UK-Commissioned Report Urges Regulated Market to Replace Cannabis Prohibition

Report from the UK says cannabis prohibition should endReport from the UK says cannabis prohibition should endA report on cannabis prepared for next year’s UN drug policy review will suggest that a “regulated market” would cause less harm than the current international prohibition. The report, which is likely to reopen the debate about cannabis laws, suggests that controls such as taxation, minimum age requirements and labeling could be explored. The Global Cannabis Commission report, which was launched Thursday at a conference in the House of Lords, has reached conclusions which its authors suggest “challenge the received wisdom concerning cannabis”. It was carried out for the Beckley foundation, a UN-accredited NGO, for the 2009 UN strategic drug policy review.
There are, according to the report, now more than 160 million users of the drug worldwide. “Although cannabis can have a negative impact on health, including mental health, in terms of relative harms it is considerably less harmful than alcohol or tobacco,” according to the report. “Historically, there have only been two deaths worldwide attributed to cannabis, whereas alcohol and tobacco together are responsible for an estimated 150,000 deaths per annum in the UK alone.”

The report, compiled by a group of scientists, academics and drug policy experts, suggests that much of the harm associated with cannabis use is “the result of prohibition itself, particularly the social harms arising from arrest and imprisonment.” Policies that control cannabis, whether draconian or liberal, appear to have little impact on the prevalence of consumption, it concluded.

“In an alternative system of regulated availability, market controls such as taxation, minimum age requirements, labeling and potency limits are available to minimize the harms associated with cannabis use,” said the report. It claimed that only through a regulated market could young people be protected from the increasingly potent forms of cannabis, such as skunk. It is intended that the report will form a blueprint for nations seeking to develop a “more rational and effective approach to the control of cannabis”. The authors suggest there is evidence that “the current system of cannabis regulation is not working, and … there needs to be a serious rethink if we are to minimize the harms caused by cannabis use.”

Last night, the report was welcomed by drug law reform organizations. “The Beckley foundation are to be congratulated for the clarity of their call for cannabis supply to be brought within government control,” said Danny Kushlick of Transform. “We look forward to the same analysis being applied to heroin and cocaine.”

The report is being launched at a two-day conference, which will be attended by leading figures in the drugs policy world. The conclusions are unlikely to be embraced by the government or the Conservative party, both of which are opposed to relaxing restrictions on cannabis use.

– Article from Guardian, Thursday October 2nd

Find more information at

The Beckley Foundation Global Cannabis Commission

The United Nations Strategic Drug Policy Review

In 1998, the international community agreed a 10-year programme of activity for the control of illegal drug use and markets. These agreements were made at a United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) held in New York in June of that year, and a commitment was made to review progress in 2008. Clearly, the international community will not be able to report unequivocal success in anti-drug programmes at this review (to be held in 2009), as drugs are purer, cheaper, and more widely available than ever before.

The laws themselves are often enforced in an arbitrary fashion, leading to discrimination against oppressed minorities. Nowhere is this more evident than with cannabis, used by a conservatively estimated 160 million people worldwide. There is increasing disagreement between governments on the appropriate policies to adopt. It is therefore essential that the process of review in 2009 be as transparent as possible, and that experts from the field have the maximum opportunity to engage with the government officials and politicians who will ultimately decide on future directions.

The History of Cannabis Use and Prohibition

Cannabis came under the control of the international narcotics treaties as an afterthought, in an era when use of the drug was confined to relatively small groups in a scattering of cultures. In the last half-century, the situation has been transformed. Smoking or other use of cannabis has become a part of youth culture in country after country. To serve this demand, huge international and national illicit markets have arisen. Strenuous efforts to enforce prohibition by policing and by quasi-military operations against illicit growing and sale have largely failed in their principal objective.

Meanwhile, the efforts in themselves create substantial anguish and social harms. In the United States, about three-quarters of a million citizens are arrested every year for cannabis possession, and arrest figures are also high elsewhere.

While rigorous enforcement of the conventions without consideration of alternative paths continues in many countries, elsewhere penalties and enforcement have diminished de-facto or in law. Substantive change is hindered however by a rigid international system of regulation, which is often out of touch with the realities.

The Global Cannabis Commission

The Cannabis Commission is an international group of academics and experts in drug policy analysis, commissioned by the Beckley Foundation to produce a Report on cannabis policy in a global perspective. The Report will be finished by September 2008, in time to be taken into account in the global debate on drug policies in connection with the 2009 UNGASS evaluation. It will provide a comprehensive overview of the evidence that a policymaker at the national or international level will need to know in considering how to move beyond the present stalemate on cannabis policy.

