One of the authors of this study, Professor David Nutt, was one of the expert witnesses for The Trial of the Plant and a speaker at Fields of Green for ALL’s Clinical Cannabis Convention in 2017. Professor Nutt insists that science must be put at the heart of drug policy. On the basis of Professor Nutt and his team’s research findings, it is irrational to regulate this plant in a harsher manner than alcohol and tobacco. All Cannabis regulations must be “tested” against the current laws regulating alcohol and tobacco, but Cannabis must not be regulated in any manner that is harsher than these two more harmful substances. Evidence of HARM must be central to ALL regulations. Given the history of Cannabis prohibition and the resultant stigmatisation and misinformation, regulators have a responsibility to craft rational and evidence-based regulations. A fair Cannabis policy needs to consider these factors.
However, it is important to take into account the fact that the development of policies, for example for alcohol and tobacco, are too often rooted in commercial interest and not in health or public interest. There is a long-standing conflict between the enormous commercial driving forces and attempts to enforce stricter regulations.
The right balance needs to be struck between the interests of commerce and public health-based regulation. Government intervention, licensing, pricing and taxation all have precedents set within the alcohol and tobacco industries. Cannabis, on the other hand, offers a blank canvas and the opportunity to introduce evidence-based regulations from the outset. Let us use these as benchmarks within the logic of the scale of harms above. Let us also learn lessons from the failings of tobacco and alcohol regulation, of which there are many in South Africa, particularly as relates to tobacco and the link between corruption and illegal cigarettes.
Cannabis being different than alcohol and tobacco on several points, regulation must be administered by a specific department – and not be lumped together with these more harmful substances, as it was previously with other controlled drugs. Hence the proposal to appoint the Office of the “Cannabis OmBUDsman” to oversee that specifics related to the plant and to its social ties are considered. Having Cannabis policies managed by specific governing bodies allows greater alignment and communication across the entire supply chain.
We must not forget that prohibition has meant cannabis users and growers have and still face persecution and human rights abuses at the hands of South African law enforcement. Cannabis cannot be considered truly legalised until the cannabis community is regulated by clipboards and pens instead of guns and badges.
Summary of Dr Nutt’s evidence
Watch Dr Nutt’s presentation at the Clinical Cannabis Convention