Lockdown – The Changing Attitudes Towards Cannabis & Alcohol

Nicholas looks into the emerging drug use trends since the pandemic began. As cannabis becomes more readily available, alcohol consumption is looking to take a hit as more and more people put down the bottle in favour of the plant.

When it comes to the discussion of drugs, addiction, risk of overdose or death, impaired driving, violence, and obesity, research indicates that cannabis may be less of a health risk than alcohol.

The pandemic has had a considerable effect on the habitual nature of people.  Many were thrown out of their routines due to new remote working schedules while others now struggled with the realisation they could no longer go to their favourite retreatants or simply blow off steam on a night out.  Many habits were disrupted which had a knock-on effect on the mindset of the individual.  Some changed for the better, introducing 30 minutes of working out a day to keep the covid weight gain at bay while others have taken up new hobbies to fill the time usually spent outdoors socialising. 

What the coronavirus has affected the most were the vices people use to reduce stress.  In a survey conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of Curaleaf, a leading U.S provider of consumer cannabis products found that 42% of adults aged over 21 who have either never or rarely used cannabis have started or increased their consumption since the beginning of the lockdown.[1]  Conducted online in October of last year, with close to 2,000 respondents asked, the survey found the main factors people have chosen to start or increase their consumption since the pandemic began include:

  • to reduce stress and anxiety (54%; women (64%) and men (47%))
  • to relax (50%; women (50%) and men (49%))
  • to help them sleep (48%; women (52%) and men (45%))[2]

The rise in consumption is not limited to single people but rather parents of children under 18 as well.  More than 52% of parents who have never consumed cannabis stated they have started or increased their cannabis consumption compared to 33% of those who are not parents of children under 18.  The study found the parents of children were more likely to consume cannabis medicinally (58% vs 44%). 

Another interesting finding was that parents of children have begun to reduce or flat out replace their alcohol intake with cannabis.  Overall, adult cannabis consumers say they have reduced or replaced their alcohol consumption with cannabis while 33% of those who consume cannabis for adult use say they prefer cannabis to alcohol.[3]

This survey comes at a time when the cannabis industry continues to grow while the stigmatisation weakens leading to a more accepted aspect of society.  In another recent study commissioned by the Glass House Group, a California-based cannabis and hemp company, found that close to two-thirds of respondents planned to replace alcohol with cannabis over the holiday season, with 67% said this replacement would increase over the year compared to 2019.[4]

This change in attitudes towards cannabis use demonstrates that its usage is not a fad or cultural trend but that it is becoming a mainstream choice for people of all ages and backgrounds.  This can be considered a positive as the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention found in 2014, close to 90,000 alcohol-induced and drinking-related deaths occurred in the United States.[5]  A stark contrast to marijuana zero deaths according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.[6]  Additionally, the American Journal of Public Health published a study that found healthy cannabis users were not more likely to die earlier than healthy people who did not consume cannabis.[7]

For critics of the plant, findings were not welcomed as more studies are conducted on the drug due to the rise of cannabis legalisation.  These studies explore the drug’s potential harms and benefits, and in 2017, the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Colorado in Boulder published their findings on a study of the effects both alcohol and cannabis have on the brain.  The study proved cannabis use had no impact on the structure of grey or white matter in the brain of 853 adult and 439 teenage respondents. However, researchers found that alcohol use was associated with a reduction in gray matter as well as a reduction in the integrity of white matter.  [8]

“While marijuana may also have some negative consequences, it definitely is nowhere near the negative consequences of alcohol,” study co-author Kent Hutchison.

As cannabis remains illegal in most of the world, long-term studies on all of the plant’s health effects have been inadequate.  More research will be needed to fully understand the benefits and risks of cannabis but as it stands, the contrast of health effects between alcohol and cannabis is night and day, and this will influence how people approach each drug in the future.


References:

[1] https://www.ganjapreneur.com/poll-during-pandemic-45-of-alcohol-consumers-choose-cannabis-instead/

[2] https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/survey-finds-changing-cannabis-consumer-and-consumption-habits-301189319.html

[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/ajherrington/2021/12/31/marijuana-is-replacing-alcohol-for-nearly-half-of-cannabis-consumers-during-the-pandemic/

[4] https://www.forbes.com/sites/irisdorbian/2020/12/21/yuletide-high-cannabis-tops-xmas-gifts-reveals-survey/?sh=7769666e5cf3

[5] https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/alcohol.htm

[6] https://www.thecannabist.co/2017/07/12/marijuana-overdose-statistics-dea/83506/

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9146436

[8] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320895#Marijuana-use-had-no-impact

Emily | 23.03.21

Emily describes herself as a goth who loves makeup. She has Asperger’s Syndrome and suffers from other physical and mental health conditions which greatly affect her quality of life. Here, she speaks of how she has tackled these conditions and how the Irish system has failed her on many occasions by not providing her with adequate care. She also describes how cannabis has significantly changed her life, by doing what conventional medicines couldn’t. Twitter: @lilithlunalou

Hi Emily, firstly thanks so much for devoting some time to speak to us.

Can you tell us a little bit about who you are?

I’m 24, I live in County Cork.

When did you first find out you had a Desmoid tumour?

After my last surgery, my abdomen became unbearably itchy and it wouldn’t go away. Then lumps started to form. I kept going to my Doctor, [redacted], to seek further help. He told me it was just the stitching that needed to dissolve. He had previously told me it would only take a couple months for the stitches to dissolve. Four years later, after many hospital admissions, being in constant extreme levels of pain and lumps getting bigger, I finally got them to take a scan and biopsy. I was 21 or 22 when I found out I had two Desmoids. I possibly have a third one as I’ve a third lump, but they are refusing to look into it. 

Why won’t they look into the possibility of a third Desmoid tumour?

My case always gets overlooked. My partner wants to go to the newspaper or radio station with how I’ve been treated over the years. They just don’t seem to care. I keep asking my GP to ring them or email them and she keeps saying: “They haven’t gotten back to me. That probably means they didn’t find anything sinister”. Yet when I question the multiple Oncologists, I see they always act puzzled and ignore my question about the third lump. I never seem to see the Oncologist that was assigned to me, Doctor [redacted]. Women don’t get taken seriously by Doctors, especially if they are autistic. Whenever my partner comes in with me, I get treated with respect. If I go to appointments with another female, or by myself, I get ignored and rushed out the door. They give little information and little to no help with issues.

