Long-standing United Nations drug conventions are now being challenged at their legal core. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has acknowledged the criminalization of illicit drug users isn’t nearly as effective as treating them through rehabilitation. In a joint statement last summer, the United Nations (UN) and World Health Organization (WHO) expressed their support for countries in the review and repeal of laws that criminalize drug use and possession of drugs for personal use.
Twelve European and Eastern European countries have decriminalized the use and possession of cannabis: Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta and Slovenia. Those possessing or consuming cannabis incur a fine, but no criminal prosecution.
A study by the Adam Smith Institute in the UK argues the growing international “Tide” of mainstream acceptance, understanding and support for legalization of cannabis will ultimately force drug reform in the country. It considers the gradual, steady shift in European and North American sentiment around cannabis a strong suggestion the UK should follow suit in reevaluating its current laws around the plant.
The eight main points outlined in The Tide Effect are:
1. The UK government strategy is based on three main pillars: reducing demand, restricting supply and building recovery. All three are failing.
2. Regulation is substantially more desirable than simple decriminalization or unregulated legalization, because only regulation addresses all four key issues: ensuring that the product meets acceptable standards of quality and purity; removing criminal gangs from the equation as far as possible; raising revenue for the Treasury through point-of-sale taxation, and best protecting public health.
3. The entire language used to address cannabis-related issues needs to change. Language poses a barrier every bit as formidable as legislation does. The opponents of legalization have long been able to reinforce their position by using the words of public fear — ‘illegal,’ ‘criminal’, ‘dangerous’, and so on. Only by using the language of public health, consumer rights and harm reduction, the same language used for alcohol and tobacco, can we move towards regulation.
4. The scale of a legalized industry will be huge. The US market is estimated to be worth $25bn by the time of the next presidential election in 2020. A similarly regulated UK market could be worth around £7bn per annum.
5. Legally regulating cannabis will allow long-term studies of its health effects not currently possible. The effects of both tobacco and alcohol are well understood because of the amount of scientific scrutiny brought to bear on them.
6. Many shifts in public policy are prompted, or at least prodded, by an emotional response on the part of the public. Greater efforts must be made to show that the cannabis issue also has a human aspect to which many people respond.
7. Any campaign to legalize cannabis must be multifaceted, involving public support, media analysis and political engagement.
8. Responsibility for cannabis policy should be moved primarily to the department for Health, while the role of the Home Office should change from enforcement of prohibition to enforcement of regulation and licensing.
The report concludes, “When the question of cannabis law reform does again cross the desks of UK parliamentarians, it must be made clear to them that the status quo is failing, and what solutions the examples of Canada and US states have to offer to remedy this failure – those laid out here in The Tide Effect.”
International Tide Effect
Italy has already demonstrated the Tide Effect on fellow European countries. Italy has evolved its legislation on the recreational use of all drugs since 1993. Italians can grow cannabis for personal use “as long as there is no evidence that the owner is trafficking and the number of plants remains reasonable.”
Drug decriminalization in Uruguay has pushed the Tide over to neighboring Chile, the Latin American country with the highest per capita marijuana use. While all public production and consumption of cannabis is illegal, the country is progressively reforming its drug legislation since 2005. Recent proposals include reconsideration of cannabis as a Class A drug, as well as regulating herb allowed for personal use. Last summer Chilean pharmacies in Santiago began selling cannabis-based medicines.
Influenced by Holland’s welcoming cannabis laws, the Danish neighborhood of Copenhagen appropriately named “Freetown Christiania” declared cannabis consumption and sales legal. Considered the “green light district,” federal laws are not enforced.
Facing billions of dollars in economic despair and observing Colorado’s huge revenue gains from legalized cannabis, the U.S. province of Puerto Rico legalized medical marijuana in July of 2017. Puerto Rican Governor Rosselló Nevares, a scientist before becoming governor of Puerto Rico, understands the value of nature’s arguably most powerful herb to alternative health medicine, and the influence other countries have had in substantiating it.
“As a scientist, I know firsthand the impact that medicinal cannabis has had on patients with various diseases. The time has come for Puerto Rico to join the flow of countries and states that have created similar legislation.”
Some experts with whom I spoke, reference Canadian cannabis progress as an example of how the United States may be influenced by The Tide Effect. Canada is expected to fully legalize cannabis for recreational purposes in the Summer of 2018, but it’s taken 17 years to get there after legalizing medical marijuana in 2001.
“The U.S. is struggling to balance their federal and state laws, whereas countries like Canada have taken a lawfully unified approach to cannabis and cannabinoid molecules that makes working in the regulatory environment safer and more stable,” Boris Weiss, CEO of Medipure Pharmaceuticals, told me in a written interview. “We in Canada arrived at this point with similar state challenges, and ultimately our differences were and are being resolved. I can only expect that the U.S. will stabilize and experience the same process.”
If cannabis legalization and regulation is, in fact, internationally contagious, the condition has spread across borders in the same way the herb originally navigated its way across the globe.
If it does, Canada’s recreational cannabis market opening in July of 2018 might provide just The Tide the United States needs for legislators to make cannabis legal.