Saturday, 28 April 2012

Is it time for Brighton, the liberal, tolerant, tourist capital of Europe, to legalise the cannabis cafe?

Well it finally seems all over for the Dutch 'coffee shop'. A judge has ruled that a proposed ban on non-Dutch tourists smoking cannabis in coffee shops is not discriminatory against foreigners - so the ban will come into effect across the country by the end of the year.

Some coffee shop owners in Amsterdam are already warning that the ban will cost them up to 90% of their takings - and could force them to close their doors for good.

It means that the third of tourists visiting Amsterdam to smoke cannabis legally will almost certainly stay away - and tourist numbers visiting the city will fall dramatically. Other attractions, as well as bars, restaurants and hotels, will see reduced visitor numbers as a result.

It's not just the tourist industry that will be affected - the move will also mean that Dutch residents wishing to buy cannabis will be forced to buy their 'weed' from less regulated suppliers, leading to a likely upsurge in hard drug use.

That in turn is likely to lead to increased health and policing costs for everyone - and taxes will have to rise foot the bill.

These arguments have been hashed (sorry) about both in the law courts and, perhaps more importantly, the 'courts' of public opinion.

The mayor of Amsterdam Eberhard van der Laan is opposed to the law, which is the brainchild of the national Conservative-led Government. Some have even suggested it's part of a bigger political plot designed to bankrupt Amsterdam and force residents to vote Conservative to 'save the city'.

That seems a little far-fetched to me, but it does create a great opportunity for a tourist city like Brighton and Hove to replace Amsterdam as the liberal tourist's destination of choice: think of all the millions our shops and hotels would make if all those tourists being turned away from Amsterdam by the Dutch Tories came here to spend their holiday cash instead!

Of course, in Brighton and Hove, we know only too well the damage that the current drug policy of complete criminalisation of drug use is causing rather than seeing it as a health issue. Recently Caroline Lucas MP and the city’s top cop, Graham Bartlett called for decriminalisation of drug use and for good reasons. We frequently have the unwelcome title of the drug death capital of England with the highest drug death rate per capita of any city. Most of these deaths are from abuse of hard addictive drugs such as heroin.  Interestingly, pioneering trials of giving heroin addicts injectable heroin rather than methadone are already taking place in Brighton and Hove: they are already reducing deaths and other negative health impacts from heroin use in the city.

Perhaps it's time to extend this sort of lateral thinking to the use of soft drugs too? Cannabis use can be harmful, but all analysis shows that it's much less likely to harm you than, say, driving a car, or crossing a road. The effects, like those from taking any drug, vary from personal to person - but most ill-effects are as a result of the tobacco it's usually consumed with.

NHS analysis has showed that there has never been  single death caused by the ill-effects of smoking cannabis alone - compared to thousands on our roads.

While there are cases of less serious ill health caused by cannabis these are best dealt with, professionals say, by bringing the use of cannabis 'into the open'.

So what about it? Brighton, the liberal, tolerant, tourist capital of Europe?

I think these questions are worth asking - and urgently: for the sake of our tourist industry and the health and wellbeing of those living in and visiting our city. Nonetheless I expect to be misunderstood so I predict the following headline soon: Green Councilllor calls for Brighton to be the Pot Capital of Europe'.


  1. I'm not against people smoking dope but I have known people lose their mental balance and develop psychosis from it. Skunk in particular seems to have a negative affect on certain individuals. The fact that nobody has denied outright from it doesn't mean it is not harmful.

    As for Brighton replacing Amsterdam - why? Our tourist industry seems to be doing okay.