I’m very sorry to hear that. It’s disgraceful to be treated that way by anyone, but especially by medical professionals who have a significant influence on your health. When did you discover that you had Familial Adenomatous Polyposis?

I discovered I had FAP at age eighteen. It’s hereditary. We knew at a certain age that we would need a scope to see if we inherited the same condition as my dad. 

When were you diagnosed with Asperger’s, and anxiety, respectively?

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at age eleven or twelve. I suffer with anxiety through trauma that I’ve experienced and have not been diagnosed with anxiety disorder. 

Have you attempted getting a diagnosis for your anxiety disorder before?

(If so, why do you feel that they were mistaken by not diagnosing you with one?)

I’ve tried to get properly screened for diagnoses and every Psychologist keeps telling me they are not quick to diagnose any more. It’s been over ten years I think, I’m overdue a screening for diagnosis. Emily laughs They keep telling me you may have (specific condition). Then I get told I don’t have it. And then I get told I may have (specific condition) again. I got treated very badly in [redacted] in Dublin, while under the Consultant, [redacted]. They wouldn’t allow me pain medication for my tumours.

I had my GP send a prescription letter and all my medical history to them before I even went up for admission. I was there four months and three out of those four months, I had no pain relief. That is only the tip of the iceberg of how I got treated there. As a result of how I got treated, I have no desire to seek help from Psychiatrists and Psychologists any more. 

That’s terrible, I’m so sorry to hear that your trust has been broken like that by psychological professionals. I hope others will handle your needs better and treat you with the respect you deserve, by listening to your feedback. Do your conditions affect you significantly on a day-to-day basis? Can it vary?

Yes, I’ve other conditions such as Schizophrenia and BPD (Bipolar Disorder) which interfere with my social life greatly. Before Covid, I spent most of my time in my room. I didn’t function, I didn’t shower, eat or sleep. I merely existed. 

What’s your view on the existing resources available in Ireland for Asperger’s Syndrome?

Are there enough help and resources out there for people with Asperger’s in 2021?

¹Aspect is a very good government-funded organisation. They have key workers that get assigned and best suited to us. They help with whatever you struggle with, or they can simply just listen if you need to vent. Aspect is amazing and has been the only constant support.

What kinds of treatment have you been prescribed for your conditions, and how successfully have they worked for you?

I’ve been prescribed various different antipsychotic medications and antidepressants. All they did was make me gain weight and sleep all day. I’ve an eating disorder as well, which made the gaining weight part very traumatic for me. As well as it has made my legs swell up and walking now feels like walking on glass or pebbles.

When did you first become interested in cannabis?

My partner smokes it for his pain. He’d be on the couch not able to function properly if it wasn’t for cannabis. He kept trying to convince me that it would help me. I kept trying and nothing worked. The odd time we’d get something that suited me. We discovered I have extremely low tolerance for THC. So now I only use CBD products with low THC.

When did you start to consider using cannabis therapeutically/medicinally, and how has using it in this way helped you?

I’ve tried it on and off for various different reasons. Summertime last year, my partner got ²Orange Bud. But it was very low in THC, so I tried some and to my amazement I felt normal. My mind wasn’t racing, I wasn’t constantly panicking. I was able to eat without getting sick. I could walk without feeling like I was walking on glass. Any pain I had, physically or mentally, it either went away completely or it was at a very manageable state. I got quality of life back, which is amazing.

That’s incredible, I’m very pleased to hear that. How have conventional medications helped with your conditions, compared with cannabis?

Other medications either made me worse or didn’t do anything at all. Cannabis has vastly improved my life. My own family has said there’s a huge difference since using it.

What’s your viewpoint on the Medical Cannabis Access Programme?

I think it’s great. They need to add all health conditions to the waiting list. I think it should be legal and regulated now, so our sick, including myself, can have safe access. I think we should do it the way Holland has done it. Legalise it, regulate it. Let people grow three, four plants at home. They should keep it illegal for dealers to sell it; only legal businesses can sell it. That way there’s no sprayed or chemically-grown cannabis being sold. Only the natural plant being sold. 

How important is the full legalisation of cannabis in Ireland for you?

Very important! (Without it) I wouldn’t be able to walk into town. I wouldn’t be able to leave my house to do simple things like shopping. I wouldn’t be able to do basic house work. 

Do you believe it can happen organically in Ireland, or will we need to see cannabis reform in the UK before it’s taken seriously here?

Not 100% sure. I think our government will probably wait till England follows suit with the States and Amsterdam, before they’ll take it seriously. I personally think Ireland should take note from Amsterdam. Also, I’m sure the EU has already acknowledged cannabis as a medicine, so Ireland can only refuse for so long. 

Emily, thanks for chatting with me. I’m glad to hear that cannabis has benefited your life and I wish you all the best moving forward.

References:

¹ For more information about Aspect, check out this recent Evening Echo article:

https://www.echolive.ie/corkviews/arid-40236755.html 

² To learn more about the Orange Bud strain, see the following page on Leafly:

https://www.leafly.com/strains/orange-bud 

Senator Lynn Ruane at ‘The Case For Drug Decriminalisation in Ireland’ | 03.03.2021

Lynn Ruane is an independent Senator for the University of Dublin constituency in Seanad Éireann (the Irish Senate). As a guest speaker for TD Gino Kenny’s Case for Drug Decriminalisation in Ireland, Ruane shares her perspective on what is needed for effective drug reform, as someone who once used drugs and who grew up in a community which was significantly affected by the illegal drugs trade. The following text has been adapted from the live stream for the purpose of clarity. The questions were posed by TD Gino Kenny.

