Now experts say cannabis should be legal

cannaleaf.jpgBy David Maddox | CANNABIS should be legalised and taxed, an influential Scottish think tank recommended yesterday, just weeks after the Government hardened its attitude towards the drug, reclassifying it as a class B substance.

The Scottish Futures Forum yesterday published a report on drugs and alcohol in Scotland, saying one way to tackle the problem of addiction to harder drugs was to tax and regulate cannabis.

Forum chairman Frank Pignatelli said studies of San Francisco, where cannabis is illegal, and the Netherlands, where it is decriminalised, showed that the idea is worth considering because it breaks the link with class A drugs. In the Netherlands, only 17 per cent of cannabis sellers were also selling drugs such as crack, cocaine and heroin, while in San Francisco it was more than 50 per cent.

The idea was one of several aimed at halving drug addiction in Scotland by 2025.

This included introducing shooting galleries, where heroin addicts can go and take drugs in supervised surroundings, as revealed in yesterday’s Scotsman.

The forum’s vice-chairman, Tom Wood, former deputy chief constable of Lothian and Borders, said that there are “no easy options” and insisted that a different and sometimes uncomfortable approach was needed to tackle Scotland’s drug problems.

He said: “Where we are now is living in a country where there is one of the highest prevalences for drugs.

“We’re living in a country where we have the highest drug death rate, we’re living in a country which has one of the highest hep C rates in Europe. So we’re hardly in a good place now. A lot of the things we’ve done in the past clearly have not worked and so we have to move, and I think we are moving in the right direction, but we have to move quite radically.”

Just last month the Home Office announced it was reclassifying cannabis to class B, reversing a decision in 2004 to lower it to class C.

The decision was made because stronger forms of cannabis such as skunk are becoming more readily available and there is new evidence linking the drug to psychiatric problems.

Both the Home Office and the Scottish Government have made it clear that they do not support the idea of legalisation.

The community safety minister Fergus Ewing, who last week unveiled a new drugs strategy, welcomed upgrading cannabis to class B.

There were two failed efforts to open cannabis cafés in Edinburgh. Scottish Socialist Party member Kevin Williamson almost bankrupted himself trying to open one in Haymarket and Paul Stewart was forced to quit for Amsterdam after being fined for selling cannabis at his café Purple Haze in Leith.

The forum’s suggestion has been welcomed by the Legalise Cannabis Alliance UK, which claimed Scotland is leading the way on the issue.

Don Barnard, a spokesman, said: “The Scots seem to have been taking a more mature view and I hope the recommendation is taken seriously.”

The idea has also been backed by the Greens. Patrick Harvie, MSP, said: “The current approach to criminalising drug users has been one of the most obvious failures of social policy over the last 50 years, and the Futures Forum should be thanked for their efforts to move the debate on. We broadly welcome their report.”

But the Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie, who persuaded the SNP to produce a drugs strategy as part of a deal on supporting its budget, described the forum’s report as “flawed”.

She added: “The taxing and regulation of cannabis is akin to legalisation. This will not decrease use of this extremely harmful substance. Fortunately the long-term consequences of cannabis usage are now universally acknowledged and there is a consensus at Westminster that the damaging downgrading of cannabis to a class C substance should be reversed.”