    1. There is actually no firm evidence that would stand up to true scientific scrutiny confirming the link between cannabis and psychosis at all despite the hundreds of research projects specifically designed to prove that very point. The only possible evidence is from a study in rats in which individual rats who were administered large doses of only THC only (not the other constituents of cannabis such as CBD which is in fact known to have anti-psychotic effects) from birth right throughout their adult life were marginally more disposed to psychosis. Hence in any official report the wording is something along the lines of: those who smoke cannabis who are already disposed to mental issues MAY have an increased risk of psychosis. In fact a 2009 study of 5000 cannabis users in 1st world countries showed they actually had a lower rate of psychosis than the total population. I would hypothesize that the phenomenon you are observing is people who unknowingly already have a mental issue seeking to self medicate and resorting to cannabis as a way of controlling their anxiety, depression etc.
      As a biological engineer I would also like to confirm for you that there is no difference between skunk and cannabis. They are the same species and the differences between them are no greater than the ones between you and I. Contrary to common beliefs skunk is not genetically engineered nor is there any evidence to suggest it is more harmful than any other strain. The only comparison one could correctly make is that as less skunk needs to be smoked to get the same effect it is in fact a healthier product owing to the reduced amount of carcinogens entering the lungs.
      I realize you are just regurgitating what you have been told but without actually seeing the evidence your self you cannot be sure of what you have been told and by re-posting others lies or over-exaggerations you simply confuse the whole debate and muddy the waters.

  2. Thanks Rob - both really good points.

    Part of the problem with current legal position of blanket criminalisation is that it doesn't distinguish between strong 'skunk' and weaker varieties of weed and hash. Skunk could, of course, still be banned from coffee shops, as would be, for example, crack cocaine.

    And as for the tourist industry doing ok - the Tourism Alliance seem to be warning that the end is nigh: these ideas are meant to explore ways of helping them!

  3. I lived in Holland for a while, in Delft, where there were a couple of dope cafes. They sold everything from weak grass to strong skunk. Amongst the locals, dope use is probably less than in the UK. According to my Dutch colleagues, most kids try it and most find it boring and don't bother with it any more. They think of it as a hippy thing.

    Personally I would prefer tourists arriving in Brighton to chill out in dope cafes than to them getting trashed on alcohol and fighting.

    Dope cafes are normally very discreet back-street places. A couple of them dotted around the North Laines or Kemptown would be okay. Nobody would notice they were there.

    It's unlikely to happen because the UK is not yet ready to go that far in decriminalisation.

    Also, I suspect that if you want to wrestle the tourists away from Amsterdam, you would also have to provide a red-light district.

    But the reason they have banned them in Holland is to try and stop the wholesale trade; people driving across the borders and loading up with kilos of the stuff. I would have thought that they could have controlled that in different ways, just by limiting the amount people can buy.

    In fact, their ban won't stop the wholesale trade because the supply lines are in place and people will just pick up from somewhere else.

  4. Why don't we try taking a completely new approach to cannabis? Around three million people in Britain are regular users and whatever we do we're not going to be able to stop them.

    We waste billions every year on police, court and prison resources when a large proportion of society uses cannabis without any problem at all. In fact, the only real problem with cannabis is that it's illegal.

    The risks to health are very small - much, much less than alcohol or tobacco. By a recent analysis of mortality, hospital admissions, toxicity and propensity to psychosis, cannabis is nearly 3000 times safer than alcohol. Why not introduce a tax and regulate system and realise the benefits?

    That way we'd have a properly regulated supply chain with no criminals involved, no theft of electricity, no human trafficking, no destruction of property and disruption of neighbourhoods. Then there would be some control over this huge market. There would be thousands of new jobs, sales would be from licensed outlets to adults only with guaranteed quality and safety. Then our police could start going after some real wrongdoing instead of trying to fight a crime that exists only because of a misguided government policy.

    Also, very importantly, science now proves that cannabis is one of the safest and most effective medicines for a wide range of conditions. While the government promotes the lie that "there is no medicinal value in cannabis", it has granted an unlawful monopoly to GW Pharmaceuticals to grow 20 tonnes a year for, you guessed it, medicine!

    Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR) published independent research on 14th September 2011 that shows a cannabis tax and regulate regime would provide a net gain to the UK exchequer of £6.7 billion per annum as well as reducing all health and social harms.

    The only thing that keeps the present absurd status quo in place is weak politicians corrupted by Big Booze and the GW Pharma monopoly.

