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UK: Police chief calls for more cannabis clubs where drug can be used and traded safely
Thursday 09 Aug 2018
A police chief has called for cannabis users to be allowed to freely grow and sell the drug without fear of arrest in cannabis clubs, saying the “war on drugs” would continue to fail if radical changes were not made.
Arfon Jones, the police and crime commissioner for north Wales, has campaigned on the issue for most of his tenure and is now calling for Spanish-style “collectives”, where cannabis users sell homegrown drugs to each other.
Hundreds of cannabis clubs are already registered across the UK where the drug is traded and used in a safe and controlled space but not sold to the general public. Club members pay about £35 a year to join and gather on a regular basis, sometimes weekly, to smoke and share the drug.
Details are available online on websites such as United Kingdom Cannabis Social Clubs (UKCSC), which has 75 clubs registered across the country.
Jones visited the Teesside cannabis club earlier this year and also travelled to Switzerland to learn how different drug programmes work.
He said: “I support a legalised and regulated cannabis market with age restrictions and the personal cultivation of a certain number of plants. It has been clear for a very long time that the so-called war on drugs has failed. I am sympathetic to the Spanish-style cannabis clubs which grow their own cannabis for regulated consumption by their members.”
Jones said he worked in an area, Wrexham, where there have been well-documented drugs problems. He called for a change in the way substance abuse was viewed and treated by society as a whole.
He added: “My views on this issue were formed over many years working as a police officer, seeing the futility of locking up people with problematic drug use, only to see them come before the courts again and again.
“There is an expectation that drug-taking and the antisocial behaviour are police matters. That is not the case. We deal with the symptoms but other agencies should be dealing with the underlying causes.
“Saving lives by adopting sensible harm reduction measures would be a win-win for everybody.”
Greg de Hoedt, head of UKCSC, which was set up in 2011 to advise and advocate for change, started the network after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. He spent six months in the US after he found that medicinal cannabis alleviated his suffering.
He said: “Most of the clubs are founded with at least one or two members that require cannabis medicinally, so it’s a built-in ethos and understanding that cannabis helps people. Whether they like it or not, when people find out they have a medical condition that cannabis can be helped by and they look around for support, their first port of call is their local cannabis social club.”
He said that since the network was set up he was not aware of any police raids, or any member being arrested entering or leaving any cannabis club. De Hoedt also claimed members included magistrates, bank managers, nurses and television actors.
One of its members – the Teesside club, run in a city centre office block, with 180 members paying £45 annually – has been open for four years. Now its founder, Michael Fisher, 33, wants to expand the model across the UK.
He said: “What we’ve had here is a lot of success, in 14 months, where we’ve gone from about 60 to 70 members to around 180 people.
“The conversation around cannabis is changing and it is becoming more acceptable to talk about. We don’t feel the need to hide in the shadows about it. Something I would like to see is more clubs, across the country.”
Although still illegal, Fisher said Cleveland police tolerated the use of small quantities of the drug, and he described local officers as “very supportive”.
But the Home Office has issued a reminder that recreational possession, cultivation and supply of marijuana remain illegal and that it expected the law to be enforced.
A Home Office spokesman said: “The trade and possession of recreational cannabis is illegal, regardless of where you use it.
“Scientific and medical evidence is clear that recreational cannabis use can cause harm to individuals and society. Those using it should be in no doubt that if they are caught they face prosecution and a jail term of five years. How police choose to pursue investigations is an operational decision for chief constables, but we expect them to enforce the law.”
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