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Another 4/20 celebration, another year calling for cannabis reform in the UK

Home » Another 4/20 celebration, another year calling for cannabis reform in the UK

As cannabis advocates, patients and campaigners gather for the annual 4/20 celebrations in the UK, it is evident that the country has some catching up to do with Europe in the area of cannabis reform.

2021 was a big year for cannabis in Europe. With recreational legalisation in Malta and announcements from Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Denmark that progressive cannabis policy reform is on its way, the general sentiment on the continent is that minds are changing regarding cannabis.

Despite legalising medical cannabis in 2018, patients in the UK still struggle to access cannabis on the NHS, with only a handful of prescriptions being written since. The majority of patients use private clinics, but not everyone can afford a private prescription.

This year, people gather again in Hyde Park, London, Platfield Park, Manchester and other commons across the UK to commit an act of mass civil disobedience – smoking cannabis in protest against prohibition. 

As patients still struggle to access the medication they need, a legal cannabis industry is forming in the UK. The last couple of years have seen the first-ever cannabis companies list on the LSE, and family estates and big investors are choosing to invest in cannabis companies. 

The right to choose

This year, 4/20 seems like a strange situation – whilst this industry develops, patients and citizens remain in parks and streets fighting for their right to choose what they can put in their own bodies whether for medication or for pleasure. Free to drink alcohol, but not free to consume a plant that has caused zero deaths in recorded history.

UK cannabis industry expert Dr Callie Seaman commented: “Although we only have a legal medicinal market at the moment in the UK, there’s still a large community of cannabis consumers, who are everyday people and this community has been around for decades, if not centuries.

Read more: It is time for London to pilot a legal cannabis industry

“A lot of people are fighting for freedom. 4/20 is a day for people to be proud and no longer ashamed, to stand up and be open about how they choose to medicate. I think 4/20 is really a demonstration of the difference between the cannabis community and the cannabis industry.

“An industry is just about profit, whereas the community understands that 4/20 is about helping one another and supporting one another. The day symbolises how the community will always pull together to demonstrate this sense of belonging. I think there’s a lot we can learn from the community as an industry.”

A recent YouGov poll revealed that 52 per cent to 32 per cent of British citizens would support cannabis legalisation.

A 2019 YouGov survey revealed that around 1.4 million people in the country use “street” cannabis to medicate for conditions such as chronic pain, but despite this, progress on policy reform has remained stagnant since 2018. In some cases, this means patients are using untested and potentially harmful medication that could contain heavy metals, for example. Last year, the reading of a bill to improve access to medical cannabis was ashamedly filibustered in parliament to the outrage of patients, parents and campaigners.

Read more: Cannabis diversion pilot has London’s backing

The current state of legislation in the UK means a good portion of the population is currently being criminalised for their choice of medication. To add to this, the current policy of prohibition means that citizens and patients are being pushed to interact with the black market, which funnels money from the economy, fuels country lines problems and has links with knife crime.

One of the driving factors behind European progression on cannabis policy is to stop criminalising members of the public and to move them, and the money, away from the black market – to create a legal and regulated market that has products that are safe for people to consume. So, will the UK follow suit now Europe is moving forward?

Mike Barnes, founder of Cannabis Industry council and medical cannabis expert, commented: “There are now 15,000 patients prescribed out of a potential population of two million. So, we have a long way to go yet – things are incredibly slow and we could do a lot better in this country. We could lead the cannabis European space, at least second to Germany, but the government isn’t grasping the opportunity.

Read more: Brexit – the perfect opportunity for UK to be centre of European cannabis

“There’s a lot more the government can do to smooth the path to prescription for medical patients, like getting GPs to prescribe, easing the path to licences for UK farmers, getting a better NICE review. So, there are things that government could do to speed up the process, but we’re still hampered by stubbornness and bigotry. There’s a lot more education that needs to happen in the medical sphere.

“My worry is, is that if the medical industry doesn’t get its act together, over the next two or three years, we will get recreation in the UK like in Canada, and then those who need cannabis as a medicine will get it from a recreational market without any guidance or advice.

“I don’t think recreational is going to happen quickly in the UK. I think this present government is not ready for it. I think it would be a shame – there is that risk that when it becomes legal in the UK, the medical industry will still be miles behind and people will drift to the recreational market to get their medical supplies.”

Social justice and reform

To add to the problem of lack of access for medical patients, the decades-long war on drugs has caused harm to communities.

Last year, reform organisation Release published a report exploring equity and social justice initiatives within UK cannabis reform, stating that the UK must repair the harms and historical injustices done by cannabis prohibition. The report contains 14 equity principles to integrate into the UK’s future legal market to ensure a “just, fair and equitable cannabis market in the UK”.

The report states: “The foundations of cannabis prohibition and ethnicity are intertwined, and without recognising this legacy of racial injustice and the profound impact this has had (and continues to have) on Black and Brown communities, cannabis reform remains unfinished business.”

Any legal cannabis retail market “must adopt an anti-racist framework of policies and practices based on equity creation and must take steps to ensure diversity and inclusion among its actors” states the report, which outlines a roadmap to prioritise and protect individuals vulnerable to the harms of prohibition in legal recreational markets.

The report looks towards justice models of cannabis reform in the US, focusing its principles on:

  • Reinvesting tax revenue into over-criminalised communities and supporting harm reduction
  • Removing criminal or civil sanctions for use or possession of cannabis
  • Automatic release from prison for cannabis-related prisoners and expungement of past cannabis-related convictions
  • Non-commercial domestic cultivation of cannabis
  • Co-operative cannabis distribution models such as social clubs, among others.

So, if the UK is to listen to public opinion and play catch up with the rest of Europe – will it take on board input from reformists, patients and campaigners to ensure a fair and functional industry?

Find out how cannabis consumers will be celebrating 4/20 this year from our sister site Cannabis Health News.

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Home » Another 4/20 celebration, another year calling for cannabis reform in the UK

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