    Go to the CLEAR website for full details:

  5. Re 'The Engineer'

    "I realize you are just regurgitating what you have been told but without actually seeing the evidence your self you cannot be sure of what you have been told and by re-posting others lies or over-exaggerations you simply confuse the whole debate and muddy the waters."

    I'm not regurgitating anything. I'm talking from my own long experience. I have known several people who became psychotic from smoking strong cannabis; some of them were hospitalized and were never sane again. And they weren't 'self-medicating' - they were young people wanting to get high.

    I started smoking dope when I was 14; I am now 54, so I think I have evidence to make my own judgements.

    Apart from that, I agree with everything Peter Reynolds has to say on the matter.

    1. No you still don't understand, how do you think you have found evidence of cannabis causing psychosis when that evidence has eluded the medical industry? Your friends lost their minds because they were always going to. Saying cannabis is the reason is incorrect and un-scientific. Many people lose their mind and many smoke cannabis but if someone who smokes cannabis loses their mind it can only be because of the cannabis??? I think you will find sir that you are incorrect. Trust me as someone who works in the medical industry if cannabis did cause psychosis we would have direct evidence of it. Much to the politicians dismay no such evidence exists, so in the meantime would you persist from perpetuating the lie that cannabis causes psychosis.

    2. Mental health issues have a massive impact on those effected, their families and all of us. An argument against legalising cannabis is that it triggers schizophrenia in some people. Yet the normal trigger for schizophrenia is a traumatic event or massive stress, if it can be triggered at all. Schizophrenia is not triggered in most people that use Cannabis. So why the connection? Is it just coincidence?
      If we look at the evidence of alcohol prohibition in the US, supply was polluted and different forms of alcohol were sold. A drinker did not know what was being bought and poisonings were common. A similar thing is happening with the supply of cannabis in the UK. Supply has many contaminates either though poor production or malicious intent. These contaminate must cause massive physical stress and as such could be a factor in triggering mental health problems in some people.
      Another reason to look at our experience with alcohol is the education that happens within society. Compared to controlled drugs the average person in the UK understands alcohol and how to use it safely. Having a glass of wine with your children over a meal is a good way to introduce young people to alcohol. Giving the parent the opportunity to show their children safe use. And for the child to be able to learn within a safe environment. This does not happen with cannabis. Young people discovering drugs will not share their experiences. They may choose to use drugs in a way that would be harmful not matter how safe the substance. No one says you go psychotic using cannabis over night. Yet signs of concern are missed as any usage will be hidden from those around who might have the experience to help
      Our policy of prohibition, thinking we can prevent use, is preventing experiences being shared, lessons being learned and safe guards put in place. Prohibition and the law is a greater cause of metal health problems than cannabis, alienating those very people who need help.

    3. And when i say evidence i mean scientific evidence not anecdotal!

  6. Certain things are almost impossible to prove using standard medical methods because it would be unethical to do so.

    My feeling is that there are certain people who have a propensity to mental disorder and that taking powerful psychotropic drugs can trigger an episode. You wouldn't deny that with a drug like LSD would you, then why not admit that persistent use of powerful strains of cannabis could cause a similar reaction in certain vulnerable individuals?

    That is why I am in favour of it being legalised, so that it becomes a health and education issue rather than a criminal one.

    Powerful drugs have powerful effects, which is why people take them. All humans have differing constitutions which make them more or less susceptible to different agents: I know people who can drink a bottle of whiskey and not blink.

    It is not a lie to point out that certain drugs are dangerous for certain people.

    And as for your claim that my friends would have developed psychosis anyway, you simply have no evidence for that statement.

    Claiming special privilege because you work in the 'medical industry' is also a logical fallacy.

