My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for giving us the opportunity to debate this important subject and for her clear and comprehensive introduction.
I go to Mexico every year and have done so for many years. Perhaps that is why I have come to believe that the so-called war on drugs has been a catastrophic mistake. It has led in Mexico and elsewhere in the Americas to vicious gang warfare, murder, violence against officials, corruption and the accumulation of vast wealth by those involved, and it has done little to reduce the consumption of drugs worldwide. That is one reason why I have been a warm supporter of the APPG for Drug Policy Reform and its demand for evidence-based action.
We are holding this debate at a time when a rapidly growing number of countries are moving to a much wider legalisation of cannabis consumption than we are discussing this evening. During the recent United States elections, there were referendums that added four new states to the 24 that had already decided to legalise marijuana consumption. In this country, a committee in the other place has recommended that cannabis should be legalised. Its report refers to the UK’s “dark ages” drugs policy. We are arguing tonight for the legalisation of only medical cannabis, and this debate comes a few days after the British Medical Journal urged doctors to push for legalisation, stating that doctors have “ethical responsibilities” to campaign for change.
We have already heard of the hugely important change in UN policy and that at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session held in April, both the US and the UN leadership rejected a moralistic and prohibitionist approach and called for all the proposed changes contained in the admirable report of the all-party group.
I add only one other thought. There is a great deal of evidence that, despite the present tight regulatory system, a great many people are using cannabis to relieve pain and to treat their own particular illnesses, and they are doing so in the knowledge that they are breaking the law. The noble Baroness referred to that. My daughter, Sophie Sabbage, in her book The Cancer Whisperer, describes a similar situation among those suffering from cancer who have not been fortunate, as I have been, to have their cancer cured by amazing surgery. She refers to treatments she has had in Mexico, reinforcing the orthodox treatments she had in this country. She writes that,
“it is so damn difficult, and in some cases impossible, to access those cancer protocols here in the UK … Interestingly I am now plugged into a semi-underground network through which I have been able to access some treatments in the UK, but it isn’t easy, I have met fully qualified GPs as well as highly experienced health practitioners who have to fly under the radar in order to provide these services”.
I am sure the same thing is happening with cannabis. We need the Government to move to a regime where it is not necessary to fly under the radar.