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Why Cannabas is Still Legal in the UK

CANNABIS CULTURE – There was a moment in cannabis history where it could be argued that the UK was ahead of the US!

This has nothing to do with the UK supposedly being the world’s largest exporter of medicinal cannabis, this goes way back to 2001 when the London Borough of Lambeth was a test bed for an experiment which allowed the police to focus their attention on something more befitting of their time. Essentially, cannabis was partially decriminalised.

The police said they saved 650 man hours and a mountain of paperwork in the first month, sure they were still stopping teenagers in an effort to warn them of the dangers of drugs, which I thought wise but as a 25 year old man who was fond of his own paperwork, I could see the wider benefits to society. I lived in Brixton at the time and I can’t describe adequately how relaxed the place became literally overnight.

After a couple of months, Brixton had their annual ‘Reclaim the Streets’ festival. It was insane to say the least, mainly because there were plenty of people from all faiths, races and creeds blazing in front of police who in themselves seemed conflicted. It was almost a case of “we want to nick (arrest) you, but our bosses say we’re not allowed to.”

The experiment officially lasted 9 months, but it had a lasting effect on policing attitudes. It was an interesting time, and I don’t just mean in that moment as 3 years later cannabis in the UK got rescheduled from a class B to a class C drug. This meant up to 2 years in prison instead of 5 if caught in possession. 

I hoped that this indicated a progressive route to the liberation of the good ‘erb, I’d been spoilt for the first 3 years of my canna-romance with dutch grade goodies and I was hoping that the UK could finally be in a position where quality was held over quantity. I was a forces kid out in Germany, living but a short train journey to the border with the Netherlands so when I came back to the UK in ’96 and saw what was on offer, I cried! It took me years to find trusted sources with the quality I’d gotten used to, before that I was limited to the UK’s black market which at the time was mainly reconstituted hash. A nationwide running joke that linked quality with the amount of supermarket plastic bag fragments you discovered in an eighth can still be heard in the mutterings of the ‘old school’ tokers. 

My emotions resurfaced in 2007 because for some reason cannabis got rescheduled back to class B, and the UK was back to square one. The good, we used that time wisely and caught up with the quality of the EU. The bad, we’d gone backwards. The ugly? The police were instructed that a ‘zero tolerance’ approach was effective immediately.

Now this is where I step out of my storyteller hat, and see if my reasoning hat still fits because since then we’ve had a whole load of happenings that separates the approaches of our two governments. We here on our side of the pond look over with envious eyes and a drool stained carpet every time we see what you’re doing, the strains you’re growing but also the shift on focus. America doesn’t look at cannabis as a drug anymore, it’s a commodity. The question is, why isn’t the UK adopting this approach?

The UK and US are historically close, we go way back and have stood shoulder to shoulder on many occasions, especially on the war on drugs. The thing is, your guys started that by allowing Anslinger to push his agenda. We followed by removing cannabis tincture from the UK Pharmacopoeia in 1937 and again by siding with you for the 1961 UN convention on Narcotic Drugs, both our countries really have been at the forefront of enforcing global prohibition. The US has always had the driving seat on this through it’s massive funding of the World Health Organisation (WHO), and it’s probable that the US used that influence partly to maintain it’s focus on the war on drugs… up until recently anyway. 

So when Colorado and Washington legalised cannabis for recreational use, jaws dropped in the UK with a collective thud. Whilst it seemed like an exceptional case of extending the middle finger to the ‘man’ (Federal Government), there was a thought in the back of my mind along the lines of ‘how long would it last?’. We watched as companies faced paying taxes in cash and struggling to export any excess output, but then other states started following suit. Last you did, and now we’re hearing whispers of federal legislation. 

Back to my side of the atlantic, I can tell you there’s a lot of head scratching over here. Medicinal cannabis was only legalised in 2018, but then doctors can only prescribe it for 3 conditions and only as a last resort. Even then that didn’t come about from us taking stock of what you guys were doing, it came about due to public pressure from high profile cases involving the parents of children with rare types of epilepsy.

