A veteran east Kent GP is calling for the legalisation of cannabis.
Dr Ricky Allen argues that vast amounts of taxpayers’ cash is wasted policing an activity so widespread that “it’s like legislating against making a sandwich”.
He spoke out just hours after William, now Lord, Hague warned that the “war on cannabis has failed utterly”.
The former Conservative Party leader and Foreign Secretary spoke out after the case of a 12-year-old epilepsy sufferer whose mother was stopped by authorities attempting to import cannabis oil into the UK for her son.
Critics of legalisation warn that the potent psychoactive varieties of the drug available on the streets can lead to mental health issues among heavy and long-term users – an argument not lost on Dr Allen.
“The statistics, however, do not support the claim that cannabis is a dangerous drug,” said Dr Allen told the Canterbury Journal.
“That doesn’t mean it’s without risk. Cannabis leads some people to mental illness, which is why legalisation should be accompanied by strong, unambiguous health warnings.”
At present cannabis is prohibited for recreational use and is not recognised as having any therapeutic benefit under the law of England and Wales. Anyone buying or using the drug can be arrested or jailed.
But Dr Allen, who has more than 20 years medical experience, says its use is now so widespread that laws against it have effectively become unenforceable.
“When you can grow cannabis in your garden or on your balcony, it’s like legislating against making a sandwich,” he said.
“Alcohol causes far greater damage, but the government wouldn’t ban it because it brings the exchequer more than £12 billion despite causing upwards of 9,000 deaths per year.
“Some 27,000 people die each year from smoking, yet that’s not illegal. Cigarettes rake in £10 billion a year for the Treasury.
“In 2015 national statistics recorded 3,900 deaths from drugs and half of those were opiates, many prescribed. Cannabis did not appear in the list. We’re one of the most medicated societies in Europe with anti-depressants, sleeping tablets, fat-busting pills, and pills for kids with behavioural problems.”
Some of the opposition to cannabis legalisation focuses on the fact that it is labelled a “gateway drug” which introduces users to more dangerous narcotics via the criminal black market.
Dr Allen rejects this. He said: “Alcohol prohibition in the United States in the 1920s was a disaster. Alcohol consumption didn’t go down, but it created an illegal empire.
“It would take a strong government to say this law is a bad law and do something about it. Money is spent on policing cannabis when people can’t get hospital operations. The situation needs to change.”
The government has agreed to launch a review into the use of cannabis-derived medicine following the case of Billy Caldwell, 12. His mother was stopped at Heathrow customs attempting to bring cannabis oil into the country to treat her son’s epilepsy.
The Home Office later returned some of the medicine to her, prompting suggestions that it had effectively undermined the government’s position on an outright ban.
In a statement to the media, former Conservative leader Lord Hague said the war on cannabis has been “irretrievably lost” and an urgent change in policy is required.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted the government was not “getting the law on this kind of thing right” and speaking to the House of Commons, Home Secretary Sajid Javid yesterday announced a review into the use of medicinal cannabis.
Faversham barrister Antony Hook, a Liberal Democrat county councillor, added: “We see alcohol linked to a lot more crime than cannabis, although cannabis is linked to some.
“There can be violence between competing dealers, and I have met long-term users whose memory and thinking skills seem quite stunted.
“On balance I think the arguments for legalisation have a lot of merit.”
Overnight, Canadian senators have voted to make recreational cannabis legal.