This report will include:

– an opening chapter giving an overview of the global history of cannabis in recent decades, touching on patterns and trends in use and the cultural politics of cannabis, and laying out the plan for the rest of the book;

– an up-to-date review of what is known about the health consequences of cannabis use. This includes harms to physical and mental health, and performance effects, such as on driving. The extent of danger of cannabis is considered in a public health perspective, in a comparative frame with harms from other drugs – tobacco, alcohol, opiates, etc;

– the evidence on the effects of the current system of prohibition and control, including the size and organization of the illicit cannabis market, the costs and effectiveness of efforts to eliminate the market through police and criminal justice systems, and the effects of criminalization on users and their families;

– a review of policy initiatives at national and sub-national levels of reform within the international prohibition system intended to mitigate adverse effects. These include initiatives to decriminalize cannabis possession, to reduce penalties for use or possession, to divert to treatment or other handling, and to license and tolerate use, such as with the Dutch coffee shop system;

– an assessment of the effects of reforms within the system. The available evidence is summarized on the effects of different reforms on amount and patterns of use and harm, and on secondary adverse consequences of arrest and other enforcement;

– a review of the potential means for altering the present international convention status of cannabis, to allow controlled availability for adult use in national or sub-national regulatory regimes. While there are a variety of possible paths available for an individual country or a group of nations, primary attention is given to those most likely to be feasible in terms of norms of international law and of political realities. The chapter includes consideration of concrete provisions in a possible new Convention on cannabis, on the model of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control;

– a final chapter drawing conclusions and making recommendations on possible paths forward, towards more effective and just policies on cannabis, at both national and international levels.

To help maximise the impact and awareness of the report, we are proposing to convene a group of International Notables who will endorse the Conclusions and Recommendations, thereby adding gravitas to the Commissioners’ findings.

The Cannabis Commission Report is to be published as a book by the Oxford University Press, to ensure that its impact is as widespread as possible. Besides this book, the principal findings of the Report will be collated in a separate document, together with the Conclusions and Recommendations , which will provide an accessible summary from which policymakers may inform themselves.

We believe that this Report with its Conclusions and Recommendations , could serve as a blueprint for the development of future evidence-based drug policies. We therefore hope that its analysis and its findings will reach as large an audience as possible, and that, in due course, a more beneficent cannabis policy may be developed.

This project has been convened by Amanda Neidpath,
Director of the Beckley Foundation

The Global Cannabis Commission Report Launch & Assessing International Drug Control- Preparations for UNGASS 2008

House of Lords, Westminster Palace, London 2nd & 3rd October, 2008

This seminar will see the launch of the Beckley Foundation’s Global Cannabis Commission Report on the first day, and a high-level review of preparations for the UNGASS Review of Global Drug Policy in 2009 on the second. We have confirmed the attendance of a select group of experts, academics and policymakers from around the world, including representatives from the UN, EU and WHO. With such a high-powered array of participants, chairs and speakers, we look forward to a well-informed and productive debate of the current drug policy dilemmas facing policymakers.

The Cannabis Commission Report has been authored by a group of the world’s leading drug policy analysts. The seminar’s first day will see these authors present their findings to the public, followed by further presentations on, and a wider discussion of the cannabis issue. The second day involves presentations on some of the high-level policy reports that will help inform policymakers in the build up to and during the UNGASS review. This will be followed by a debate on the position Europe should be taking in this UNGASS review.

Attendance at the seminar is by invitation only. If you would like to attend, please contact the Beckley Foundation.

Principles Underlying the Beckley Foundation Drug Policy Programme

That the current global drug control mechanism, (as enshrined in the three United Nations Conventions of 1961, 1971 and 1988), is not achieving the core objective of significantly reducing the scale of the market for controlled substances, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and cannabis.

That the negative side-effects of the implementation of this system may themselves be creating significant social problems.

That reducing the harm faced by the many individuals who use drugs, including the risk of infections, such as Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS, is not a sufficiently high priority in international policies and programmes.

That there is a growing body of evidence regarding which policies and activities are (and are not) effective in reducing drug use and associated health and social problems, and that this evidence is not sufficiently taken into account in current policy discussions, which continue to be dominated by ideological considerations.

That the current dilemmas in international drug policy can only be resolved through an honest review of progress so far, a better understanding of the complex factors that create widespread drug use, and a commitment to pursue policies that are effective.

That analysis of future policy options is unlikely to produce a clear ‘correct’ policy – what may be appropriate in one setting or culture may be less so in another. In addition, there are likely to be trade-offs between policy objectives (i.e. to reduce overall drug use or to reduce drug-related crime) that may be viewed differently in different countries.

That future policy should be grounded on a scientifically based scale of harm for all social drugs. This should involve a continuous review of scientific and sociological evidence of the biological harm, toxicity, mortality and dependency; the relation to violent behaviour; the relation to crime; the costs to the health services; the general impact on others; and the total economic impact of the use of each individual drug on society.