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Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Posts Tagged ‘Volteface

‘Gone To Pot’ Shows How Close We Are To Legalisation. Now We Just Need To Deal With The Scaremongering.

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It seems we really are on a roll now.  The cannabis campaign has gained momentum over the last five or six six years more than ever before.  It’s snowballing, the rate of progress is accelerating.

What’s made this happen? It’s recognition of the benefits that cannabis offers.  It certainly isn’t because of some crazy idea that if we exaggerate and overstate its harms, suddenly the government will recognises that legal regulation makes it safer.  No, that flawed idea has nothing to do with the fact that we are now getting very close to the change we seek – even here in backwards, bigoted Britain.

There are more and more reports of real medical benefits and also of less dramatic but very real help with conditions such as insomnia, anxiety and stress.  It’s this that is changing minds, not scaremongering and fake data from the charlatans in the ‘cannabis therapy’ business.  Sadly this is the path that Volteface, the new drug policy group, has chosen to take with its ‘Street Lottery’ report.  It’s not the first of course, Transform has also followed this misguided path but at least, unlike the newcomers, it has real credentials in campaigning for reform.

Of course, legal regulation will make the cannabis market safer for everyone but the real dangers are not of young people developing psychosis after bingeing on so-called ‘skunk’ – the actual numbers are tiny – but of the harms caused by prohibition.  It is the criminal market that means cannabis is easily available to children and no age limits can be enforced.  It is the criminal market that means nobody knows what they are buying: how strong is it, is it contaminated, has it been properly grown, does it contain any CBD? It is the criminal market that leads to violence, street dealing even involving young children, dangerous hidden grows that are serious fire risks, human trafficking and modern slavery and, of course, profits on the £6 billion per annum market being diverted into ever more dangerous criminal activities.

ITV and the production company Betty have done an enormous amount of good for our campaign and for the whole of Britain in bringing a balanced, rational, honest exposition of cannabis to our TV screens.  This series showed quite clearly how beneficial cannabis can be but also how it can bite back if you’re a bit silly with consuming too much.  Thankfully it didn’t follow the familiar path of talking up, overstating and exaggerating the very small risk of mental health effects.  It’s easy to see why those who support prohibition have used this tactic to try and demonise the plant but how anyone who claims to support reform can see it as an intelligent or positive way to create the right environment for change is inconceivable.

Volteface is the money of Paul Birch, who became a multi millionaire after his brother founded the now defunct social media company Bebo.  It was a classic flash in the pan of the dot com boom but left those lucky enough to be involved with bulging bank accounts.  Birch first tried to enter the reform movement with his Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol (CISTA) political party.  It really is a ‘volteface’ to move from that accurate if tired message to now pushing the dangers of so-called ‘skunk’ as if that’s going to encourage reform.  However, I have it on reliable authority that recently Mr Birch suffered a major panic attack (or ‘psychotic episode’) after over-consuming some potent weed, so much so that an ‘intervention’ was called for.  Many of us will know how disconcerting such an experience can be and usually we can laugh at ourselves in retrospect (just as we laughed at Christopher Biggins and Bobby George when they ate far too much cannabis-infused food on ‘Gone To Pot’).  If he’s basing an entire campaign strategy on one personal experience it’s hardly sensible.

Paul North

Birch’s money has enable Volteface to hire full time staff and now its own tame drug therapist, Paul North. He is the very epitome of the angry young man, getting into furious outbursts on Twitter with anyone who dared to challenge his view. The way people like North manipulate and misrepresent data is horrendous and when they’re challenged their answer is they were engaged in the collection of the data – well yes, duh, that’s the point!  People who work in mental health or drug therapy are always pronouncing on our mental health wards being ‘packed full’ of people with problems caused by cannabis but the facts don’t support these claims. It’s inevitable that if you spend most of your life surrounded by people who are mentally ill, you get a rather distorted perspective on the world.

In many previous articles, I’ve laid out the facts of the number of people admitted to hospital and in GP community health treatment for cannabis.  The truth is that those with an agenda don’t care about facts.  They prefer the wild, speculative studies from Professor Sir Robin Murray and the Institute of Psychiatry with their bizarre statistical tricks that would make you think there are cannabis-crazed axe murderers on every street corner.  Journalist Martina Lees recently published two articles in the Daily Telegraph where she exaggerated the number of people admitted to hospital for cannabis related problems by 50 times!  Of course, we’re used to this sort of thing and it’s a sad fact that when it comes to science or medicine reporting, even in the so-called ‘quality’ press, Fleet Street is not just incompetent, journalists don’t just exaggerate, they’re systematically mendacious whenever it’s possible to be sensationalist about cannabis.

So let’s be grateful for the light that ‘Gone to Pot’ has shone on the reality of cannabis and let’s continue to reject the falsehood, deception and exaggeration that Volteface and others try to bring to our campaign.  I have no doubt that when legalisation finally arrives some politicians will use their argument to post-rationalise their ‘volteface’ on policy but it’s not the truth and it never has been.  The simple truth is that for 99% of people, not only is cannabis benign but it’s positively beneficial.

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Reefer Madness 3.0 Is Here And It’s Being Promoted By Cannabis Law Reformers.

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Reefer Madness started in 1930s America with the propaganda film of the same name.