There are still restrictions on hemp farming, you lucky folk get to grow anything below 0.3% THC, we’re stuck with 0.2% and are restricted further by an approved strains list. We’re also only allowed to grow for seed or stem, any controlled part of the plant has to be destroyed on the licensed area appropriately. I see how some of the US farmers grow, but the restrictions here wouldn’t allow for some of those techniques to be viable for a UK farmer.

If we were to play a hand of Top Trumps, the UK would not have anything going for it other than medicinal cannabis exports to brag about, but current restrictions mean that very few in the UK have access. We’re miles off the game to the point of embarrassment, but we’re still lagging behind because there’s still politicians who pull out the Reefer Madness card. 

Seriously, there is still a level of that mentality over here and that includes people who recognise cannabis for it’s medicinal properties as well as people who use CBD products on a daily basis. It’s also reinforced in law with the Misuse of Drugs Act (MoDA ’71 sect 37) suggesting regardless of THC delta 9 levels whole bud is illegal, as well as the Misuse of Drugs Regulation

(MoDR ’01 sect 2) which states that no product regardless of container size can have more than 1mg of THC delta 9 and CBN each. 

3 medical conditions, THC demonised and a restricted supplemental market. How does one go about applying for a green card? Asking for a friend… 

I’m not painting a pretty picture here, but I’ve still a bit of shading to do to add some depth. The public pressure that I mentioned that got medicinal cannabis legalised, the then Prime Minister was on record for saying that cannabis has no medicinal value. Ok, loads of people have said that but what’s interesting is that Theresa May’s husband Philip is the relations manager for an investment firm (Capital Group) that owns a 22% stake in GW Pharma, a company whose sole focus is cannabis based medications.

What?!?! not juicy enough for you? Good job I’m just warming up. Before becoming Prime Minister, she was the Home Secretary. That’s right, she was in charge of drug law and during that time she would have been aware that British Sugar applied to her office to grow medicinal grade cannabis for export as well as to supply GW Pharma. There’s two ways she could have had that information: either her staff made her aware because it’s a sizeable outfit with 18 hectares of growing space so she should have been made aware OR she found out from her Drugs Minister Victoria Atkins MP who refuses to answer any questions about cannabis because her husband is in fact the Managing Director of British Sugar. Victoria Atkins is no longer the Drugs Minister, but she does still work at the Home Office.

There is a third possibility, Theresa May’s husband Philip may have told her himself that GW have a new supplier who needs a license, but that’s just a random thought.

For legal reasons as well as sensibilities, I have to say that there could well be nothing to do here, I might be seeing something that has no bearing on the legality of cannabis in the UK whatsoever. That being said, 2 weeks ago I submitted a Freedom Of Information request to the Home Office (HO) in an attempt to find out. The UN’s 63rd Convention on Narcotic Drugs (UN-CND) was to take place in March of this year and the key topic was cannabis, with de-restriction suggested for anything with less than 0.2% THC delta 9 as well as a re-scheduling that would ease restrictions for medicinal research. If Theresa May and Victoria Atkins had any hand in the formulation of the UK’s response to this, then there must be a level of scrutiny on the potential gains to their husband’s companies should the UK adopt any guidelines they have themselves had a hand in creating.

My suspicions were there from the start; that’s not because the meeting in itself had already been delayed twice, it was more to do with how the HO were not seen to be talking to anyone about the suggestions for reclassification. Since the introduction of  medicinal guidelines in 2018, UK drugs laws have effectively tightened around cannabis, but when the WHO released their recommendations in early 2019 there was no acceptance that the pool of knowledge used to create the WHO’s recommendations greatly outweighed the very small pool the UK used to create their definitions. There’s a similar situation going on with the Food Standards Agency at the moment who’re using cherry picked studies on CBD isolate to determine the safety of full spectrum products, again ignoring WHO recommendations. 

The response came back from the HO, there are files and emails involving May and Atkins in relation to the 63rd UN-CND but they won’t be released as it’s not in the public interest. 

