An Overview of Cannabis Policy

Friday, October 31, 2008

On October 2, 2008, the Beckley Foundation launched in the House of Lords its Global Cannabis Commission Report, an authoritative guide to the effects of cannabis, the policies that control its use, and recommendations for policy reform.  A team of leading drug policy analysts prepared an overview of the latest scientific evidence surrounding cannabis and the policies that control its use.

In reviewing the evidence, the authors come to some striking conclusions, many of which challenge the received wisdom concerning cannabis: 

  • Although cannabis can have a negative impact on health, including mental health, in terms of relative harms it is considerably less harmful than alcohol or tobacco. Historically there have only been 2 deaths worldwide attributed to cannabis, whereas alcohol and tobacco together are responsible for over 100,000 deaths per annum in the UK alone.
  • Many of the harms associated with cannabis use are the result of prohibition itself, particularly the social harms arising from arrest and imprisonment. 
  • Policies that control cannabis, whether draconian or liberal, appear to have little impact on the prevalence of consumption.
  • In an alternative system of regulated availability, market controls such as taxation, minimum age requirements for use and purchase, labelling and potency limits are available to minimise the harms associated with cannabis use.

The report has been prepared for the UNGASS review process in 2009. It will provide policy-makers at national and international level with all the relevant facts to help them make better informed decisions. The report did not receive much media attention. Which is a shame. It contains the most up to date data to spark off a much needed debate.

At least The Independent tried to initiate a discussion in a question and answer report of the event, see: The Big Question: Is it time the world forgot about cannabis in its war against drugs? In The Guardian, Duncan Campbell concluded that the report contains much that would aid the debate, and urged politicians to "experiment" with it.

Read the press release 

Download the full report or the conclusions and recommendations

The Beckley Foundation prepared an executive summary of the report, see: An Overview of Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond Stalemate, Beckley Briefing Paper 17, October 2008