In the wake of Canada’s legalisation of marijuana, Gef sat down with arguably the Island’s most prominent voice on drug reform, Ramsey MHK Dr. Alex Allinson.
We gauge the good doctor’s views on the imminent consultation paper, the possible benefits to the Island of a drugs rethink and what he makes of those wily Canucks blazing a trail…
Just for those who are unaware of your stance, what would be the ideal scenario for the IOM? Are you proposing full legalisation or decriminalising?
Personally, I would like to see an evidence-based approach to facilitating the use of medicinal cannabis for a range of specified conditions.
There have been thousands of studies done around the world but these are often discounted as being of poor quality or recruiting small numbers. I feel that on the island we could run valid observational studies which would add to the scientific knowledge already established.
At the same time, I believe that people currently using cannabis for personal recreational use should not be criminalised. They should receive advice and education with a court diversion system in place.
Under the present legislation, I feel fixed penalties and fines are far more appropriate than prosecution and a criminal record which may affect someone’s future employment and ability to travel.
Ultimately, I would like the island to allow access to regulated cannabis products for recreational use under a licensing regime very similar to alcohol which would aim for harm reduction and circumvent criminal activities.
What’s the schedule for Tynwald on this?
There has already been a drugs and alcohol strategy which recommended an analysis of the medicinal use of cannabis. The Minister for DHSC and the Minister for DHA have both expressed their support for a public consultation later this year on medical use. If this is supportive of regulatory change I am sure that this could be accomplished relatively quickly with proper audits and analysis for those concerned about possible abuse and diversion.
What do you say to naysayers concerned about the negative impact of marijuana e.g. being a gateway drug or having detrimental effects on teenage brain development?
There is evidence of harm especially related to the frequency of use, age and THC content. A properly regulated market would have age restrictions and measured constituents limiting the THC content and ensuring CBD inclusion.
Quality and reliability of supplies within regulations could help protect people from abuse. Legalisation would prevent people from having to negotiate purchases with criminals, therefore, removing any temptation to try other drugs which may cause harm and addiction.
What is the primary motive for the proposals from your perspective? Health benefits as an opioid substitute/tax relief / freeing up police time? Or something more?
My primary objectives would be to provide a drug which many people take illegally at present but which helps them cope with a range of chronic medical conditions.
Every doctor knows that some of their patients are using cannabis for medical reasons and benefiting from it; we need to be more honest and treat this as a medical problem rather than something for the police and courts to have to deal with.
There are a range of other benefits in terms of less reliance on other prescribed medications such as opiates. In terms of recreational use, I believe prohibition has never been shown to work and a more adult and mature policy towards safe cannabis use could reduce harm whilst creating a creative industry with potential tax revenue and employment possibilities.
The Isle of Man has a history in progressive, forward-thinking social policy. Do you see this as an important tradition to continue? Do you think the UK could follow suit should we make the first move?
I believe in an open and honest government which listens to the views and wishes of the people on this island and responds to them in a thoughtful way.
I hope that the public consultation on the use of medicinal cannabis could be a positive step in the reform of drug policies and would act as an example for the rest of the British Isles.
The UK has just announced that expert doctors now have the option to legally issue prescriptions for cannabis-based medicines.
Do you feel this legitimises your stance and furthers the case? Or is it frustrating that after being mooted for so long over here, the UK may have pipped us to the post?
The current British moves to allow cannabis to be used in specific individual cases are to be welcomed but are very limited and restrictive.
I believe we can do much better and have a comprehensive medicinal cannabis policy based on informed consent and evidence. Many other jurisdictions are also reforming their drug policies to stop people being driven into contact with criminals and allow them to access helpful medicinal products in a very controlled and regulated way.
Have you been encouraged by the successes of certain US and Canadian states?
Many forward-thinking states have responded the wishes of their population and reformed their laws to allow more personal choice and autonomy whilst opposing criminal elements and the risks of exploitation and abuse.
I am especially impressed with the step-wise approach of Canada which has managed to respond and reflect public opinion whilst respecting fears and apprehension expressed by some.
How much of a game changer could this be for the IOM?
It is another step towards a more open and progressive society where individuals are respected but the community is protected.
Assuming the bill goes through in some form, as a long-term vision, do you see us going down the same route as Portugal who have decriminalised all drugs since 2001?
The extreme reaction in Portugal was a response to drug-related deaths and overdoses. Whilst I would not advocate that route we do have a problem in the island with accidental deaths due to drug misuse.
This will never be tackled through the courts and instead, we need a much better educational system starting in schools which helps people deal with any addiction problems and provides information, healthcare, and support rather than a draconian and forced reaction from the criminal justice system.