With a population in excess of 65 million people: nearly 50% have tried cannabis, 1 in 4 admit to smoking regularly at some point, over 6 million take CBD products daily and last opinion polls have 53% favouring legalisation for recreational use, and 77% say that the medicinal laws are too tight and it shouldn’t be a last resort. Surely it’s very much in the public interest!. 

Then there’s the police, who have been much nicer than what you’d think when you see the words zero tolerance. There are  forces around the UK who have engaged with cannabis social clubs to ensure a safe environment for users and  people who self medicate. There’s commissioners who’re arguing that policing cannabis is a waste of taxpayers money, and in response to an appeal involving a girl who had been growing at home to manage her MS the police federation said they were not only sympathetic but that ‘no-one joins the police to take someone’s medicine away from them’. 

This extends to the judicial system where a few cannabis related cases have been thrown out, with judges claiming that it wouldn’t be in the public interest to prosecute.  

So the answer to the question ‘why is cannabis still illegal in the UK?’, you can get from my waffling that there’s the interest but the public isn’t being heard, so the answer is either that the politicians are out of touch with the average UK citizen, or there’s a conflict of interests which could be holding back legalisation. I’ll leave you to decide.

Global Pandemic Forces Jamaicans Out of the Closet on Cannabis Use

CANNABIS CULTURE – Jamaica has long been associated with cannabis. Reggae music, Bob Marley, Dreadlocks all celebrate the use of the ganja plant. Yet what most foreigners dont know,  is cannabis use is frowned on by most Jamaicans.

The remnants of the decades-old, US-led “War On Drugs” still resonates in the psyche of the island. The cultural propaganda, coupled with the Christian backbone of Jamaican society, leaves many still believing ganja is the “devil’s weed” and drives people insane.

The Rastafarian Community was demonized for their social, religious and political views, so their Sacramental use of the plant added further fuel to the stigma that endures to this day. In a recent study by TheWeedBlog.com, Jamaica ranks in the lower half of the top ten in the “Cannabis Friendliness Index”. Coming in 8th position with a total score of 100 points out of 250. Bear in mind, Jamaica picked up 50 points simply for legalizing medical cannabis.

For the remaining data points, Jamaica would have scored just 50 points for the prevalence of use, which according to the report, stands at 7.2%, citing the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as the source of consumption information. 

On the surface, Jamaicans are very tolerant of cannabis use, but the stigma remains. US and international media have had the same impact on the minds of Jamaicans as it had on their own and much like in the US and Canada, perceptions are still in need of change. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Google searches for CBD products and related information have spiked in Jamaica, trending similar to searches for Coronavirus and Covid-19. Querries increased 20 fold during March and April and the trend is continuing. April is now noting a significant uptick in online queries for CBD, and related topics, in particular, ganja tea. 

Unfortunately, ganja’s taboo still also stifles people’s access to the plant and by-products. Even in the wake of decriminalization and the availability of useful information on cannabis and its medicinal qualities, many Jamaicans limit their own access. Now, in this period of self-inoculation from social contact, some of the canna-curious are taking advantage of time away from the workplace and limited public activity. “We’ve seen a lot of what I think is secondary purchasing, that is our customers are buying for legal aged friends and relatives who don’t want to be seen walking into a dispensary”. According to Rainier Gaubault, a marketing consultant at Jacana, a new dispensary in Manor Park, Kingston. Essentially customers and patients are pooling money together and leaning on cannabis to aid them through this time. While some consumers may be stocking up, local dispensaries are seeing a difference in spending habits. The new social restrictions may be the catalyst for a shift in the local marketplace. 

The legal cannabis industry in Jamaica does have an ally on their side in the Government established body, the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA). Through an interim provision and aligned with markets across North America, dispensaries and herb-houses have been deemed an essential service. The provisions cover solely the distribution of ganja products within Jamaica. The statement reads, “In the context of the Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) Orders relative to the COVID-19 pandemic, herb houses may be deemed a business that offers retail services for the provision of medicine. As such, any exemptions given to these retail services under these Orders may be considered applicable to retail herb houses”. 