Hiya Gino, thanks for inviting me along this evening. I’m Senator Lynn Ruane, I’m a policymaker. I have a few hats (in the ring), but I suppose tonight I’m here in that role, as somebody that has advocated within her political career to end what I see as the criminalisation of poverty and marginalisation and addiction. I worked for about 20 years.. I still work in a sense, in the addiction sector. I still volunteer in a couple of different places and I do a bit of work with Safety Net around homelessness and health equity. So I’m still very much involved in different communities, but I try to take my experience and everything that I’ve learned as a working class woman and a woman that used drugs. And I try to take that into my career in the addiction sector and then from the addiction sector into policymaking. So, tonight I’ll be speaking very much from how I’ve tried to progress that conversation from the ground into the Houses of Parliament, which I’ve been doing since 2016. 

Is there a case for drug decriminalisation in Ireland? Yeah, there most certainly is. First we have to start with the whole concept and accept that prohibition hasn’t worked. The only reason we criminalise people is to stop people using drugs. I don’t think there’s any country that has shown that prohibition has achieved what it set out to do. I was a drug user from a very, very young age and a lot of my friends still are. And some have moved into recovery, (have) been addicted to heroin for a very long time, since we were in our early teens and our communities were destroyed by drugs. And at that time I thought that every community was the same, I didn’t really have anything to compare it to. As I began to work in addiction, I worked with cocaine users, heroin users, gambling, I worked right across the spectrum. But I worked primarily in working class communities, developing responses to drug use. 

For me there were two things that really cemented to me why we really need to change our drug laws. One of those is – why do we say that somebody is unwell or suffering with mental health (addiction being on that spectrum of mental health)? Somebody is using drugs because of trauma, because of poverty, and then we punish them for that. So you’re looking at a community and a group of people who experience addiction who are already being punished by their mere tendency to self-medicate. And obviously people talk saying there’s drugs in every area, in every community and of course I don’t deny that in any shape or form. Addiction is in any State and any postcode. But what we have to accept is that it’s very, very highly concentrated in terms of chaotic and problematic drug use in working class communities. And there’s a big difference between that type of drug use and drug use in the recreational sense or in the sense where your life is not going to fall apart because you’re a drug user.

And there’s different types of drug users. For communities like mine, they ended up with such problematic drug use because of their circumstances. And then to be punished for that and put into a system, when really it’s a health approach empathy, access and options and choices that they need. For me, the two things were that it’s a class issue and that prison and prohibition.. It just doesn’t work. So when I left the addiction sector and ran for the Senate, obviously my political career has been somewhat of an extension of my work within the sector. One of the very first Bills that I tabled within Leinster House was the Drug Decriminalisation Bill. Now that Bill is currently still on the Order Paper and we debated it, but they asked me to not push it at that time. The Minister at the time, Catherine Byrne, wanted to develop a Working Group to look at drug decriminalisation in Ireland.

So I presented to that and other different stakeholders did. There was obviously lots of good work, there was lots of expertise around the table. But there was a lot of evidence somewhat ignored in that, from speakers that we work with from the UK and Ireland. What they went with in the end was a diversion programme. It hasn’t been implemented yet and I know the Department is moving towards that and they’re eager to do that. I’m happy that people and the Department and politicians are starting to understand that it is a health issue. I don’t believe that this diversion programme makes it a health issue in how it’s going to be implemented, because it’s only a health issue for the first time that you get caught with drugs. What that working group ended up proposing was that it’s temporarily a health issue. So you get caught with drugs the first time and you’ll be then redirected into health services. But from there on, it’s no longer a health issue, it’s something else. It’s back into the Justice system. So on the one hand we’re acknowledging that people need help and then we’re only giving them one chance to get that. 

Now for me what that does is it creates another layer of that being a class issue. Because the likelihood of you getting caught with drugs more than once if you are in addiction, if you are on the streets or if you’re in communities that are very heavily policed.. Well then the likelihood of getting caught with drugs more than once is much, much higher, than if you are somebody who doesn’t have a problem with the drug, or is not living in the community that is heavily policed. So again, it still remains a class issue and for me the current proposals are a step forward. We need to go much further, but it still won’t actually protect those most vulnerable. So I think a case still needs to be made that we need to listen to the evidence in relation to drug decriminalisation and why it’s needed and why it’s necessary. And if we really want people to find their way into recovery, well then we need to create that opportunity. Not just once, but again, and again, and again, until somebody actually finds what works for them and finds how they want to progress. And if they end up in the prison system, that’s gonna become more and more difficult. 

What would decriminalisation look like, rather than the model that we have at the moment? The model at the moment is that, as you know… There’s not a day that goes by now that there aren’t seizures of drugs. It’s mainly cannabis, but there’s not a day that goes by in different parts of the country. So, whether drugs are legal or not, people are going to use them. If decriminalisation was implemented tomorrow, in your opinion, what would it look like in a practical sense?

I think there’s two questions wrapped up there. And one you’re touching on in terms of seizures – you’re talking about drug trade. And then drug decriminalisation. One is about supply, one is about the individual. For me, drug decriminalisation means that we’re decriminalising the individual. Like I said in my intro, we currently criminalise poverty. If we can accept that trauma and poverty and pain increase the likelihood of you becoming a chronic drug user, well then we’re saying that we are gonna criminalise you for your poverty and your pain. So I think we’d begin to remove some of the stigma. I think for me as well, working in the addiction and the homeless sector for as long as I have, I’ve seen peoples’ life trajectory in terms of illness and co-morbidities and everything else that comes with many, many years of drug use or homelessness and poverty. They’re all so intertwined, you know? And for me being able to say to somebody at a very early stage, “We don’t judge you. We don’t want to imprison you. We’re not going to make you face the justice system. But instead, we are going to offer you services.” But we need to remember when we offer services… People have to build recovery capital. People have to be ready. People have to want it. And recovery is not always about accidents either.

Sometimes it’s harm reduction, sometimes it’s making sure you have a roof over your head. Sometimes it’s making sure you can just keep your hospital appointments, ‘cause you might still be using drugs. So I think we need to acknowledge that recovery is not abstinence, not always abstinence at least. And decriminalisation isn’t just that you’re gonna offer someone a health appointment and off they go. And “That’s it, isn’t that great? Less people are staying on drugs.” It’s not really about that. And then the other argument that happens is that when you decriminalise drugs, you’re going to somehow decrease the drug use in a country. That’s also not true, but you’re giving people options at a much earlier stage, which means they have a better relationship with the services, they have a better relationship with the health system. And for anyone growing up in a community like mine where it is heavily policed and you do get stopped and searched and there has been violent interactions with Guards and there have been judgements that really break down the relationship with the State and authorities.