Reefer Madness 2.0 was promoted by the Daily Mail from 2003 onwards after cannabis was classified downwards to a class C drug.  It was strongly supported by the Labour Party through home secretaries Jacqui Smith, Alan Johnson and prime minister Gordon Brown.

Reefer Madness 3.0 is its latest incarnation but this time it’s promoted by reform groups Transform, which has been around as long as CLEAR and Volteface, which is a new group funded by Paul Birch’s personal fortune.  (Birch was also the founder of the now defunct Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol (CISTA) political party.)  Despite the overwhelming body of scientific evidence and the facts of healthcare records which show that cannabis is an insignificant health problem, both Transform and Volteface argue that ‘cannabis is dangerous so it must be regulated’.

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This is nonsense.  Cannabis is not dangerous, in fact for most people it’s beneficial.  It’s prohibition and enforcement of the law against cannabis that are dangerous.  Prohibition has caused far more harm than cannabis ever has or ever could.  Cannabis needs to be regulated because prohibition is dangerous.

I’m very disappointed by the new, much-hyped Volteface report ‘Street Lottery’. It offers nothing new, either in information or in proposed solutions. It takes us no further on from Transform’s work in 2009 or CLEAR’s proposals from 2011.  What it does is ramp up the unjustified scaremongering and panic about high THC and low CBD levels.  It panders slavishly to the exaggerated studies on psychosis from the Institute of Psychiatry and wildly overstates the health harms that, in fact, only occur in a very small number of people.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t do all we can to protect those very few people for whom cannabis can be a problem and we should certainly educate about harm reduction.  The most important message is that the most dangerous thing about cannabis is mixing it with tobacco.

It’s worth saying that in my opinion, cannabis is a better product when it has higher levels of CBD than usually found in what’s generally available today.  When I say better, I mean more pleasant for recreational use and more effective for medicinal use and it is the ratio of THC:CBD that is more important than the absolute levels.  10:1 THC:CBD is plenty adequate enough to provide the benefits of CBD, any higher that 3:1 and it begins to wipe out the benefits of THC.  It certainly is true that younger people and novice users are best with higher levels of CBD.

Of course I understand that arguing for regulation as a means of reducing harm should encourage politicians towards reform.  I’m all for that but we don’t have to exaggerate the health harms and overlook the massive social harms in order to do that. However, it’s blindingly obvious that decisions on drugs policy are not made rationally, so what’s the point?  Our politicians have failed to act on cannabis law reform, despite the solution to the harms of the criminal market being obvious for more than 30 years. Ministers are completely disinterested in effective drugs policy. The truth about their attitude is best illustrated by the Psychoactive Substances Act. This disastrous legislation is regarded as a success because it has taken the sale of NPS off the high street and driven it underground. This is all that ministers care about. They have been seen to do something and these drugs are no longer so obviously available. They really don’t give a damn that use has increased, harms have multiplied and deaths are becoming increasingly common.

Where the Volteface report actually takes us backwards is its pandering to renewed reefer madness and vast exaggeration of the harms of cannabis.

Correct, cannabis can be harmful to a tiny minority of consumers. All the speculative studies from Robin Murray and his team at the Institute of Psychiatry, all the scaremongering hyperbole in what is presented as ‘scientific’ evidence, all the esoteric, statistical tricks that create alarming headlines – none of these can change the hard facts of how infinitesimal is the number of people whose health is genuinely impaired by cannabis.

It’s ‘young people’ that all the concern is about but in the last five years there has been an average of just 28 cases per year of cannabis-induced psychosis – a tragedy for the individuals but a problem that is irrelevant in public health terms: https://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2015-03-17.227980.h&s=drug

For the entire population the total number of finished admission episodes (FAE) for ‘mental and behavioural problems due to use of cannabinoids’ in 2015 – 16 was 1606.  A very long way from a problem of huge significance and you don’t be have to be an expert to realise that a very large proportion of those are due to ‘Spice’, suynthtrci cannabinoids which can have severe health effects.

For GP and community health treatment, Public Health England’s own data shows that 89% of under-18s in treatment are coerced into it, only in 11% of cases does the patient themselves or their families believe they need it: See table 2.4.1 http://www.nta.nhs.uk/uploads/young-peoples-statistics-from-the-ndtms-1-april-2015-to-31-march-2016.pdf

I welcome any new entrant to the drugs policy reform movement. We need all the help we can get but all Volteface has done since its inception is repeat the work already done by other groups. Now it is pursuing the same flawed and misguided route as Transform. It’s worth repeating – cannabis doesn’t need to be regulated because it is dangerous, it isn’t, cannabis needs to regulated because prohibition is dangerous.

US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders

Note that this mythical ‘mental health crisis’ only seems to exist in the UK. It doesn’t exist in the rest of Europe, the USA, Israel or other jurisdictions where cannabis is legally avalable. Note also that former US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders is published in the November edition of the American Journal of Public Health saying “The unjust prohibition of marijuana has done more damage to public health than has marijuana itself.”

The valuable contribution Volteface has made so far to cannabis law reform is the money it has spent on professional media relations. This has elevated the subject up the news agenda and that is a very good thing indeed. Everyone, cannabis consumers and those who don’t have the slightest interest, will benefit from legalisation. The sooner we get on with it the better.  A legal, regulated market will help protect the few dozen children and few hundred adults who are vulnerable to possible health harms.  Much, much more important it will halt the enormous harm that prohibition causes.