Saturday, September 16, 2006

UN Cannabis Report Makes Case for Legalisation?

This analysis in the Baltimore Chronicle by John Hickman argues that buried in the United Nations Office of Drug Control's (UNODC) "2006 World Drug Report" is an inadvertent case for ending cannabis prohibition. Although the authors of the report call for cannabis consumption and production to be treated as serious problems their review of the plant as a relatively low risk and inexpensive intoxicant whose global consumption and cultivation is very widespread is a contradiction which John Hickman is right to highlight.

Of course, rather than getting on his cannabis hobby horse Hickman could have pointed out that the evidence for global prohibition generally looks very bad indeed somethinhg that even the spin in the UN report cannot disguise; that drug use continues to rise, and attempts to curtail production and supply have catastrophically failed. That's the real contradiction in global drug policy - it's been completely counterproductive, increasing harms not reducing them. The whys and wherefores of cannabis are a distraction in many ways - and its harmfulness or otherwise is very much not the issue (or really in dispute).

His article does however rightly point out the failure of journalists to read in its entirety the report and instead to focus on the press release. It would be good if he had actually talked aboutthe entire report himself.


daksya said...

Hickman's reading something in the report that's not there. He has applied his own cost-benefit analysis for cannabis control to the UN data and found it wanting, but that does not equate to the report itself "inadvertently making the case" for ending prohibition.

Where did he get the "relatively harmless" part from?

On page 156 of the report:

It is true that much of the early material on cannabis is now considered inaccurate, and that a series of studies in a range of countries have exonerated cannabis of many of the charges levelled against it. But the latest research indicates that the pendulum may have swung too far in the opposite direction. There are serious mental health consequences associated with cannabis, including a significant risk of dependency, precipitation and aggravation of psychosis, and acute dysphoric episodes. These risks appear to be higher for people who start consuming cannabis during adolescence. Each year, thousands of people seek medical attention for problems related to their cannabis use, and this number appears to be growing. Cannabis is not the harmless herb often portrayed, but a psychoactive drug that deserves to be taken seriously.

Of course, the UN also muddles the issue. The risk of cannabis triggering psychosis is pretty modest and mostly concentrated within a segment of the population, that too those who take up smoking during adolescence(but not adulthood). Dependence is both less prevalent than alcohol and less severe than other dependence-capable drugs, including alcohol. The 'acute dysphoric episodes' is a legitimate charge, but again an uncommon one. Based on my observation, it is not a random occurence but tied to the presence of certain features in one's psyche, but moreover its prevalence is low, and the long-term impact of these episodes is negligible. So, it is "relatively harmless" in general, and harmless for most of its users, but the report doesn't say that anywhere.

Anonymous said...

The problem with cannabis is the variability of its possible harm.

Depending on your gene type the increase risk of mental illness is very different.

But thats not really the issue, the issue is, would it be more or less harmful if sold legally?

Anonymous said...

Daksya, what the UNODC Report does very clearly state is that law enforcement has been responsible for the evolution of cannabis towards more widely available high quality sinsemilla. In effect the report tells us exactly why prohibition has been an abject failure. C excerpt below..

Other than this it notes 26 million ice addicts worldwide and ice being the most abused hard drug on earth. Ice came about as a result of DEA efforts to shut down supplies of 2P2. As a result, clandestine bakers began using ephedrine and Ice was the result - a far more potent and insidious drug than was made using P2P.

Drug war efforts seem only to exacerbate the problem. The paradox of war.

The UNODC World Drug Report 2006 makes note of this:

(Chapter 2. pg 172):

“Law enforcement action in the second half of the 1970’s to the early 1980’s appears to have inadvertently prompted other improvements in the product (cannabis). First, it reduced the availability and the quality of imported cannabis in many of the most important consumer markets, particularly the United States. Second, it seems to have pushed some domestic production indoors, and stimulated growers to focus on producing greater quality rather than quantity in order to evade detection. These developments prompted a revolution in production technology in the United States, which was later spread to Europe and beyond….

At the same time, an ancient cultivation technique was being reinvigorated. The term ‘sinsemilla’ refers to a product of a growing technique, not a genetic strain or special preparation of the plant. The most potent cannabis is comprised exclusively of the female flowering heads (‘buds’) that have remained unfertillised throughout maturity and which, consequently contain no seeds (i.e. are sins semilla, ‘without seeds’ in Spanish)…. It is very difficult to grow unfertillised plants outdoors in areas of intense cultivation, because a single rogue male can ruin an entire crop. Thus, the Law enforcement prompted move towards more indoor cultivation may have supported the expansion of the production of seedless cannabis.

The potency of sinsemilla is much higher than the seeded product, with a 2004 average of about 10.5 per cent THC in the US… as close to 18 per cent in the Netherlands…

… In addition to improved breeding and the rediscovery of sinsemilla, the movement towards indoor cultivation has also allowed the application of greenhouse technology to what had traditionally been a field crop. Around 1985, some cannabis breeders from the United States fled for a country with more amenable drug policies – the Netherlands. At the time, indoor cultivation of cannabis was just starting to take off in the Netherlands and the fusion of American breeding stock and Dutch agricultural practice sparked a revolution in cannabis breeding and production..”