Jamaica now allows for curbside pickup. Sensi Medical Cannabis House, Trafalgar Road, Kingston, Jamaica.

During this period, most businesses remain closed, while others have restricted opening hours. The entire population is under changeable curfew times and most people are self-isolating. Included in the provisions are curb-side pick-up and deliveries to existing patients. Most notable is the provision allowing for online orders. If this continues post-pandemic, this will change the entire landscape of the local Jamaican cannabis marketplace. With more potential consumers turning onto the benefits of CBD, there will be an entire shift in the local customer base.

According to a Financial Gleaner report, “In January, marijuana wholesale sales from farms to retailers amounted to US$54,500; in February sales peaked at US$123,400; that dropped to US$47,500 in March, and fell even further in April to US$18,000. Comparative numbers for 2019 were not immediately available”. In January and February Jamaica is traditionally in the 

height of the tourist season. Tourism contributes to over 30% of Jamaica’s GDP and employs directly or indirectly, over a third of the workforce. The April figures reflect the local market, during an economic downturn. 

This is the first time since the easing of laws governing our lives and cannabis use, that all of humanity is encountering a health crisis and cannabis is playing a part. People have their health on their minds and CBD is becoming more widely accepted as a medicine that can be taken to beef up one’s immune system as scientists and biologists grapple to find a cure or appropriate vaccine for Covid-19. Healthcare is trending globally, Dr. Lakisha Jankins a Traditional Naturopath, Registered Herbalist and advocate for regular supplemental use of CBD and CBG, recently launched a line of CBD products, branded after her namesake. “When you think of cannabis culture, it’s 100% Jamaican”, but “there is an educational disconnect amongst the professional class of Jamaicans. If people knew that our bodies have endogenous endocannabinoid systems, they would start using CBD”. 

She continues, “there are not enough tourists that come through Jamaica to support an entire dispensary infrastructure, the bulk of your customer base will be people having an ailment or geriatric. You have to cater to them. In fact, recent studies have indicated the prior to the pandemic, the steadiest growing segment of the population using CBD or cannabis was those aged 65 and older.”

One finds predominantly a selection of dry-herbs in local dispensaries and herb-houses. A licensee needs a separate license in order to process marijuana into oils and other products. This is changing as more processing licenses being issued and products are making their way to dispensary shelves. Local producers have responded to requests and many do have CBD products or strains with higher levels of CBD available. Sensi Medical Cannabis House has an in-house strain they recently released in an oil. Island Strains in Montego Bay recently followed suit. 

Consumption methods are also limited. Currently, in Jamaica, edibles reside in a grey area of legality. They have not been formally deemed illegal but are also not legal in the eyes of many authorities. Effectively, there is no specific legislature governing ganja edibles, but the authorities have publicly stated their opposition. Making some headway in the industry is Itopia Life. One of Jamaica’s newer herb-houses located in Kingston. They just released their own branded line of hemp-seed products. They had to get clearance from the CLA and the President of Itopia Life, Joan Weebly, boasts they are the first in the country to be allowed to sell a hemp-based edible product. Despite Jamaica’s hard-earned title of being a Ganja Nation, it remains much like the rest of the world, education, past-perceptions and long-held stigmas still hold the industry back. We still have a lot of work to do. 

Talking Cannabis to Your Kids

CANNABIS CULTURE – In a town of less than 15,000 people, I now have access to 11 liquor stores, 3 cannabis stores, and tobacco is sold at every corner store.  Living in Alberta, when my children turn 18 they will have unlimited access to all of these. 

Would it make sense to only educate them about some, and not all, of the age-restricted substances they can legally purchase and consume?  This is a question now facing many parents with the fairly recent legalization of cannabis, but it is one that still comes with hesitation.