  7. You wouldn't deny that with a drug like LSD would you - It doesn't matter what the drug is, it matters what the evidence is.
    Things are almost impossible to prove using standard medical methods because it would be unethical to do so - This is incorrect no medication in the last 50 years has been allowed to go on sale without being proved using medical methods.
    It is not a lie to point out that certain drugs are dangerous for certain people - It is if those drugs are not dangerous.
    And as for your claim that my friends would have developed psychosis anyway, you simply have no evidence for that statement - there is more evidence for it than against it.
    Claiming special privilege because you work in the 'medical industry' is also a logical fallacy - I am not trying to gain special privilege I just wanted you to know that I am knowledgeable in this field so that you might listen to me as someone who knows rather than someone who thinks they know.....

  8. I don't see it as contentious that any psychotropic drug could cause unwanted consequences either given in the wrong dose or to a vulnerable individual? Drug-induced psychosis is a well-known phenomenon, not just in Western medicine but amongst 'native people' who use drugs for ritual, magical, and other purposes.

    It is just common wisdom to steer away from things that don't agree with you.

    If you are knowledgeable in your field, I will deduce that from your reasoning and evidence, not because you tell me you are ;)

    I am knowledgeable in my field but many people disagree with my opinions.

  9. If you were saying it Could i would have no problem. My issue lies with you saying it Does when there is no evidence to support that claim. And make sure you are not getting drug induced psychosis (ie losing your mind due to drugs) muddled up with a drug induced psychosis (otherwise known as the high or a trip). It is also a mistake to mix up opinions with evidence based fact.

  10. Here's some facts and evidence about cannabis and mental health:

  11. I am saying 'could' and never said 'does'. Drug induced psychosis is typically a transient thing and sometimes is what people are looking for and enjoy.

    All I am saying is that powerful drugs can make some people paranoid and psychotic. If they don't recognise those symptoms for what they are and carry on taking those drugs, for whatever reason - peer pressure, escapism, depression, whatever - the symptoms can become long-lasting and may require medical intervention to sort out.

    Strong cannabis is not a special case.

    Like I say, I would like it to be legalised and graded by its THC potency.

  12. Well look i cant really be bothered anymore but you did say: "I have known people lose their mental balance and develop psychosis from it. Skunk in particular seems to have a negative affect on certain individuals. I have known several people who became psychotic from smoking strong cannabis; some of them were hospitalized and were never sane again." I maybe wrong and im sorry if i am but in my mind this seems like you are saying it does...

  13. The argument that cannabis use has negative aspects on mental health is a strong one, but one that misses the point. If did not recalibrate our mental bearings in some way there would be little point in indulging.

    The important questions are does prohibition (1) deter use, (2) reduce drug related crime and (3) promote individual freedom. The answer is a resounding NO on all 3.

    Point 3 is particular important; individuals should be free to explore and test limits so long as they do minimal damage to others; this holds under a liberalization regime more than it does under a prohibition regime (due to drug related crime being less under the former).

    Like most things in life there will be casualties and these would best be minimized by an enlightened program of liberalization, education and support (funded by tax revenues).

    Finally I am constantly amused by the general sort of people (not aimed at anyone on this blog) who favor prohibition, they tend to have very liberal views on such matters as employment legislation and 'elf and safety; they want such legislation expunged from the statute book.

    As a blight on society nothing quite compares with the ravages inflicted by advocates of neo-con economic dogma (even though most of them, Thatcher especially, misunderstood Hayek, who at the end of his career, at Frankfurt University, admitted that the German Social Market Model got it about right). And it is still going on.

    I support the motion to legalize.

  14. @richard Yep. There are powerful medicines that should be ingested with care. Is there anything that should be prohibited?

  15. @richard They're okay so long as you don't inhale.

  16. On the evidence nothing should be prohibited. It's not the best way to reduce harm, regulation is. Maybe a licence system on all drugs to ensure understanding and to target help. Alienation and criminalisation does not help anyone other than Al Capone.

  17. Ben, I have emailed you at your Council email address about campaign ideas to generate democratic legitimacy for your ideas and to mobilise the youth vote in support of them. If you can find the time, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

    A fellow local Green Party member...Steve Peake

  18. What will it take to make this happen and how can I help?