Peter Reynolds

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A CLEAR Response To the Liberal Democrats’ Proposals For Cannabis Regulation.

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CLEAR welcomes the Liberal Democrats’ proposals which can be seen here. We set out below a few comments which we intend to be constructive.

We represent more than 600,000 people who support cannabis law reform. Our own publication, ‘How to Regulate Cannabis in Britain’ is now in its second edition.

It is based on independent, expert research which we commissioned from the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit, published as ‘Taxing the UK Cannabis Market’.

Comments on ‘A framework for a regulated market for cannabis in the UK’

1. We support a cautious approach and agree that it is better to start with stricter regulation that could, based on experience, be relaxed at a later date if appropriate.

Spectrum of Cannabis Policy

Spectrum of Cannabis Policy

We reject the diagram ‘Exploring a spectrum of options for regulating cannabis’ which paints an inaccurate picture of the effects of a legal market. Evidence from all jurisdictions that have implemented reform does not support the equivalence of ‘social and health harms’ with ‘ultra prohibition’ and ‘commercial production’. It is absolutely clear that legally regulated commercial production is far less harmful than prohibition.

Essentially, instead of a ‘U’ shaped curve, we consider an ‘L’ shaped curve is more accurate.

2. The diagram indicates a fundamental objection to the commercial model implemented in Colorado, Washington and Oregon and the report explicitly rejects the Colorado model in favour of the Uruguay model.

We disagree with this. The Colorado model is a proven success with virtually no downsides. The Uruguay model is still a theory which is yet to be proven in practice. This conclusion in the report is therefore not evidence-based. This suggests that wider political or philosophical considerations have been allowed to trump existing evidence.

3. We are concerned about the undue weight given to restricting commercial enterprise. The UK is not a socialist economy and there is a danger of a ‘nanny-state’ attitude which we cannot support. We repeat the point that it seems wider political or philosophical considerations have been allowed to prevail over actual evidence. There needs to be a balance between a ‘cautious approach’ as in 1. above and over-regulation which will only result in a continuing criminal market. The UK is a market economy and if the legal market is too strict and rigid, the illegal market will flourish.

4. We have very grave concerns about the cannabis social club (CSC) model which provides significant opportunity for the corruption of those involved into major criminal enterprises with exploitation of both workers and customers. The establishment of such ‘clubs’ is entirely unnecessary given the other more controllable methods of supply and will only lead to diversion and perhaps active marketing of excessive production through criminal networks. In other words, CSCs are a golden opportunity for the emergence of ‘drug pushers’ and they undermine the whole purpose of cautious regulation.

5. We regard the recommendation not to permit the production and marketing of ‘edibles’ as an error. If the other recommendations making raw herbal cannabis legally available are implemented then this will inevitably lead to the production and marketing of unregulated ‘edibles’, undermining the whole purpose of regulation. Far better to learn from the mistakes already made in excessively potent ‘edible’ products and introduce appropriate regulations with reduced dosages.

If anything, ‘edibles’ need regulation far more urgently than the raw product because of the potential for very unpleasant overdosing. To abrogate responsibility for this is an extremely unwise proposal and inconsistent with the whole basis for a regulated market.

6. We would encourage a more positive and supportive approach to enable producer countries such as Morocco, the Lebanon, Pakistan and Afghanistan to supply varieties of cannabis resin and hashish. Encouraging such trade under strict regulation will further undermine criminal activity and offers great potential for better relations and positive ‘soft power’ influence on these countries. We recognise the difficulties involved in this with regard to the UN conventions but consider it is a prize worth working towards.

7. For the same reasons set out above we consider that a refusal to regulate concentrates and vapouriser products undermines the whole purpose of a regulated market. Vapouriser products are almost certainly going to be an important component of the medical cannabis market. These nettles must be grasped. To avoid them is irresponsible.

8. We would argue for far more emphasis on harm reduction information, particularly about smoking and avoiding mixing cannabis with tobacco. As in 7. above, we would actively promote the choice of vapouriser products.

9. In principle we agree with the proposal for three levels of THC content and for minimum CBD content. However, there is no evidence to support the necessity for CBD content as high as 4%. The evidence suggests that levels of 1% or 2% adequately meet the desirable ‘entourage’ effects of CBD. Furthermore, at these levels, existing strains are available. Little consideration has been given to the practicalities of developing three new strains to meet the THC:CBD ratios proposed. To develop such strains and ensure they are stable and consistent is the work of several years, requiring significant investment and so undermines the ability to implement these proposals in timely fashion.

10. We consider that the ‘plain packaging’ proposal is unnecessarily restrictive in the UK’s market economy. We agree with child proof containers but would recommend that far more emphasis is given to content and harm reduction labelling. There is nothing to be gained from restricting the marketing and commercial enterprise of companies wishing to develop brands and packaging styles within strict regulations.

11. For reasons already set out we consider that the restrictions on exterior and interior retailer environments are oppressive and will be self-defeating. The UK is not accustomed to such overbearing and anti-business regulation. Existing pharmacies do not operate under such heavy restrictions and they make significant use of point-of-sale and merchandising techniques.

Overall, we welcome this document and the proposals it contains. One final point that is of significance is that clearly there was no ‘consumer’ representation on the panel and this is obvious in some of the tone and detail of the report. We recommend that account should be taken of consumer opinion in any future development of the proposals.

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