You’re not being stopped and searched all the time on the assumption that you might be in the possession of a small amount of drugs. It also might go in favour of community policing, because community policing can then stop unnecessarily targeting people because of how they look or where they’re hanging around, because they might be in possession of a couple of e or a bag of weed or something. And I think it can go some way into healing some of that relationship and I think that’s really, really necessary if we’re going to have a legal system that’s going to be operating inside communities that do experience hardship like that. In terms of resources which you were talking about… when I was developing my legislation, we got some really big financial people to come in to look at the economics of prohibition. And (to) look at how much money can actually be saved by decriminalising drugs.

And we hit some big, big figures in the year, in the millions. And that was only scraping the surface. So that’s only looking at your really typical stuff like prison, legal aid, the judiciary, stuff like that. But if you were to look at the health system, you look at the amount of people that end up in that revolving door of the A & E. Deep vein thrombosis, hepatitis, all of those things. Sometimes it’s years and years before someone accesses healthcare. But if they can access it much earlier on, under a decrim model, some of those co-morbidities might be helped somewhat. So you might have health savings as well. I think if you were to carry out a study over a long term, a longitudinal study, you will see that there are savings in the health system as well, long term. So, they’re just some of the things that will happen with decriminalisation, but I think drug dealing and supply have been touched on a little bit. And this is something that I’ve worked on for many years. Not a lot of people have been too much in favour of my work around the drug trade.

The first piece of work I did was… Gerry Roe would maybe have worked with me at the time, in Bluebell Addiction Services and it was doing a research piece on drug dealers’ views and exit strategies. So for some reason we seem to want to separate drug dealers and drug users. And for me, I don’t really want to do that in too much of a sense, at that community level. At that working class community level. Because both of them are born from poverty, from lack of opportunity. Drug dealing among young men especially is often born from the want to succeed. They want to have basic things. And when we carried out the research, some people said things like they just didn’t want to wear their older brothers’ hand-me-downs any more. Or you know, in the ’90s, when all the houses were getting window weather glaze, before the corporation decided to do it, one young man wanted to make money to get weather glazed windows because he was the only house in the row that couldn’t afford to get them in, so these are some of the reasons why people enter the drug trade. And I think, for me, I don’t want to ever demonise those young men.

I want to look at what the root cause of addiction is in many circumstances and what the root cause of entry into the drug trade is. I think with decriminalisation and legalisation, we can begin to look at poverty and that social floor. And if you don’t have a good basis of a social floor, well then how can we ever really succeed? And it really goes back to what 1Carl (Hart) was saying and what some of the others were saying. It’s about politicians, it’s about being able to actually ask and answer the big questions. And to actually address the unequal and unfair system that we live in.  

Lynn, I’m gonna come to you in relation to going beyond decriminalisation and the ongoing debate in Ireland. I understand it’s gonna be debated in the Citizens Assembly sometime this year. Now, this debate has been going on now for a long, long, long time. Far too long, and we need to get on with it. The majority of people in Ireland understand that you cannot police your way out of people that take drugs. It’s just unworkable. So what do you say to people that say, “If decriminalisation is introduced, more drugs will come into peoples’ hands. And the violence that accompanies drug gangs won’t be tackled”?

I suppose again it’s like having a few conversations. Decriminalisation is very much about the individual. Legalisation is much more about the collective, for me. So, we only begin to address the quality of drugs, the types of drugs, the safety of the drugs, when we begin to legalise. With decriminalisation, it’s very much about stigma. There’s even different variations of what decriminalisation looks like, like de-penalisation. But I feel like we have a little bit of a way to go. Again, it’s one of those things where politics is behind the public. And that’s often the case, that politics is behind the public. And I think that sometimes people are a little bit afraid to take that leap in, and be ambitious, and be courageous in their policymaking. And then sometimes you see a hierarchy of drugs being created. A lot of people advocate very – forget about the medicinal cannabis – But when I see people really, really advocating for the legalisation of cannabis, I always get a little bit uncomfortable by that.

Because within the legalisation aspect of things, there are people then that want to set different drugs apart from each other. And I don’t think that that should happen, because that creates again another class system of how we create drugs policy in Ireland. And I don’t think that that’s the way to go, at all. I do think decriminalisation needs to happen, to show Ireland and to show mostly our policymakers, that the world doesn’t end. That actually it’s a positive. And I think when people get comfortable in that space of decriminalisation, they’ll begin to expand their minds and expand, I suppose, their ambitions around drug policy in general. And begin to think about, well what would it mean to legalise? And I think to legalise is really important.

A country has everything to gain from legalising drugs. Right down to supply, right down to accessing services. And right down to saving peoples’ lives, and actually having a good quality of drugs. And like Carl said, there’s so many people in high society, in elite society, in middle class society, that use drugs. And the type of drug they use can often differ, but they still use drugs. And surely they can get their heads around the idea that wouldn’t cleaner, safer drug use be better for them too, you know? For me, I think the conversation has moved a little bit, but not even nearly far enough. And I think it’s because politicians are slow to react to what the people actually want. 222,000 submissions came into the Health Department for drug decriminalisation. The largest ever sample of society that contributed to a single piece to a department, and it was on drug decriminalisation. And it was so heavily in favour of drug decriminalisation.

Yet, when the State had the opportunity to take those 22,000 submissions… Then they had a working group. And then they came up with something completely different to what the working group recommended. So it shows that we provide State and policymakers with what society wants and then they shave it back. So for me, I think what we need is a really ambitious Minister and Department that wants to drive these things forward. And (who) is not going to be bogged down by Civil Servants or by vested interests. And I think that when we get that person that will be strong or be brave in how they make decisions, I think that we can move it along. But I think the public are with us, and politicians aren’t there yet. 

