The UK’s Problematic Relationship with Cannabis

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Weed In The UK

If you’ve ever been to London and tried finding weed, you probably know that unless you have a connection, you may as well be looking for aliens. Sure, you can try the street dealers, but you risk dealing with the UK’s heavy-handed cannabis laws. In 2015, the idea of the UK government’s views on cannabis shifting would have seemed incredibly unlikely. But then again, so would the idea of the UK leaving the EU. Despite a great deal of confusion over how the process will actually look, as well as countless citizens taking to the streets to oppose the idea, it would appear, after the results of the most recent election, that is the will of the people, for better or worse.

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Boris Johnson

With a now-massive conservative majority, the idea of cannabis being legalized has never seemed further for some people. Conservatives and weed go together like, well, conservatives and weed. It just doesn’t really fit, you know? While many in the party oppose cannabis on a moral level, as conservatives have done since the first days of prohibition, there is something even more appealing than moral superiority and that’s MONEY.

Shocking. But not really.

Now, to the surprise of many people, both in and out of his administration, the newly elected Prime Minister is surrounding himself with pro-cannabis advisors.

When sales and tax figures started coming out of Canada and states where cannabis is legal, UK politicians slowly took notice. As the government prepares to go forward as an independent nation, no longer bound by the rules of the EU, many who previously turned their noses at pot are now asking ‘if the money is right, why would we not legalize?’

A Long Way To Go

There are still many obstacles that stand in the way before legalization can even begin being discussed seriously. The biggest change necessary being a massive cultural shift in how the public views cannabis. Thanks to incredibly effective, albeit often blatantly misleading propaganda, much of the public still views cannabis as a drug that often leads to psychosis and schizophrenic episodes. The media have cherry-picked the results of various studies and anecdotal stories to create a cloud of fear around the plant. Even when children within the UK’s lives have depended on being able to use medical cannabis, the conservative party has consistently dragged their heels. Due to bureaucratic, partisan and archaic ideologies, children have consistently been denied a proven medicine. And for what?

Skunk

Nothing illustrates the absurdity of the UK’s approach to cannabis more than  ‘Skunk’. Initially the name of a strain from the 1970s, the UK media and government have created a monster out of the word. There are countless articles that discuss a super form of cannabis that they refer to as Skunk. They claim ‘Skunk’ is ‘unpollinated’ cannabis that contains high levels of THC (over 10%), low levels of CBD and are grown under bright lights.

Essentially, what they are describing is decent weed. I’m not kidding.

The cannabis in England was of such poor quality, for so long, that when properly grown pot that contained more than 10% THC hit the streets and people started actually getting high; the media panicked. 

The correlation between psychosis and cannabis is not breaking news. Those that are genetically predisposed to psychiatric conditions, specifically schizophrenia, should not use cannabis. THC can make certain conditions much worse and is known to exacerbate symptoms. It is important that people are aware, and the media is responsible for spreading that message. With that said, the press in the UK, with the urging of the government behind it, has taken these statistics and warped them to create a culture of fear around cannabis that had only previously existed in the earliest days of prohibition.

I’ve smoked ‘Skunk’. It’s…fine. Nothing special. I mean, its weed. Certainly not worth the concern it has garnered.

Any cannabis with THC less than 10% would not be acceptable from either the legal or the grey market in Canada. A 10% THC weed, unless specifically bred to be low THC and high CBD, would be considered the base standard, with percentages only going up from there.

In London, it’s apparently all the making of a super drug.

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The Much Feared ‘Skunk’ Strain.

 

Despite numerous studies proving how CBD can actually benefit those suffering from psychosis significantly, press in the UK have warped the findings again to claim that the presence of CBD is the only thing stopping people from getting psychosis when smoking ‘Skunk’. The mental gymnastics required to warp these findings, all for this broken conservative narrative, is Olympic level.

If the absurdity and blatant contradictions of cannabis coverage were not clear enough, the same article that claims buds with high percentages of THC can lead to the user developing psychiatric issues, also claims that hash does not hold any risk…

Hash is a concentrate of cannabis, specifically the THC. Where is the logic here? 

Reality

The fact is there is no super ‘Skunk’ strain, found only in the streets of Europe, that causes schizophrenia in people with no pre-disposition. If there was, someone would have brought the strain to North America by now.

What people are talking about when they refer to ‘Skunk’ is well-grown cannabis. Yes, high amounts of THC can undeniably worsen mental health problems for some people, but so can alcohol, and the UK could not have a more different relationship with the substance than with cannabis.

Alcohol is an ever-enduring thread in the social fabric of the UK. The impact on the user’s health is arguably far more damaging than that of cannabis. Yet, weed in the UK has garnered a reputation fit for a super virus, rather than a plant with both medical and recreational potential.

As previously mentioned, the language and fear tactics being used by the press, with the urging of the government behind them, harkens back to the days of early American prohibition and ‘Reefer Madness’. By highlighting the rising rates of psychosis in the UK while also discussing immigration, they have created an association between cannabis, migrants, and the increase in mental health problems. The tactic of blaming the ‘other’ is certainly not new. Early American propaganda was based on creating an association with cannabis and racial minorities and then decrying the plant’s responsibility for mental illness in American youth.

