Tide Effect argues that cannabis legalisation and regulation is now inevitable and that the market-based approaches being developed in North America are the best way to protect children, eradicate criminality associated with illicit markets and promote public health.

 

INTRODUCTION

For decades, cannabis has been discussed largely in terms of criminality, bracketed with heroin and cocaine simply by being on the wrong side of the law. This is, at last, beginning to change. The general acceptance that the war on drugs in its current form has failed has pushed forward initiatives to legalise cannabis in several countries across the world. So far the UK continues to lag behind, still wedded – officially, at least – to the idea that cannabis remains a matter for criminal prohibition rather than public health.

The Tide Effect argues that the legalisation of cannabis in the UK is both overdue and imperative. Attempts to control consumption through prohibition do not work and have not done so for many decades. The health issues surrounding cannabis – for like all drugs, alcohol and tobacco included, it is not harmless, and no serious advocate for legal reform would suggest that it is – are left largely unexplored because the substance’s illegality makes meaningful long-term scientific tests difficult to carry out.

The advantages of a properly regulated market providing tax revenues, strict product parameters and health advice far outweigh the disadvantages of such a move. That cannabis is illegal while alcohol and tobacco are not is an accident of history. Cannabis policy reform is not a daring step forwards so much as a righting of historical wrongs, a reversion to what the drug’s status should always have been, had it been treated impartially.

In The Tide Effect I will argue that

  • Regulation is substantially more desirable than simple decriminalisation or unregulated legalisation. Only regulation addresses all of these issues: ensuring that the product is safe in strength 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.
  • The incarceration of more than 1,000 people is a blight on not only the lives of those in jail but on the lives of their families too.
  • A proportion of tax revenues from the sale of cannabis should be invested back into public services, particularly for those most vulnerable to the negative impacts of cannabis use.
  • Many shifts in public policy are prompted by an emotional response on the part of the public. Princess Diana shaking the hand of an HIV-positive man in 1987 helped soften attitudes towards AIDS sufferers. Convincing personal stories must play a great part in demonstrating that the cannabis issue also has a human aspect if progress is to be made.
  • The United States provides many useful points of comparison, both in the historical treatment of cannabis and the current movement towards legalisation in certain states.
  • It is imperative that the entire language around the issue of cannabis changes. Language poses a barrier every bit as formidable as legislation does. The opponents of legalisation 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 and harm reduction, the same language used about alcohol and tobacco, can we have a proper debate. This is why The Tide Effect repeatedly emphasises the need for and concept of ‘regulation’.

 

The Tide Effect is divided into seven chapters.

Chapter One examines the origins and outcome of the last sustained media campaign for cannabis’ legalisation, the Independent on Sunday’s efforts in 1997-8.

Chapter Two covers the rise of ‘skunk’ in both the illegal drugs market and the public consciousness, and asks to what extent it is linked with mental health problems in particular.

In Chapter Three, we ask how, where, when and why cannabis is consumed, and compare this consumption and its health effects with those of alcohol and tobacco.

Chapter Four covers the muddled, inconsistent vacuum at the heart of British government policy on cannabis.

Chapter Five examines policy innovations in several countries which put the UK to shame in terms of both their enlightened attitude and the consistency of their application.

Chapter Six looks at the size and shape of a newly-legalised cannabis industry, and some of the problems which face it.

Finally, Chapter Seven looks at the implications of all the above for the British political scene over the next few years.