Wednesday 31 July 2019

Canada's cannabis experiment

I was on field trip in Ontario last month with several MPs and charities to check out the legal cannabis market that has been in operation since October. The event was organised by the splendid drug reform group Volte Face and filmed by a BBC crew whose documentary went online yesterday.

It's well worth watching the documentary. Prior to the trip, the views of the three MPs differed. Norman Lab (Lib Dems) was firmly in favour of legalisation, David Lammy (Labour) was tempted but not convinced by arguments, and Jonathan Djanogly (Conservative) was open-minded but basically supportive of the status quo.

As the BBC reported on Monday, all three now believe that legalisation is inevitable, and Lammy is firmly in favour. Djanogly has written a thoughtful piece for Cap-X in which he weighs up both sides and discusses what is needed to make the best of legalisation.

For me, the surprise was how big the black market still is. At least two-thirds of recreational cannabis is purchased from illegal suppliers and that is unlikely to change until the government makes the legal product more attractive. The most important thing is to get legal prices down; they are currently 50 per cent higher than black market prices. It would also help if the government allowed shops to use some of the nudges of consumer capitalism. Getting rid of plain packaging would be a start...

I've written about the trip for the Spectator...

I had forgotten how much I disliked cannabis until I found myself under its influence, in the rain, trying and failing to find Toronto’s Union Train Station so I could get to the airport and go home. The plan had been to enhance my mood for a long journey, floating back to the UK in a higher state of consciousness. In practice, I just got confused, wet and was lucky to make my flight.

I had intended to purchase the kind of low-THC, high-CBD weed that disappeared from Britain’s black market when skunk took over in the 1990s. Put simply, THC is the psychoactive component that gets you high but is associated with psychosis, while CBD is the antipsychotic component that gave cannabis its natural balance before it was bred out of the plant by drug dealers. Alas, laziness prevailed and I settled for a ready-rolled joint which my vendor candidly admitted was made up of scrapings from whatever they’d been chopping up that day.

In truth, the spliff had been bought on the ‘when in Rome’ principle. Recreational cannabis has been legal in Canada since last October and I was on a fact-finding trip with a BBC film crew and a cross-party group of MPs, including Norman Lamb, David Lammy and Jonathan Djanogly. In a few months time, Illinois will become the eleventh US state to legalise recreational marijuana. With the dominos falling, it is only a matter of time before a European country, possibly Britain, follows suit. We were there to see how it works.

Do read it all.

No comments: