The ultimate guide to Cannabis regulation options

November 27, 2013
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Back when think-tanks in the U.S. were claiming that it wasn’t even worth talking about drug legalization because it wasn’t likely to happen, Transform in the UK was hard at work putting out the extraordinary After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation and actually laying out plausible options.

Now that legalization of cannabis is not only a possibility, but a certainty, Transform has come through again, providing a guide to countries, states, and policy-makers on options for regulating the production and distribution of cannabis within a legal market: How to Regulate Cannabis: A Practical Guide, released today (27 November in the UK).

How to Regulate Cannabis: A Practical GuideNow, I’d be fine with immediate and absolute legalization of cannabis, with the only regulation related to contaminents (restrictions on mold, pesticides), and additives (product labeling) in commercially-sold cannabis.

But I realize full well that the political reality is that cannabis has been illegal for so long, and the propaganda machine has been working against it for so long, that strong regulatory plans are necessary, and it’s important to provide comprehensive, well-thought-out options for policy-makers.

And Transform does that extremely well (so often I find myself wishing we had a similar group of academics in the U.S. preparing useful policy guidance instead of dithering around about “uncertainties,” and wringing their hands at imagined futures).

This guide therefore begins with the premise that not only has prohibition failed, but that this is rapidly becoming the consensus view. As a result, the debate has moved beyond whether prohibition is a good idea, or that it can be tweaked and modified to work. [...]

To some,the legal regulation of cannabis may appear radical. But the legal and historical evidence demonstrates that, in fact, it is prohibition that is the radical policy. The legal regulation of drug production, supply and use is far more in line with currently accepted ways of managing health and social risks in almost all other spheres of life. So, far from being radical, this guide simply proposes that we extend established principles of risk management to an area where they have rarely been applied.

I found this part to be particularly astute:

[The] ‘gentler prohibition’ approach is most prominent in recent rhetoric from the US Government, which claims it represents a ‘middle way’ between the ‘extremes’ of ‘legalisation’ and a ‘war on drugs’. While this line of argument relies on misrepresenting the reform position with numerous straw man arguments, the fact there is even rhetorical movement towards the centre can be seen as positive change, perhaps of a prohibitionist regime on the defensive, or of one preparing for the inevitable concession to regulatory logic at some point soon.

This tussle over who occupies the pragmatic middle ground between advocates of ‘gentler prohibition’ and advocates of pragmatic regulation is likely to be a defining feature of the debate in the coming years.

One of the really smart approaches taken in this regulatory guide is instead of just saying “make sure you restrict this…,” the document gives positive suggestions of options that require less regulation yet still provide positive outcomes. Such as:

Home growing for personal use is difficult to regulate and police, but experience suggests it is unlikely to pose significant challenges. The majority of users will prefer the convenience of availability via legal retail outlets

Regulation of home growing should aim to prevent unlicensed for-profit sales, and prevent underage access to the crop

Cannabis social clubs represent a small-scale, de facto legal model of production and supply that has been proven to operate non-problematically

Cannabis social clubs provide lessons that can inform the development of future regulatory models and, given that they do not breach UN treaty commitments, may be a useful transitional model that policy makers can implement before more formal legal production systems are put in place. However, such clubs could equally operate alongside more formal production systems post-legalisation

And the guide goes on to describe options for regulation of these at great length.

I was curious to see what the guide said about cannabis and driving, since that’s something we’ve discussed here at length, and I’ve expressed serious concerns about the use of per se laws for cannabis and driving. While I didn’t agree with the entire section, I felt this portion was a much smarter approach than what we see being pushed here:

Given the lack of scientific consensus regarding a blood THC concentration that correlates with an unacceptable level of impairment, per se limits that automatically trigger a legal sanction when exceeded are inadvisable.

Due to the distinctive way in which cannabis is processed by the body, the use of per se laws is likely to lead to prosecutions of drivers with residual levels of THC in their blood but who are nonetheless safe to drive

Blood testing should only be carried out following a driving infraction or once evidence of impairment has been derived from a standardised field sobriety test that has been validated for cannabis-induced behaviour.

Blood tests should be employed simply to confirm that a driver has recently used cannabis (and that cannabis use is therefore the likely cause of the failure of a field sobriety test). The results of a blood (or any other body fluid) test should not, on their own, trigger a legal sanction

This guide also contains an extraordinary section (starting on page 201) regarding reforming the international conventions, complete with detailed historical and political analysis and guides to the options available, including multi-lateral options like modification or amendment, and unilateral options such as denunciation followed by re-accession with reservation, denunciation/withdrawal, breaching the treaties, and “soft defections.”

The appendices include a useful chart detailing cannabis regulation in various parts of the world.

I’m still absorbing this remarkable document. Again, it’s important to mention that some of the regulations given as options within this guide are ones that I’d find to be ridiculously onerous (and unnecessary), but they are options. And this guide needs to provide the means to walk back from some truly horrendous prohibition models that exist around the world.

This is the gold standard and should be a must-have for policy-makers everywhere.

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Pete Guither is the editor of drugwarrant.com

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