Secrecy was the running theme from the moment I discovered cannabis until the day it became legalized.  Despite knowing the benefits, both mental and medical, that cannabis could help me with, the taboo of being a marijuana smoker or ingesting THC/CBD in any way prevented talking about it with anyone who was not of like mind.  After the birth of my children, finding mothers who also smoked was a nearly impossible task.  It was socially acceptable and encouraged for moms to go out with “the girls” and down a few bottles of wine, but no one wanted to just chill and smoke one.  It was a very isolating experience.  And of course, you wouldn’t want your children to know what you did in case they told someone, so there was more secrecy and lies.  Nothing like the paranoia of losing your kids because of some self-righteous neighbour or teacher to up that post-smoke anxiety.  

As the world changes, so must our views on many things.  Toddlers on iPads surfing YouTube and preteens with cell phone plans are becoming the norm, as will be older teens standing on the corner with their vapes and joints.  Does this mean the days of hiding cannabis use from parents, teachers, and employers is over?  Far from it.  The stigma is still there, and probably will be for some time. 

Just imagine being alive at the end of prohibition, how wild it must have been to simply walk into a speakeasy and order a drink, how scandalous to offer wine with dinner.  However, the legalization curbed the necessity for illegal and potentially dangerous options, such as moonshine.  Likewise, instead of our children growing up and getting their 1st high from a potentially sketchy drug dealer, one who may have no moral compass when it comes to fentanyl-lacing or synthetic cannabis products, there are now legal, safer options.  It is up to us as parents to educate our children. 

I remember being about 14 and sitting huddled in the back of the camper parked on my stepfather’s property with 2 girlfriends.  We had managed to sneak wine to this semi-outdoor sleepover, and after a few drinks, we decided to head over to the farmer’s property across the way.  We had seen that all-too-familiar leaf shape.  Hopping the fence, we grabbed as much hemp as we could carry and ran back to the trailer.  We had no plans, no experience, and certainly no means of smoking even if there had been buds on those plants.  Eventually, we drunkenly sneaked them back to the farmer’s land, laying them in the field.  The parents never found out, and the farmer never noticed or simply never said anything.  I would bet on the latter.  This was my 1st experience with cannabis plants. 

The 1st time I actually got high was at 15 with my then boyfriend’s sister, again in a camper.  Along with 4 other girls, we hotboxed the bathroom and then headed out into the night.  I stood on a train bridge and felt the rush as a train bore down on us, a straight track that seemed to suspend the danger forever.  As the air from the speeding train shoved past me, I remember looking into the sky and feeling like I was the earth, completely connected in energy and love.  Intermingled with those feelings, however, was that inner voice whispering all of the awful consequences that would befall us if we were caught. 

I have always maintained that I want my boys to be able to be open with me about their substance use when they are older.  Just like having the safe sex talk is important at the appropriate age, so is the responsible cannabis use talk.  Obviously if my boys choose to experiment, I hope they would keep it natural and try it 1st in the safety of their own home.  I want them to know the risks, benefits, and effects that different strains can have on mood and energy.  Safety, openness, freedom – what more could we want in a relationship with our littles?  

Just as the sex talk hopefully prevents unwanted STIs and pregnancies, the marijuana talk may significantly lower the dangers they face.  NarCan kits are now available in case fentanyl-laced products do turn up, and maybe these will soon become the new condom, putting one in our older child’s bedside drawer just in case they don’t feel comfortable talking about their lifestyle choices.  As we tell our children about the dangers of drinking and driving, we must also be prepared to discuss the consequences of driving under any legal (or illegal) influences.  

In reality, we are the generation that will need to do the majority of the changing.  It is the only way we can safely transition our children into this world that is so different from the one we grew up in.  We can choose to break down the stigma, or stay silent and contribute to it.  Leaving children in the dark or promoting abstinence, while it may make things easier at first, can lead to harmful behaviours and a disconnect.  When my children are old enough, we will sit down to have an open and honest discussion about the “herbal medicine” that their parents use.  they will be allowed to ask any questions they need, and they will hopefully feel safe coming to us if they ever decide to try cannabis products.  I cannot possibly expect them to do everything at home or always be straightforward with us, as children learn by pushing limits, but being the best parents possible means we give them all the tools to make the best choices possible, and hope they make them.