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David Cameron: A World View Interview

28/02/2011

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The Beckley Foundation is concerned by David Cameron’s recent comments on drug policy reform.

Speaking in an interview with Al Jazeera TV, the British Prime Minister was asked specifically about marijuana legalisation, education and control. This question was the second most popular submitted and voted for by the channels viewers. With a similar question posed to US President Barack Obama in a recent interview, the subject of drug policy reform would seem to be one of overwhelming public interest.

Al Jazeera TV: Why is marijuana illegal when alcohol and tobacco are more addictive and dangerous to our health, but we manage to control them? Wouldn’t education about drugs from a younger age be better?

David Cameron: Well there’s one bit of that question I agree with which I think education about drugs is vital and we should make sure that education programmes are there in our schools and we should make sure that they work. But I don’t really accept the rest of the question. I think if you actually look at the sort of marijuana that is on sale today, it is actually incredibly damaging, very, very toxic and leads to, in many cases, huge mental health problems. But I think the more fundamental reason for not making these drugs legal is that to make them legal would make them even more prevalent and would increase use levels even more than they are now. So I don’t think it is the right answer. I think a combination of education, also treatment programmes for drug addicts; I think those are the two most important planks of a proper anti-drug policy.

Al Jazeera TV: What about the argument that it could be used as medicinal properties? That was another question we actually had, a person saying it’s got proven medicinal properties. If used properly and regulated properly it could actually be quite helpful.

David Cameron: That is a matter for the science and medical authorities to determine and they are free to make independent determinations about that. But the question here about whether illegal drugs should be made legal, my answer is no.

In the past Mr. Cameron was a member of the 2002 House of Lords Home Affairs Select Committee which advocated a harm reduction approach to drug policy. However,  since coming to power he is continuing the previous governments prohibitionist policies on drugs.

The arguments used by the PM showed many inconsistencies and were largely self-contradictory. He stated that science and medical authorities should be making independent findings to governmental officials; yet, it appears that his mind is already made up with an emphatic ‘no’, to even the idea of a regulated market. If one considers the sacking of Professor David Nutt by the previous government’s advisory council on drugs, for speaking out about the lack of evidence backing up the current classification system used to rate the ‘harms’ associated with illegal drugs, it suggests that independent reviews that examine the evidence on drugs are becoming not as independent as one might hope.

The link between cannabis use and mental health problems remains to be clearly established, it may act as a trigger within susceptible individuals who have a predisposition to mental illness. Research has shown that it is the high proportion of the psychoactive chemical THC within modern ‘street’ cannabis that may be the route of these mental health issues. Within a regulated market, governments would be able to control the strength and chemical composition of the available Cannabis in a similar way to which alcohol is controlled.

Mr. Cameron, also refers to the idea that legalisation would increase drug-use. In fact, as the examples of Amsterdam and Portugal have shown, use in regulated markets has not been shown to significantly increase, even falling according to certain indices, along with many other drug related harms.

It is the Beckley Foundation’s aim to provide the government with the latest scientific research that they can use to inform their decision making. We hope that Mr. Cameron and his government do not allow themselves to be swayed by misinformation or public opinions. We hope that they instead base their decisions on an open and frank discussion that is founded on the latest and most accurate scientific evidence about the individual harms associated with a drug.

The World View Interview can be watched below with the section on cannabis appearing at 10:44.

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