I was disappointed to read Andrew Azzopardi’s article on Maltatoday (4 March 2019) regarding the supposed risks of regulating the personal recreational use of cannabis. As Dean of the Faculty for Social Wellbeing, Azzopardi should really know better than this.
While there is no denying that cannabis does possess some mild unwanted effects, there is insubstantial evidence to prove it is connected to psychotic disorders. In his article, Azzopardi quotes “that regular cannabis use increases the risk of developing psychotic illnesses, such as schizophrenia, particularly in adolescents” (Dr Marta di Forti, King’s College London). Unfortunately, what Azzopardi fails to mention is that the studies were conducted on high potency cannabis, which is specifically grown to contain high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This drug, more commonly known as skunk-like, was investigated since it is very frequently found illegally in the streets of South London.
Azzopardi, unfortunately, used this singular case study and rushed to conclusions without considering all of the variables. To date, there is absolutely no hard evidence that relates natural cannabis to mental illnesses. On the contrary, latest evidence indicate that people with psychiatric issues, can help alleviate their symptoms by using cannabis. In fact, researchers are investigating whether it could be used as a possible treatment for schizophrenia and depression, since cannabidiol (CBD) may possess antipsychotic benefits.
Actually, the research conducted by Dr Marta di Forti, which Azzopardi is referring to makes the call for cannabis regulation an even louder one. The current system that demonises people who use cannabis for recreational purposes has failed miserably. No matter how they try to justify it, illegal and harmful use is still on the increase. If we keep on insisting on this path, the so called ‘war on drugs’ will just mean more waste of valuable resources on the persecution of people. It is obvious that is has failed people and it has only benefited the underground and illicit empire created by drug traffickers. It is also disingenuous to compare cannabis to other deadly drugs and substances.
There is only one way forward, we need to accept that prohibition is ineffective and instead shift to a harm reduction policy, if and where there is harm. How? By putting proper laws into place that control and license the selling and the growing of cannabis for personal use. It makes sense to shun the capitalist system where multinational companies, as they did with tobacco, take over cannabis. Intelligent regulation can achieve this. It can also drastically reduce illegal trafficking of much more harmful synthetic drugs from our streets. Alternattiva Demokratika had already mentioned in its 2017 Electoral Manifesto that there are various cannabis regulation models that experts could look into.
One such model can be found in Colorado (USA), where cannabis was regularised in 2012. Natural cannabis sales in Colorado are subject to tax in the same manner we tax tobacco and alcohol in Malta (which by the way are much more harmful legal activities!). While in Malta we keep on wasting money on curtailing cannabis, the State of Colorado tackled the problem in a more social and cost-effective manner. By introducing regulation, tax revenue generated by cannabis sales is reinvested where it is really needed, such as in public schools and social services.
The UN Global Commission on Drug Policy “examines how governments can take control of currently illegal drug markets through responsible regulation, and provides a practical roadmap that tackles the real implications and recognises the difficulties of transitioning from illegal to legally regulated drug markets.” Contrarily, Professor Azzopardi wants Police to be ‘trained’ to deal with issues relating to cannabis use. Leave the Police out of this. They have far more important things to do.
To conclude, allow me to go back to Andrew Azzopardi’s remarks on the supposed dangers of cannabis regulation. His paranoia verges on the absurd and it is unfortunately derived from years of misinformation and propaganda that is stopping us from changing for the better. Luckily for us, society is moving forward and it is amending past mistakes by introducing policies that put people first.
Published in the Maltatoday – Sunday 17 March