Lynn, how do you see it going in the next eighteen months or so? I think what’s going to happen in relation to the programme that’s being put forward, in terms of the diversion, I think they will implement that. I think they’ll do it administratively, instead of legislation. I think that was the feedback we got over recent weeks. I think they will pilot what they’ve already suggested, which is fine. But I think in parallel to that happening, we need to be making sure that we’re still advancing the conversation. It’s a different piece of legislation, but my spent convictions legislation also looks to do a bit of a keyhole work-in to drugs legislation in a sense, and employment legislation. Because there is an intersection between them. So, the spent convictions legislation that I’ve moved quite far along in the Seanad will hopefully go into the Dáil before the end of the year. Before summer recess would be the dream.

But within that, it also looks to remove drugs possession from the Garda vetting aspect. So, people that were caught in possession when they go for employment.. Even if that conviction becomes spent, if they only had one conviction for possession, it keeps coming up and it keeps coming up. They can’t volunteer, they can’t travel, they can’t do anything with their lives. So, I hope that we still keep advancing our conversations and keep highlighting to policymakers that we need to advance further what they’ve already put forward. And hopefully, the spent convictions legislation can be another step forward. Even though it’s not drug decriminalisation, it is really still hitting a similar target group, in terms of allowing people to live their lives. Integrate, rehabilitate, and do it at their own pace. When they’re ready. And creating the structures for them to be able to do that. So I think, just to say one thing, whatever the Department put forward, let us try and support that to work as best it can. None of us feel that it’s what we wanted, it’s not enough. But let it do what it wants to do. 

But still keep advancing the conversations and pushing the agenda further. And I think we can continue to do that in a number of different ways. I’m the chair of the cross-Party group on drug policy reform. And we’ve invited the Minister in, and that’s a cross-Party group across many different politicians and Parties. And we’re trying to work together to reform drug policy. Not only in terms of drug decrim, but across the board. Drug policy, in general. We’re having a lot of those conversations. And I also see that as an education of policymakers that don’t necessarily understand or are not exposed to addiction in the same way that some other politicians are. So for me, that group allows us to actually have a safe space, where we can bring politicians along on that journey. The next step is to keep opening hearts and minds. And when you have hearts and minds, people will step into that space and the policy will change. I’m with Ger (Gerard Roe). I think by 2025, the bulk of the work will be done and we will be there in some sort of big policy change. 

I’d like to thank everybody for joining the discussion. Lynn, Gerard, Philly (McMahon) and Carl. It was a very, very good discussion. I think there’s a lot of people that have engaged. I couldn’t get to everybody’s questions, (it was) just not possible. I’ll try and give another meeting similar to this in the next couple of months. A number of people have asked me about the cannabis Bill. I probably will be introducing it sometime around late July, or September. It’s called The Cannabis Regulation and Control Bill. Timing is obviously very important. Some good news I can reveal tonight – The Medical Cannabis Access Programme will be operational in June. This will be the first time that people can get medical cannabis under prescription. So it’ll be functional in June. I know we don’t conflate the two issues, but I think at least it’s a recognition by the State that cannabis can be used as a medicine, as well as for other reasons.

On a note of hope, I along with People Before Profit will continue to raise the issue of decriminalisation. It’s strange, because Frank Feighan (Minister with responsibility for the national drug strategy), I keep meeting him all the time! And I do have informal conversations with him. So I’m pushing him, informally, to say: “Look it man, you’ve gotta go beyond what the other predecessors have been doing. It’s not working, you’ve gotta be radical. You’ve gotta be [a] revolution when it comes to drug reform. Because it just doesn’t work, what you’ve been doing in the past.” I’ll be in his ear, and everybody else’s ear. And in my time, and in Lynn’s time when we’re in the Seanad, we’ll be pushing for drug reform. Because, what drug reform to me is about, it’s about saving lives. And giving people hope, you know?

You’re never gonna eradicate drugs, it’s just not possible. People will always use drugs for all sorts of reasons. But the best way to tackle that issue is to look at it more maturely and more differently than we’ve ever done before. And to me that starts with decriminalisation and looking beyond that. And that’s why I’m gonna introduce the Bill, as I said, some time this year. Around legalisation of cannabis, which I think is a no-brainer. Public opinion is way ahead of politicians. So on that note, thanks everybody for contributing tonight. It was a very, very good discussion and we’ll see yis in the future. Thanks!

References:

1 Carl Hart‘s contribution to this online talk was recently featured as a post on The Green Lens,

and can be read here: https://bit.ly/3iJwjBP

2 For more information on the public consultation mentioned by Lynn, see the Working Group’s report

at this link: https://bit.ly/2Vedn5R

* The online panel discussion, hosted by People Before Profit, can be viewed in full at this link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAgtPMDmZzQ

Dr. Carl Hart at ‘The Case For Drug Decriminalisation in Ireland’ | 03.03.2021

Doctor Carl Hart is a Ziff Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Columbia University and is recognized for his research in drug use, addiction and abuse. Devoted to debunking common myths concerning drugs, Hart has spent his career researching the impact drugs have on the body in order to identify the grounds that mediate drug use behaviours. As a guest speaker for TD Gino Kenny’s Case for Drug Decriminalisation in Ireland, Hart shares his views on the future of drug reform, the causes of addiction and what drug policy Ireland would need to adopt to facilitate such change. The following text has been adapted from the live stream for the purpose of clarity. The questions were posed by TD Gino Kenny.

I’m Carl Hart, I’m a Professor at Columbia University. I am also a Research Scientist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. I do research where we study the effects of drugs like cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, the opioids on peoples’ behaviours, social interactions, their brains. And so I’ve been doing this type of work for about thirty years now and I’ve learned quite a bit. And I hope to be able to share today, some of the things that I’ve learned.

Is there a case for drug decriminalisation?

