one did not. This suggests the decline in IQ by weed users may be caused by other facts such as environment or just being a bit thick.
There have been suggestions it can cause the very thing it seeks to vanquish: Anxiety, panic attacks, depression, poor motivation and insomnia. There is certainly cause for concern, particularly when the World Psychiatric Association did conclude after a study of over 50,000 Swedish army conscripts, those who had tried cannabis by age 18 were 2.4 times more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than those who had not.
The flipside to this is with government regulation; there would be an expectation on limiting strength and purity so as not to produce harmful strains. But the concern must be considered. Again, studies into this are sporadic and not detailed enough at this stage.
Marijuana has often been given the moniker of “the gateway drug”. That being, the drug that will ensure once you take it, you desire a stronger hit and end up going full-on Trainspotting, mate. Whilst there should be a cautious approach here if we are talking about full legalisation, I don’t suspect there would be many of the public who would decry medical marijuana at the very least being legalised. Any help cancer, mental health or chronic pain sufferers can get must surely be welcomed; particularly when it is in a natural, non-synthesised form.
The counter-argument to the gateway argument is the simple act of legalisation removes that connection with the dark underbelly of society. With no dodgy crackhead to engage with, maybe there’s no need to pick up the crackpipe? Ultimately, if the market is regulated, the IOM Government would have control over age restrictions and the drug concentration. The criminal in the chain is cut out entirely thus removing a temptation to move on to harder, more dangerous drugs.
Would we become the Amsterdam of the British Isles? Would this lead us down a path of degradation and reckless amorality like some form of Hunter S Thompson dystopian hellscape? Some may be concerned that this would be the first step in tarnishing our beautiful emerald isle and sullying its fine name. The reality one would hope is, if managed correctly, it could prove to be both a progressive and pragmatic move towards helping those in medical need whilst simultaneously kick-starting our economy.
Ultimately, this is all hypothetical. At present, this is at a consultation stage for medical marijuana only. Anything further than that is speculative. We’re talking about seismic political change. And seismic political change is a show-off, a topless rock star swinging their mic and diving headfirst into the adoring crowd’s sweaty adulation. Yet we’re not there. Far from it. It is the behind the scenes work in reports, research, consultations, meetings, debates and engagement that do the unselfish work. This is the rhythm section: corduroy and bespectacled, methodical and focused. And that’s where we’re at.
Effective change moves at a glacial pace and time will tell if this hot topic ever lights up…