As the government reviews its policy on medical cannabis, Durham Police, Crime and Victims Commissioner Ron Hogg argues the cannabis market should be regulated

THE Government’s U-turn on the medical benefits of cannabinoid products raises questions about all aspects of drug policy. The intervention by Lord Hague has stimulated a debate after years of intransigence in Whitehall: many are now favouring the drug policy reform which I have been pursuing for some years.

I’m no medic but I note the authoritative medical opinion which has called for the Government to allow doctors to prescribe cannabinoid products for cases like Billy Caldwell.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Drug Policy Reform recently found that around 30,000 UK residents use cannabis for medical purposes. Over half of the people they surveyed had suffered such conditions for between ten and 30 years.

Any sympathetic human being would want them to have access to the medicines they need – and surely society would prefer payments for cannabis to be made to their chemist and the National Health Service, rather than to drug dealers and organised criminals.

At present, people using cannabis either recreationally or to help with medical conditions are likely to buy it on the street, without knowing the quality and content of what they are purchasing.

Organised crime groups produce cannabis. They steal electricity to help the crop grow, causing fires and endangering neighbourhoods, and exploiting vulnerable people by putting them to work.

This market is worth an estimated £7bn a year. The only people benefitting from it are criminals.

Legalisation and regulation of cannabis does not mean a free for all. We already regulate other products that we consume – like alcohol, with huge restrictions governing production, sales, advertising and quality.

The sale of those products generates taxation revenue to fund public services. Regulation of cannabis would raise taxation, supporting public services rather than lining the pockets of dealers.

In Colorado in the US, £48m in additional revenue was generated in the year after legalisation.

To suggest we are going to arrest our way out of the problem is folly. Since 2010 in Durham, we have lost nearly 400 police officers. Chief Constable Mike Barton and I have needed to decide how to prioritise diminishing resources.

As reported last week, Durham is solving more of its crimes than anywhere else in the country. That’s not the sign of a force that has “gone soft”.

Plainly we should make our targets the organised criminals who control the drugs market, rather than individuals who are causing little harm.

There are dealers who start by selling drugs to young people, and then move on to selling them harder drugs such as heroin, creating dependency and real misery. Those people need to be caught and punished.

The harm caused by individual cannabis smokers is minimal, as reflected in the inconsequential penalties which are applied by the courts for possessing small quantities.

Cannabis can be a gateway drug. If supply can be taken away from drug-barons and regulated, the route to harder drugs can be broken.

There’s real scope for greatly reducing the power of dealers by taking cannabis off the streets.

That’s why Government needs to regulate the cannabis market.

The Government’s review

EARLIER this month Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced a review of the medicinal use of cannabis which could lead to patients in the UK being prescribed drugs derived from the banned plant.

Mr Javid announced the move in the wake of a series of appeals from parents who want their children to be able to access medications which can alleviate epilepsy and other illnesses.

The announcement of the review came just days after Mr Javid intervened to permit the use of cannabis oil to treat severely epileptic 12-year-old Billy Caldwell, who had been admitted to hospital with seizures after supplies his mother had brought from Canada were confiscated at Heathrow.

Billy’s mother Charlotte said: “The power of the mothers and fathers of sick children has bust the political process wide open and it is on the verge of changing thousands of lives by bringing cannabis laws in line with many other countries. We are on the threshold of the next chapter of the history book.”