Of course there is. When we talk about drug decriminalisation, we’re basically talking about making sure no-one is being arrested for putting drugs in their bodies, or using drugs. For seeking pleasure. We’re just making sure that that’s the case. That’s quite low-level; any idiot will say: “Of course there’s a case for decriminalisation.” But it’s more complicated than that. Because when we think about drug decriminalisation, drug decriminalisation is good in that no-one should be arrested. But it doesn’t address issues related to, for example, a contaminated drug that people may buy on the streets. You may buy, I don’t know, some drug that you think is MDMA, when in fact it’s something else and it might be dangerous. And so, drug decriminalisation doesn’t do anything to protect the user, besides making sure they don’t go to jail, which is fine. 

Many wealthy people don’t have that problem. They don’t have to worry about going to jail anyway. It’s poor people, those people are the ones who have to worry about going to jail. So the notion that there should be a case for decriminalising drugs, that’s easy. Of course there should be a case. But when we have this conversation, these issues get conflated. For example, we see people who are struggling. People who may be resource-poor. They don’t have housing, they have limited education. And then we see the problems that they face and then we attribute those problems to drugs, which is nonsense. And it’s a way for politicians not to really address the issues that poor people face. Because we know that people of means don’t have those same problems when they use drugs.

When that happens, that tells you that it’s not the drug. You have to look beyond drugs. But when we have this conversation, people that are talking about changing drug policy, now you’re being asked to solve all of society’s problems and that’s unfair. And the conversation gets sidetracked onto something else. When we have this conversation, we should really think about liberty. Think about people who are allowed to drink alcohol. Alcohol’s a drug. Alcohol in some cases is more toxic than many of the other drugs. But this is not an argument to ban alcohol, because I think that alcohol of course should be legally available and regulated. We have quality control, we make sure the government inspects the alcohol so we know what we’re getting. The government controls the unit dose, how much is in a bottle. All of that enhances safety. 

We can do the same thing with other drugs, and so the question becomes: Why are we treating one chemical differently than the other? I understand that people say: “This particular chemical (heroin or something else) is far more dangerous than alcohol.” Well, that’s debatable and it’s probably not true under most conditions. So if we think about liberty and peoples’ right to alter their consciousness, to put what they want in their bodies if they are adults, what we’re doing with drug policy is silly. And also it impacts our liberty. But we have to ask, well, why are we doing this if it’s silly and if it’s limiting peoples’ liberty? Well, we’re doing it because prohibition actually does work. It works for a select group of people in our society. It works for the police. It works for the politicians who can say: “We’re going to solve the problems in your community. We’re gonna put more cops on the streets and we’re gonna get drugs out of your community.” And those politicians look like heroes. When in fact they’re zeroes and they are not heroes. 

So a number of people benefit from prohibition. And that’s why we continue prohibition. Because if it didn’t work, then we wouldn’t continue it. But so many people are benefiting and we have to talk about those people who are benefiting and the people who are suffering. The people who are suffering, for example, are those people who may get a drug that’s tainted with something else and that person dies or that person gets maimed or that person is really injured severely. Those people are not benefiting. And the people who go to jail for drug laws, they’re not benefiting. And most of us in society, we’re not benefiting because the money that supports the war on drugs, or prohibition, is coming from us. But we’re not benefiting from the money. But a number of other people are benefiting from the money. Whenever we have this conversation we have to make sure we discuss the folks who are benefiting from the current approach. Because if no-one was benefiting from the current approach, then it would stop. The fact is, a tremendous number of people are benefiting from the current approach. 

In your opinion, what is the root cause of addiction, particularly around drugs? And how can we have more harm reduction, in relation to drug policy, rather than locking people up? Okay, I’ll just say this quickly. Whenever we start to talk about addiction and drug policy, we’ve already lost. Because the focus is on addiction, when in fact the vast majority of people who do drugs are not addicted. Clearly, we need to help people who are addicted. But, we should not have policy be dictated by a small minority, as we do with drugs. Because we say: “We’re worried about addiction”. As if addiction has anything to do with drugs. The vast majority of users of any drug are not addicted and that vast majority tells us that we must look beyond the drug to try to figure out why people become addicted. People become addicted for a variety of reasons, there’s no one shoe fits all. Some people have co-occurring psychiatric illnesses, like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia that drives their drug addiction.

Other people have situations where they have unrealistic expectations heaped upon them and they can’t meet these expectations. That might contribute to their addiction. Other folks may have had living wages in the past, or jobs that paid a living wage. Now, that’s gone. They have lost standing in their communities. That could contribute to peoples’ addiction. A wide range of reasons can contribute to people’s addiction, but most of them have nothing to do with the drug itself. But we talk about addiction and drug policy like they are relevant, it’s not relevant. We do so, because it’s easy for us to pretend that we care about poor people that are catching hell. When in fact, the vast majority of people who use drugs are not poor. They are your middle class people.

And we need the middle class people to begin this conversation, getting out of the closet, standing up, saying that they are drug users so we can have policy that is more rational. So that we spend our money on services more wisely, to people who actually need the help. But, when we start to focus on poor people and we’re talking about drugs, what we are doing, basically, is continuing the vilification of those people. Because people are poor and you know what, many of them don’t even use drugs! But they still need our help. But we like to act like drug users… they’re poor and therefore that’s why they’re using drugs. That’s not necessarily the case, no. And so we need to stop misattributing the cause of poverty to drugs and things of that nature.

Or the cause of homelessness to drugs. People have problems because it’s a difficult world in which we live and that makes sense. Some of them use drugs but not all of ‘em. Most of the people who use drugs are middle class folks who are in the closet and are not saying that they use drugs. If they come out of the closet and advocate for more rational policy, we might actually get something done. But they’re in the closet and they are, in my opinion, less than courageous. And they are contributing to these awful policies.

Carl, on the rational policy. In your opinion, what would a rational policy look like? Decriminalisation is in the mix, but we need to go beyond decriminalisation. In your opinion, what would that rational policy be? 

I’ll tell you. Given that the United States has miseducated the world and we have exported our awful drug policy and our awful drug knowledge around the world, the world needs to be re-educated about drugs. So for me, the first thing that we do.. Yeah, we should decriminalise all drugs. That is, nobody’s going to jail for what they put in their body. That stops, that’s a policy. Now, we also implement drug checking facilities, such that people can submit small samples of their drug to some local facility in their community where it’s done anonymously and they can figure out what is contained in their substance. In this way, they are less likely to take some contaminants, some adulterant. And in this way, they’re more likely to have what they think they have and then we don’t have overdoses and those sorts of things. We will also need to have a corresponding amount of better education about what drugs actually do and what they don’t do. 

