On 8 September 2018, UKCSC chairman Greg de Hoedt took part in a panel discussion at the Big Tent Ideas Festival at the Babraham Research Institute in Cambridgeshire.
The panel, chaired by Steve Moore, founder and director of Volteface, featured Lib Dem MP and anti-prohibitionist Norman Lamb, George McBride of Hanway Associates, Lizzie McCullough, Director or Policy at VolteFace, and Anna, a former barrister and now trustee of West Kent Mind.
The topics debated included Canada, regulation and the impact of drug policy on young people.
Norman Lamb was particularly pleased to hear a Liberal Democrat in the audience say at the end that “I have been convinced today”.
Lamb himself said that his position has “evolved” in recent years, having witnessed how drug policy operates in this country. “I think the ‘war on drugs’ has been a catastrophic disaster, internationally,” he said. “We’ve managed to hand billions of pounds every year to organised crime. And it engenders enormous violence, particularly in the poorest communities, around our world. If you look at Mexico the violence is horrific and so much of it is driven by the drugs trade. On our streets in London, there’s a very close association with gun and knife crime and the illegal drugs trade. Yet never is the association made by government.
“We manage to criminalise so many young people for using cannabis. If we had a regulated market we would protect teenagers so much better than we do at the moment.
“I have a constituent who uses cannabis for acute pain in his knee from a skiing accident. He is now going to be prosecuted by Norfolk police. It’s staggeringly stupid and a waste of public money.”
Greg was asked a number of questions about the UKCSC model:
On protecting teenagers:
“You have to become a member to be able to access a UKCSC cannabis social club. That requires you to show an ID. So it isn’t a free for all. Actually the majority of people who join our clubs are between 35 and 70.
“We need consumer safety standards to keep people safe. So if you label it and say this product has this much CBD in it, this much THC in it, it’s likely to have this effect, compare it to eight different products, and so on, people will be able to make an informed choice over what they use.
“People say ‘what are drug dealers going to do’ [after legalisation] – they’re going to sell cannabis legally, they aren’t going to have criminal records.”
On the club experience:
“It’s very friendly. Some are bigger than this tent, some are smaller, some are situated over three or four floors – they are any space that a community can get their hands on really.
“It’s like a church: we’re not where the building is, we are a community of people. There are actually more people in the UK that consume cannabis on a daily basis than go to Sunday service now. If anything is British, people think of the Church – I would claim that cannabis is a very British institute right now.”
On the police’s approach to the clubs:
“Six Police Crime Commissioners have come out and said that they support the cannabis social club model. I’ve spoken to them about substance abuse… there’s a huge spice problem at the moment in the UK. The only reason people are turning to these synthetic cannabinoids is because cannabis is illegal.
“Compare the situation, with spice with people going out of their mind, to people coming to a cannabis social club where people know your name and feel concerned about you if you have a healthcare problem.”
On big business moving into cannabis:
“Obviously there are concerns that we’re going to end up with a McDonalds of weed… there is a need for large commercial cannabis that is able to raise productivity, for people who want it that don’t care so much about the finer intricacies of how it was grown. But then you’ve got the connoisseurs who look at cannabis like people who specialise in wine.
“Our movement is full of people who pride themselves on being cannabis experts. They want to know that the community growing cannabis – like with craft cider and craft beer – they want to be able to know that these little brands are available locally.
“It is a bit of a business race. There are people from the grassroots level who want to move up and be like the Nike of cannabis. But we don’t want to see brands from the US who have a 20 year head start coming over here and just saturating what we’ve got going on. Otherwise we’re just going to get import cannabis from the US, because they’ve got surpluses there.
“People are already ordering tons of packages from the US. People are prepared to pay a little bit more for cannabis that’s been imported to the UK from Oregon or California or Denver… they will pay £50 for an eighth, £125 for an eighth of cannabis in a tuna tin that’s been nitrogen sealed with a nice label round it that says ‘21% THC, 2% CBD, indica’, so they know whether it’s going to be quite relaxing or quite strong. They’re prepared to pay that because they know it’s from a regulated brand and they know it’s better than what they can get on the street.
“There was an article with Prince William at Heathrow Airport, where they’d seized half a ton in a couple of weeks. There’s a ridiculous amount coming in, but it shows people want regulated cannabis.”
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