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New Study Calls For a more Rational Approach to Cannabis Control

‘That which is prohibited cannot easily be regulated’

A new book published by the Beckley Foundation and Oxford University Press has concluded that cannabis prohibition policies have comprehensively failed and that a new approach to cannabis policy is urgently needed. The book entitled Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond Stalemate, published on the 25th of January, was researched and written by a group of the world’s leading drug policy analysts . It gives an overview of the latest scientific evidence surrounding cannabis and calls for an evidence-based approach to policy that seeks to minimize the harms associated with use of that drug.

The book highlights current scientific evidence on the health consequences of cannabis use; it shows that while cannabis use does cause harms to some of those who use it, those harms at the population level are modest in comparison with alcohol or cocaine. It demonstrates that the vast numbers of arrests for possession of cannabis in countries such as the UK, the US and Switzerland have had minimal deterrent effect. The authors propose a less punitive approach by governments and international agencies. Policy has changed hardly at all since the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was ratified, with present international treaties inhibiting decriminalisation or legalisation and preventing any thoroughgoing reforms of national cannabis regimes.

The UN estimates that up to 190 million people use cannabis , representing 4% of the global adult population, compared with 1% of the population, which uses all other illegal drugs together. Thus cannabis is by far the most used controlled drug in the world, making it the mainstay of the War on Drugs. In the United States alone there were an estimated 829,625 arrests for cannabis violations in 2006 . Despite these figures, cannabis continues to be largely ignored in international drug policy debates. This is what prompted Amanda Feilding, Director of the Beckley Foundation to convene the Global Cannabis Commission, which resulted in this book.

The book concludes that since the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was ratified, patterns of cannabis consumption have altered fundamentally: in many nations in the developed world smoking cannabis is now almost a rite of passage among young people. A crucial conclusion of the book is that there appears to be no apparent link between cannabis policy – whether draconian or liberal – and prevalence of use. Thus liberal approaches would appear to be preferable, as they minimise the adverse consequences arising from the law and its enforcement.

Current control regimes are regarded as being intrusive on privacy, socially divisive and expensive to maintain, helping to create illegal markets for cannabis. New research has identified the significance of the strength and chemical composition of cannabis in relation to psychological health. It has also demonstrated the importance of the balance found in natural cannabis between THC , (which gets you high), and CBD (which acts as an anti-psychotic agent). Recently genetically modified strains such as ‘skunk’, which dominate the street markets in the UK, have been found to have increasingly high THC and extremely low amounts of CBD . Illegal markets always tend towards the production of stronger strains of drugs.

The book outlines alternative methods of minimising harms from cannabis use. Four possible routes of change are described, from depenalisation to decriminalisation to the possibility of partial legality and finally to a regulated market.

The book also lays out ways in which a country can legally overcome the restrictions of the current international conventions, and provides a new Draft Framework Convention on Cannabis Control. This book is an invaluable guide in helping form future cannabis policy.

For a more detailed description click here

Changing Minds

Drug Policy Reform and Psychedelic Research Initiatives

Beckley Foundation, Oxford

2011 will mark the 50th anniversary of the “61 Convention”,  the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs which prohibited the use, growth and trade of all psychoactive, plant-based drugs worldwide for non-scientific or medical purposes.

The Convention paved the way for the “War on Drugs” – now widely acknowledged to be both damaging and – even in its own terms – unsuccessful. The harsh new regulatory climate resulted in the flowering of a billion dollar trade in black market drugs, along with soaring rates of addiction and a gradual destabilisation of large parts of the globe.

New laws made criminals of millions of recreational users. They also slammed the door on the development of powerful new therapies which used psychoactive drugs for the treatment of severe depression, ‘shell shock’, addiction, chronic pain and other seriously debilitating conditions.

Finally, however, the climate is changing. The BECKLEY FOUNDATION is helping to create a global shift from regarding recreational drug-use as a crime, to seeing it as a practice which may offer benefits as well as hazards.

Recent policy initiatives from the Beckley Foundation include the convening and joint publication (with OUP), of “Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond Stalemate”(2010). This influential publication provided the blueprint for a new, rational cannabis policy. The Foundation is now working to produce a new draft convention for all illegal drugs. It is also commissioning the first Cost/Benefit analysis of the current “War on Drugs”.

The Beckley Foundation also initiates and supports ground-breaking scientific research into the therapeutic and mind-altering effects of psychoactive drugs at leading institutions around the world.

Recent  studies include:

  • The first approved use of LSD in human subjects to  investigate the drug’s effect on brain  function (University of California, Berkeley)
  • The first pilot study of psilocybin (magic mushroom derivative) as a treatment for addiction (Johns Hopkins, Washington)
  • The first study of psilocybin and brain function using fMRI brain imaging (Imperial College, London)
  • The first study using an LSD-analog (Bromo-LSD) as a preventative treatment for cluster headaches (Hanover Medical School)
  • The first research into the  stress-relieving effects of  the cannabis compound  cannnabidiol (CBD) (Institute of Psychiatry, London)
  • Original work in the emerging field of cranial compliance to determine its possible role in the prevention of memory disorders and dementia (Institute of Evolutionary Physiology and Biochemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences)

Further information on these programmes can be found on our Science page.


  • Key international seminars organized by BF led to the development and publication of the now widely-accepted ‘scale of harm’,  published in the Lancet (2007) and to over 30 other publications on key policy matters. More info.

2010 Launch of Beckley Foundation Press in association with OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS with the following lead publications:

  • Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond Stalemate Robin Room, Benedikt Fischer, Wayne Hall, Simon Lenton, and Peter Reuter. Convenor: Amanda Feilding (in association with Oxford University Press)
  • Hoffman’s Elixir: LSD and the New Eleusis, talks and essays by Albert Hoffman and others, edited by Amanda Feilding
  • The Pharmacology of LSD: A Critical Review, by Annelie Hintzen and Torsten Passie (in association with Oxford University Press)
  • Moskalenko Monograph: Human Brain Fluid Dynamics in Relation to its Cognitive Function by Yuri E. Moskalenko and Amanda Feilding

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