And so this notion that one drug is evil versus another drug.. That’s not a part of drug education. The education will help people to understand differences between routes of administration. When you take a drug orally, it takes longer to have an effect. And when you smoke it or you inject it…you help people to understand that. You make sure that people have clean injection equipment. You make sure people understand the importance of dose. The importance of setting. Where the drug is being taken. So you have honest, better education. All of this, with the goal of working towards legally regulating the drugs that people want. Just like we legally regulate alcohol. And that’s how I see us going. You allow adults to be adults, you allow adults to make their own decisions.

And sure, some people will get in trouble, because life is not without risk. Anybody who is looking for a life without risk, that’s a boring-ass life! Nobody wants life without risk. And so we figure out how to minimise the risk. That’s our job as public officials. But we have to first be honest that people use drugs to feel good, people like that feeling. It’s like people have an orgasm, because they like to feel good. There’s nothing wrong with that. We act as if you have to be pathological in order to want to experience euphoria from MDMA, or something of that nature. So we have to be honest and we have to be adults about this conversation. That’s where we start.

The phrase “the war on drugs” was coined by the Nixon administration. That’s nearly 50 years ago. We’re looking at the United States. Some of these States are legalising cannabis, which is very, very good. But is it going in the right direction? In your opinion, where’s the public mood in relation to this issue? The criminal justice system and the police, they will even admit that it’s not possible to police our way out of a situation where it’s demand and supply. And where that demand is met, if the criminal gangs will use that vacuum. So, where’s the public mood in all this? Yeah, so the war on drugs. The term was coined by Richard Nixon in ‘71, but please understand, we have had a war on drugs in the United States since the early 1900s. We passed our first federal drug laws in 1914, and that’s when the drug war really began.

So we have a long history of this drug war and we like it, that’s why it continues. When you ask about the public mood. I think some folks on the panel noted it. In the United States, it has a lot to do with race, but it also has a lot to do with class. It’s just that we don’t talk about class as much, because there are a lot of poor white people for example, suffering because of drug laws. I have yet to come to Ireland, but I certainly have been to Northern Ireland. And when I go to places like Belfast, it looks like a number of places in the United States, where poor white people are getting their asses kicked. Basically, because of our policies that are negatively impacting them. And so, we think about where we’re headed as a country, in terms of drug policy. (Senator Lynn Roane) beautifully pointed out that she has concerns about us separating marijuana. When we liberalise marijuana policy, it kind of pits other drug users against each other.

I absolutely, emphatically agree with her. That’s happening in the United States, where we are separating marijuana. Fifteen States have now legalised marijuana for adult consumption. But, this sort of change, or liberalising of marijuana policy, has not happened because we are doing the right thing. It has happened because people see the financial potential and the tax revenues generated from legal marijuana. In other words, in America, the dollar is the major motivating factor. And so I think we will see a continued liberalisation of marijuana policy, as long as States think that they can make more money from marijuana tax revenues than they can from arresting people. From the criminal justice system. So it will be interesting to see where we go. But please make no mistake. We are doing this, not because it’s the right thing to do. Not because we want to respect individuals’ autonomy, that’s not why we’re doing it. We’re doing it because we see that there is money to be made.

Gino, I really appreciate you inviting me and I’m so honoured to be on a panel with Gerard (Roe), Philly (McMahon), Lynn, yourself. I just wish I could be there in Dublin, in the country, so we could interact like humans are supposed to do. And once we get out of this lockdown, I promise to come to Dublin. Because I really dig what you’re trying to do and I support it wholeheartedly. And if I could be of any help, you know where I’m at Gino, so please reach out.

Carl, I’d love for you to come to Dublin. And I’ll buy you a few pints of Guinness, and we can go have a bit of an auld party. I love Guinness! It’s really nice to see you guys.

Thanks Carl, thanks very much for coming. 

* Doctor Carl Hart released Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear to critical acclaim. Check out our review at: https://greenlensblog.com/2021/05/13/drug-use-for-grown-ups-review/ 

** The online panel discussion, hosted by People Before Profit, can be viewed in full at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAgtPMDmZzQ

Mark Jenkins of Releaf Cafés | 23.02.2021

Mark opened the first ¹Releaf artisan café in Clonmel, County Tipperary in 2018 and later opened a second premises in Dungarvan, County Waterford. They offer regular barista style coffees and also sell ²GreenWay CBD-infused coffees and Calm drinks, alongside a range of CBD and hemp products, including edibles. Here Mark speaks with Richard about recent raids at his cafés, as well as ongoing efforts to raise more awareness within the Irish justice system about current EU law surrounding the sale of CBD products.

Twitter: @releaf19 / Facebook: @releafire

When did you first become aware of the health properties of CBD? I’d been interested in it a long time. More cannabis as a whole, rather than just CBD. I went more into the business side in 2014. I started researching and looking at it as a business. I started a Business Management course in WIT (Waterford Institute of Technology). We were given an assignment to research a business and they told us to go outside the box. So I started looking at the different things that are coming on the market; CBD, the cannabis industry. That’s how I got into it. That’s what pushed me into this industry more than anything else. 

When did you first think of opening Releaf café? From being in college, as I am also a Development Chef, so this industry was what I knew. 2018 was the year when I first opened in Clonmel, on January the seventh. The same day I opened the restaurant at the Department of Health HQ, where we also served hemp on a weekly basis, which got some very good conversations going with the staff of DOH.

How many times have your cafés been raided by the Gardaí? I’ve been raided five times in the shops; four times in the Clonmel store and once in Dungarvan. Now, I’m only open four months in Dungarvan, not even. And last week was their first time there. Like that, they’re in and out quick, they don’t really know what they’re looking for. They took hemp capsules and hemp oil on me the last time. The EHO (Environmental Health Officer) even wrote the labels with us. I asked why the Garda was taking them and she said: “Because it’s made of cannabis.” Are you not gonna take the bags? You know, a bit of raw cannabis?

