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Guernsey to review legal status of cannabis

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Guernsey has published proposed updates to its Government Work Plan, which includes plans to review the legal status of cannabis.

The Bailiwick of Guernsey Government Work Plan is a changeable framework document put together to enable States to respond to changing circumstances and external pressures. 

For 2022, its key priorities include responding to Brexit and Covid, delivering recovery options and reshaping government.

Set to be debated in June, the plan, which is updated and debated every year, includes proposals from the Committee for Health & Social Care to review the legal status of cannabis. 

If reviewed, it plans to submit the schedule to the Policy & Resources Committee on or before March 2023.

Read more: First and only medical cannabis cultivation licence granted in Guernsey

The debate in June will give States Members the chance to agree on priorities. The plan states the cannabis review will be prioritised “as and when resources become available”, although the Committee for Health & Social Care has recommended the review take precedent.

Vice-president of the Policy & Resources Committee, Deputy Heidi Soulsby, stated: “The actions of government need to be focused and prioritised. We have limited resources and we have to be realistic about that if we’re going to deliver outcomes that make any sort of difference in Islanders’ lives.  We cannot just add more to the pile because we know we can’t afford it, we can’t staff it, and we end up with a long list of work that never happens.

“The first debate on this Plan did a lot to cut out what was unrealisable and no longer prioritised from previous terms.  We must now keep up that discipline and not clog up the wheels of government again.  

“Openly debating the priorities, and making changes is good, after all that’s what the Plan is here for.  But for every new priority and action added to the list, we must deprioritise something else because we cannot resource everything.”

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

Health over punishment

The move is an effort to explore options for alternative and non-punitive approaches to the possession and use of small quantities of illegal drugs.

The plan states: “This excludes any work on decriminalisation or legalisation of drugs at this stage in order to focus on non-punitive approaches and make any recommendations that may be necessary as soon as practicable. 

“However at its meeting in June the States will be asked whether to direct work to explore the options for a review of the legal status of cannabis or develop proposals to explore a new Public Health Law as the next major area of health policy this term.”

The Non-punitive Approaches (NPA) Project Board has been established by members of the Committee for Home Affairs and the Committee for Health & Social Care that will explore alternative approaches to cannabis policy.

Read more: First CBD production license issued to company in Guernsey

The plan highlights that the consideration of legalisation or decriminalisation will not yet be considered as part of the work, and instead, a phased approach would be taken, stating that: “In reaching this decision the NPA Project Board considered the wider Bailiwick context including the developing Justice Framework, and the cannabis industry and its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the UK Government which makes any review of the legal status of illegal drugs, and cannabis in particular, a complex area of policy.”

Any review undertaken would involve the community as well as the Committee for Home Affairs, the Policy & Resources Committee, the Committee for Education, Sport & Culture and the Committee for Economic Development, as well as clinical professionals. It would also take into consideration various political, reputational and commercial aspects.

It states: “Subject to other demands associated with any potential future waves of Covid-19, the Committee for Health & Social Care has indicated, by a majority, that it would utilise its limited capacity within Public Health Services to scope the project in quarter 1 of 2023.”

Medical cannabis as part of economic recovery

The Government Work Plan highlights that proposals are being scoped to develop on-island entrepreneurship with a framework of actions to be set out this year as part of the Island’s sustainable economic recovery. One of these focuses will be the medical cannabis sector of the pharmaceutical industry.

Medical cannabis has been legal in Guernsey since 2019, with doctors able to prescribe the medicine on a private basis and Guernsey citizens able to obtain prescriptions from either Jersey or by importing from mainland UK. 

2021 saw Guernsey sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the UK Home Office. The memorandum aimed to “strengthen and develop the nascent cannabis cultivation and processing sector in Guernsey”.

The first licence to cultivate the plant was given out in November 2021, and The Bailiwick of Guernsey Cannabis Agency (BGCA) is now responsible for reviewing, regulating, inspecting and licensing cannabis businesses, with licence applications being jointly reviewed by the BGCA and the UK Home Office.

The plan states: “Considerable co-ordinated effort is being applied to support emerging economic opportunities such as the pharmaceutical industry with its foundation in medicinal cannabis, with the first licence issued in November 2021 under the recently agreed Memorandum of Understanding with the UK.” 

A recent report from the drug policy reform group, Volteface, has already highlighted that Brexit creates the perfect opportunity for the UK to become the centre of European cannabis in its report ‘The new leaf: beyond Brexit, countering COVID‘, which features a foreword from the Adam Smith Institute.

The report estimates that the medical cannabis market could reach up to £1.2bn, creating 41,000 direct jobs and 17,000 supporting jobs.

Speaking in 2021 when the Island’s first cultivation was granted, president of the Committee for Economic Development, Deputy Neil Inder, described the development of the cannabis sector on the Island as “important as part of efforts to diversify our economy wherever possible.”

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