Cannabis Legalisation

The Tide Effect: Is UK Cannabis Legalisation Inevitable?

11 mins read

Cannabis legalisation has been a hot topic for all the major news outlets yet again this week, after a new publication launched yesterday by Volteface and The Adam Smith Institute.

In the aptly named Tide Effect, author Boris Starling argues that cannabis legalisation and regulation is now inevitable due to a tidal shift in perception and the amount of countries re-visiting their cannabis laws. He argues that we should look to the market-based approach currently seen in some US states for ideas on how to approach UK Cannabis legalisation and regulation.

Cannabis Legalisation, The Tide Effect: Is UK Cannabis Legalisation Inevitable?, ISMOKE

In the first chapter of The Tide Effect, Starling focuses on a specific campaign ran by the Independent on Sunday back in 1997. This shows that it has been years (almost 20) since a sustained news campaign in the UK to legalise cannabis:

“Interestingly, given the way in which the US has forged ahead of the UK on the issue since then, the demonstration was seen as ground-breaking by US activists. ‘I cannot conceive of a demonstration like this in America just now,’ said Professor John P. Morgan of the City of New York Medical School. ‘I wish you success. The eyes of the western democracies are upon you.’”

Starling also reports that the campaign culminated in a ‘Decriminalise Cannabis’ protest in central London in March 1998. 13000-15,000 people attended, but it was not really enough, when compared to other protests at the time (countryside alliance – 400,000 stop war – 2 million). The publication suggests that it failed because “Although grassroots support was strong, the campaign lacked the backing of lobbyists, think tankers, special advisers and all the other players in the Westminster circus.”

However, when you look at attendance figures for Hyde Park on 20th April this year at 6000-9000 – midweek – it would not surprise me if we exceed the decriminalise cannabis protest numbers in the next couple of years. One day per year, however, is not enough. These marches should be happening monthly at the very least, and all around the country.

Cannabis Legalisation, The Tide Effect: Is UK Cannabis Legalisation Inevitable?, ISMOKE
Photo: BBC

In another chapter, Starling presents a subject which does need to be addressed as the elephant in the room when it comes to our media’s perceptions on cannabis. Ladies and gentleman, let’s talk about skunk:

Skunk is an independent strain of cannabis with its origins dating back to the 1970s, although the term is now used more broadly to refer to much of the strong cannabis, which accounts for around 80% of the UK market. It’s in that context that I shall use the word throughout The Tide Effect: not as a substance different from ‘ordinary’ cannabis, but simply a much stronger version of it.” – Starling

As usual when reading about ‘skunk’ this overgeneralisation does annoy me, but I can see why it is written as it is in the publication. Volteface are presenting an argument in a way which will appear more logical to those who don’t currently support cannabis legalisation and regulation, or who are unsure.

In reality, more education is needed, but I don’t expect politicians to take an interest in cannabis enough to take the time to learn the difference between all the different types and their respective medical benefits.

If the route to cannabis legalisation that is adopted is to develop an industry similar to that of alcohol (which seems to be the way of thinking of the Adam Smith Institute), then ‘skunk’ (as defined by Starling) will be seen as the liquor of the weed world, comparable to vodka or rum.

It is worth noting that under Starling’s definition, there are a lot of medical patients that need ‘skunk’ to get any form of pain relief, as that high level of THC is actually their medicine. Lots of medical cannabis would also fall under this ‘skunk’ definition, further highlighting the issue with over generalisation.

“A 2014 study found that reclassifying cannabis as class C, in 2009, reduced admissions for psychosis, while returning it to class B increased them. ” – The Tide Effect

Chapter 3 drives home the consumption statistics. The report estimates 2 million cannabis smokers in the UK (that’s one in 15), but I think this is a conservative estimate.

Another highlight from this chapter also rung true: “The British are very good at grumbling about change when it happens and then accepting it as though it had always been thus.”

The remaining chapters in the publication are dedicated to policy and industry surrounding cannabis. In chapter 6, Starling states that the UK cannabis economy would be worth approximately £6.8bn per annum”. This is a large sum that should be hard to ignore by economists.

Just think of what we could do with all that extra money! The US State of Colorado is already using some of their tax revenue to help the homeless.

Another point Starling brings up concerns requiring a sensible approach to regulation, because if policy makers “push these [cannabis] prices too high, then they risk letting the black market dealers back in the game again. They have to perform the regulatory equivalent of keeping the bath level with the taps running but the plug out.”

Last night we also attended the launch event for The Tide effect publication at Volteface HQ. The panel consisted of:


Cannabis Legalisation, The Tide Effect: Is UK Cannabis Legalisation Inevitable?, ISMOKE

The event itself was very thought-provoking, and certainly generated some good discussion around the publication, with the audience given the opportunity to ask the author and publishers questions.

Paul Hayes was the voice of the opposing side in the room, as he sees cannabis legalisation as a worrying concept because it could present a new danger to already vulnerable people. This, as you can imagine, put him at odds with most of the room, but prevented the ‘echo-chamber effect’.

Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute sees cannabis regulation potential as a thriving industry for big business. He struck me as somebody that I would disagree with on a lot of political subjects. However, his argument for cannabis regulation is important, because his ideal  will appeal to the Tory majority government more than, say my ideal, which would be more of a ‘free for all, grow your own, let’s all make our own medicine’ approach.

Another point raised last night by Starling concerned a ‘cbd buffer’, that is a minimum amount of CBD required for cannabis to be legally sold, as a sort of safety net. While this would be hard to enforce, it is something that would indeed get the politicians thinking, especially since the MHRA came out and said CBD was medicine last month, while the Home office still state that cannabis has no medicinal benefit in its herbal form.

I enjoyed reading the Tide Effect and attending the launch last night. The publication presents a clear and concise look at what a sensible approach to cannabis legalisation would look like in this country based on the successes – and learning from the mistakes – of our US cousins.

With the Tide Effect generating the sort of press you’d hope to see in any country fighting for cannabis legalisation, we hope that the UK cannabis campaign can continue to keep the pressure up and present our arguments in a way that cannot be ignored.

Cannabis Legalisation, The Tide Effect: Is UK Cannabis Legalisation Inevitable?, ISMOKE
Jacqui Smith, former Home Secretary Photo: Telegraph

Even Jacqui Smith, former Home Secretary has said  that: “Knowing what I know now, I would resist the temptation to resort to the law to tackle the harm from cannabis. We must overcome the prejudice and the negative language surrounding cannabis to create a new drugs strategy that actually works for the UK.”

I think things are looking positive.

Tyler Green

Read The Tide Effect here:

Read more here in The Guardian:

Watch out for our video from the event coming soon exclusive to ISMOKE media.



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