So they’re not consistent in what products they’re raiding, they’re just taking different things. No, very random. They can’t even test the oil at this stage. They’re only testing the flower. If you send it up to the Phoenix Park forensics labs, they won’t test oil. One of the Guards told us it’ll ruin the machines. Were the four raids at the Clonmel premises spread out over much time? You might not see them for about four or five months. Then they’ll come in again. They’ll say they came in and caught someone with some ‘other stuff’ and that they got it from us. They’re kind of stuck themselves, it looks the same. I think they need clarification as much as we do. I can’t blame them, they’re doing their job. If the man at the top is telling them they have to do it, that’s why they’re doing it.

Would you say that most of the raids happened more recently, or were they always happening? The Guards don’t know about the newer EU law. At the last raid, we asked a Garda if he knew about the new ³EU law and he said: “What are ya on about?” And we handed it to him and he read it and said: “Oh, that’s an interesting one now. I must read up on that.” And that was it! But then the Guards in Clonmel were more (like): “It’s Irish law. We’re not dictated to by the EU, it’s Irish.” And they don’t really know either.

We kind of are though, the EU law supersedes Irish law. Yes, but it has to be implemented into Irish law. So unless they interpret it, Irish law says this. It’s just the Irish way, it’s written in the book. That’s the way it is.

Has your home also been raided? Yeah. We were at the cash-and-carry one day and our neighbour rang us: “The Guards are after ramming in your front door.” So we got my mother-in-law to come up (to the house) and just wait while we came back. And they were inside the house, raiding. Were they there for long, did it disturb much of your day? We were in Waterford city. And we live in Lismore. So it’s about 45, 50 minutes away. And they were still in there searching the house when we came back. So they were in there a good hour and a half, before we got the call.

Are you aware of many other small CBD businesses suffering from raids? Yeah, I’d be well aware of a few others. There’s a guy who got handed five Section 5s and five Section 15s (charges relating to offences listed under Sections 5 and 15 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977) last week. Another (owner of a) store got collared with flower, coming back from his store. But they’re tryna make a big thing out of it. They sent Guards out to him from the city centre, and this is a country place. It was kind of like: “Ye’re big criminals, ye’re drug dealers.” We’re not! They had armed response brought to his house as well, to do a search. They’re going a bit too far now.

It seems like a concentrated campaign at the moment, with all the small businesses. Like that, none of us have been brought to court for a while. And now it’s like every one of us is going into court. We’re all getting these warrants or charges put in front of us. (Mark has since confirmed having received another two charges, on the fourth of March). Within the next four months, I’m up on each different raid. So each case is starting every month.

It must be affecting you quite a bit financially if they’re raiding a lot of stock. The way I see it, you didn’t go into this business not knowing this was going to happen. We all knew that it’s a grey area. It’s a tough one to take, but I classify it as a saving account. I have no plan on losing in court. Legal bills, they’re mounting up. But at the end of it all, will it be worth it? That’s the end game. Get it through. Get it in writing from the court. I’m going for it. My next day in court is the 23rd of March in Clonmel court. I should have forensics back. Then it’s up to the Irish courts to say: “Right, are we accepting that your forensics are true?” What way is the State going to respond to this? If they say no, I’m guilty, then it’s Europe (the Court of Justice of the European Union). 

Have you been in contact with Little Collins or other businesses about the situation? I’ve been talking to Chris Allen (of the HFI) about it a few times, when I first got raided. She’d be very, very knowledgeable about the Irish hemp industry. And I was talking to her again lately. I’ve been talking with two shops up the country about the raids. Little Collins I’ve chatted to on social media, but that’s it. 

The HFI (Hemp Federation of Ireland) recently released a statement addressing the State’s failure to amend Irish drug law to reflect EU law, which allows the sale of CBD products containing .2% THC or less. Have you heard anything about CBD businesses banding together to take action on this situation? To be honest, I find this industry very dependent on who you are. When I first started in this industry, it was very hard for me to get anything. I had more people sussing me out to see what I was doing than anybody wanting to sell me products. It was very hard to get products at the start. Everyone’s fighting their own battle. I think everyone should come together and fight it and then it’s game on. But until they do that, it’s like: “Lads, we’re all fighting the same battle. We all have the same goal.” We need to go that way.

Arguably, it could get more attention from the national media if a few of you were grouped together. But I understand that’s not a simple overnight thing, people keep to themselves. It’s their business. They don’t want other businesses knowing what their business is. Everyone is getting (stock) from a different supplier, dealing with different people. They don’t want people knowing. Do you see the Irish government taking any meaningful measures to legalise cannabis in the next few years? I would hope so. There is a lot of movement going on in the cannabis industry that people aren’t even aware of. In 2016, Ireland had a cannabis summit and they said we were the best cannabis country in Europe. That was over five years ago. Things must’ve been rolled (along) since then, there is stuff going on. See what way it goes after this whole lockdown of the economy… If they need money, they can tax the people. They need to bring in revenue, but it seems they have to see other countries doing it before they say: “Right, it is a good idea.” You know? Paddyland! Mark laughs

Thanks a million Mark. I appreciate you taking time out to chat with me. No worries. All the best with the upcoming cases! Thanking you. See you again, good luck.

References

¹ The official Releaf website can be accessed here: https://cbdreleaf.ie/ 

² More info on GreenWay CBD (a Waterford company) can be found here: http://www.greenwaycbd.ie/about/ 

³ EU CBD law is conveniently mapped and summarised here, by Visual Capitalist: https://www.visualcapitalist.com/european-cbd-landscape-in-2020/ 

This particular phrase refers to this old D’Unbelievables “Crimebusters” skit: https://youtu.be/Hw3P4SPEfGU?t=112 

More on Sections 5 and 15 can be found on this information page for the

Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977: http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/1977/act/12/enacted/en/print 

Here’s Cannabis News Network’s report video on the Global Medical Cannabis Summit,held at Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin: https://www.cannabisnewsnetwork.com/global-medical-cannabis-summit-dublin-2016-report-interviews/