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This is how countries are changing their cannabis laws
Sunday 16 Apr 2017
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s support for the legalisation of recreational use of marijuana is the latest sign that attitudes to the drug are rapidly changing.
A series of countries have effectively decriminalised cannabis and the US state of Colorado won global attention when it opened the door to “retail marijuana”.
Former Deputy PM Nick Clegg has praised Prime Minister Trudeau and urged the UK Government to take “a leaf out of Canada’s book”. Meanwhile, there are calls for the Assembly to have the power to set cannabis policy in Wales.
Here is how different countries deal with cannabis:
Canadian PM Justin Trudeau is pushing to relax his country's cannabis laws
Prime Minister Trudeau introduced legislation on Thursday which goes beyond decriminalisation and would allow it to be sold as a consumer product. It will be up to individual provinces to decide how it is sold and distributed.
Pharmacies in the Latin American country will be able to sell cannabis for recreational use from July. The cannabis will be grown by licensed producers and users will have to be on a national register before they can make a purchase.
3. The United States
Marijuana is illegal under federal law in the US but a fifth of Americans now live in a state where they can smoke it without requiring a letter from a doctor. More than half of the 50 states have legalised medical use of the drug.
According to Business Insider, the cannabis industry in the US “is on track to post $20.2bn in sales by 2021”.
Colorado voted to legalise recreational use in 2012. In just 10 months there had been more than $1bn in legal sales.
California legalised marijuana for medical use in 1996 but in 2016 the law was changed to allow people to carry up to an ounce without a prescription.
Portugal took the headline-grabbing step of decriminalising drugs in 2001. Authorities do not arrest people with less than what is considered a 10-day supply of a drug.
However, drugs are seized and cases are referred to a local “Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction” which is responsible for rehabilitation.
Since 1991 cannabis clubs have acted as havens for Spanish pot-smokers. These non-profit clubs grow and distribute the drug among members.
Germany this year legalised marijuana for medical use. Doctors are able to prescribe the drug for people with severe conditions such as multiple sclerosis.
The Netherlands is famed for its tolerant approach to drugs – so much so that the Dutch Government website has set out on its website an English language explanation of its policy: “The Netherlands has a policy of toleration regarding soft drugs. This means that the sale of soft drugs in coffee shops is a criminal offence but the Public Prosecution Service does not prosecute coffee shops for this offence.”
Should the Assembly gain the power to set cannabis policy in Wales? Plaid and Ukip say Yes.
AMs are responsible for the NHS in Wales but criminal justice remains the responsibility of MPs. However, there are calls for change.
A Plaid Cymru spokeswoman said: “[We] fully support the principle that Wales should be able to set its own policies when it comes to the decriminalisation of drugs. A mature and measured public debate surrounding the legal status of cannabis is long overdue.
“We need to move to a situation in which people do not get trapped in a damaging cycle of crime.”
A Ukip Wales spokesman also wanted Wales to be able to decide policy in this area, stating: “[Our] current national policy is ‘we will not decriminalise illegal drugs, however we will focus on ensuring drug suppliers, not their victims, face the full force of the law’. We would however be in favour of Wales gaining the power to set its own policy in this area.”
The Welsh Government does not want powers to set cannabis policy.
A spokesman said: “Legal classification of drugs is not a devolved matter and remains a responsibility at a UK Government level. We consider this to be appropriate as the legal classification of drugs should be considered on a UK-wide basis.”
The Tories are also opposed:
The Welsh Conservatives opposed legalisation, stating: “Cannabis, whether used for medicinal or recreational purposes, is a dangerous substance and would have catastrophic consequence to health and society if it was ever legalised. How can we in one breath be calling for smoking cessation while advocating the use of cannabis, which is most commonly ingested through smoke inhalation?
“We already have problems with addiction to and the illegal trading of prescription drugs, legalising cannabis would make matters even worse.”
Here is what Lib Dems think:
A Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesman said: “[We] have long called for the devolution of justice and policing powers to Wales to enable greater cooperation with devolved services like youth services, health and education, and local councils. Until that time when powers become available to Wales, we would support the approach adopted by Durham Police, focusing our efforts on targeting organised crime groups and drug dealers, rather than those who use marijuana for personal use.”
Former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg was more forthright in his support for the approach for a Canadian-style approach, saying: “While the UK remains firmly stuck with an outdated approach to cannabis, other countries are moving forward to a more effective approach. Trudeau’s sensible and moderate government in Canada understands that a regulated market will drive out criminality and prevent young people from having easy access to cannabis.
“The UK government should take a leaf out of Canada’s book and get a grip on the cannabis market here – bringing about control of the drug through regulation.”
This is what Welsh doctors say:
However, Dr Phil Banfield, chair of the BMA’s Welsh Council, said: “BMA Cymru Wales supports the wider use of cannabis derivatives for medical purposes, but does not support any change to the law (or the way it is enforced) in relation to the recreational use of cannabis.”
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