An article in The Independent, a well known and circulated newspaper, quoted a psychiatrist who blamed the increasing psychosis rates on outsiders coming into the country. Professor Sir Robin Murray, a psychiatrist at King’s College London (a college who have coincidentally conducted several studies tasked with associating cannabis and psychosis) claimed the reason the UK ranks so high in psychosis rates “is partly explained by the high incidence of migrants, and partly explained by cannabis use.” This type of language and mindset sounds worryingly similar to Harry Anslinger’s racist propaganda from the 1930s.

Stiff Upper Lip

The study also conveniently ignores the massive societal shift in the UK’s approach to mental health. Many in the UK still live in the culture of the “stiff upper lip”. The denial of one’s own pain to appear unfazed and unaffected. This type of mentality literally kills people too afraid to get help either mentally or physically.

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At long last, there is an increasing public awareness of the dangers of mental illness. The government has actively expressed concern and launched campaigns to bring attention to mental health. The claim that ‘the increasing psychosis rates can be attributed to cannabis and migrants’ ignore the government’s own urging for people to come forward when struggling. If the government is encouraging people to seek help when in distress, how can they then scratch their heads and try and place blame for the increasing numbers of people seeking assistance elsewhere?

The UK has funneled their frustrations and shortcomings on pot, all while continuing to produce Sativex. A medication derived from the same ‘skunk’ strains they claim are causing their citizens to develop schizophrenia. And even then, many within the UK who desperately need the medication the most are unlikely to get it.

Superficial Medical Legalization

While medical cannabis was supposed to have been ‘legalized’ in 2018, it appears to have been more of an empty promise to get critics off their backs, as nobody can actually seem to get prescribed the medication, despite the change in rules.

That is because despite the half-hearted attempt at placating the angry masses calling for safe access, the rules put in place make it almost impossible for patients to receive the medication. Even though it has been legalized, and the country is one of the largest producers of cannabis medications, cannabis medicines are not licensed, meaning they can only be prescribed if no other licensed medications work. Meaning the government would rather you try every medication available, all at the cost of the NHS, rather than using cannabis, despite research showing its efficacy, than trying cannabis to start. Imagine if you’ve actually tried it and KNOW it works for you and you’re told you have to try 10 other invasive non-organic medications first.

On top of that, the special prescription pads necessary for a doctor to give you access to medical cannabis are incredibly difficult to obtain. It’s almost as if the conservative government is doing everything it can to stop access to medical cannabis…

However, now that there is a chance of even money to be made domestically from legalization, suddenly the plant does not seem so scary to the Prime Ministers office. Despite a rep from Downing St. claiming that nothing will change regarding cannabis prohibition, Johnson’s recent additions possibly suggest otherwise.

The question is at what cost?

Displaced Priorities

It is a very frightening time for those who come from other countries in the EU, but call the UK home. With the UK out of the EU, many will be forced to leave under Brexit.

The NHS has been drained and left in dire straits and nothing about Brexit stands to alleviate any of the pressure. If cannabis is legalized, will the money made from taxing the product be put into the NHS, perhaps even treatment for the mental health crisis the government is finally concerned about? Just yesterday, during the Queen’s speech written by Johnson’s administration, it was announced there was a “pledge to enshrine in law the Government’s commitment to spend an £33.9 billion in cash each year by 2024.” Where this money would come from, is far from clear. Many are skeptical of the viability of such a plan and believe it’s more an act of virtue signaling, while he focuses on achieving his ideal version of Brexit. Johnson’s bizarre phone stealing incident only worked to further illustrate his fear of being confronted by the realities of his policies and his disregard for the actual fate of the NHS. The fact that a great deal of the NHS is comprised of migrants from all over the EU, many of whom would be forced to leave, is apparently not a concern for the Prime Minister.

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Imagine Boris Johnson is Boris Johnson and the small Japanese child he knocks over is the NHS, and then you’ll have a good idea of his regard for the health care system.

 

Where was the interest in cannabis’ potential when families were pleading for the right for medical use?

The UK has had no problem growing cannabis, even the insidious ‘skunk’ strain, to export to other countries. But what about their own citizens?

Yesterday, Johnson also introduced new rules that will mostly affect ‘young people and disadvantaged groups’ ability to vote. Decisions like this are not indicative of a Prime Minister looking out for the best interests of ALL citizens. Rather, one protecting those who stand to benefit most from his policies.

Going Forward

While Johnson may have won the battle of the election, he still has to face the war of Brexit. And it will not be pretty. The looming threat of a no-deal Brexit would devastate the country. Yet, Johnson marches forward, dead set on getting his way.

Legal cannabis could very well be on the horizon for the UK. However, given the potential cost of Brexit on the country, specifically, the NHS, will it be worth it?


The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent those of Just Cannabis and its employees. 

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