Achtung Smokers!

Nicholas catches up with Germany’s current trajectory of cannabis reform as they advance towards decriminalising the plant as one of the most powerful members in the European Union.  But, how far long are they?

It’s an optimistic view, but by the end of the decade I believe the landscape of Europe’s relationship with cannabis will be completely overhauled.  Though probably not for the same reasons as the public as more and more financial talking heads are starting to come around to the idea of legalisation.  The profiteering the legal cannabis industry has incurred has shifted the discussion away from how dangerous legalisation would be for society to now assessing exactly how much will it generate for the economy.  The boogieman that reefer madness produced has lost its bark and now it’s a case of politicians staring straight at the economic benefits of legalisation where before, any notion was ignored with half arsed references to anti-cannabis propaganda.  

This mentality is propped up and funded by industries that look to lose out in a world where instead of drinking alcohol to take the edge off, people can choose to smoke a joint, instead of a cocktail of pain medication to alleviate chronic aches and pains, people can choose to consume cannabis infused food products which have been proven to be as effective as opioids, which are among the most potent pain-relieving drugs in the world.[1]  While the opposition continues to demonise the plant, forward thinking politicians are amassing and shedding light on the discussion as more people are beginning to look upon the situation differently.  Like a budding business would use Porter’s Five Forces to assess market conditions for a new set-up, the attitudes and stigmas associated with cannabis use are dwindling which has paved the way for governments to acknowledge the benefits it will bring but not before assessing how many markets would be affected by its legalisation.

While we wait on tender hooks for the Irish government to entertain such discussion, we can in the meantime set our sights on one of the most powerful members of the European Union.   Over the next two years, Germany is expected to become the biggest cannabis market in the world with plans to legalise the drug pressing forward despite opposition concerns over the health impact.  Approximately 4 million adults in Germany consume cannabis and Ministers say the new laws will put safety first, though if passed, it will also create opportunities for businesses potentially worth billions.[2]  So where does Germany currently stand? Let’s start with the current legal situation.

Since 2017, medical cannabis has been legal in Germany so it is possible to buy, grow or import cannabis for medical purposes.   According to the German Narcotics Act [3], authorisation is necessary for all forms of businesses with medical cannabis. The calculation of medical cannabis is handled utilizing a tender process, the German cannabis agency appointed three companies that are now allowed to grow cannabis for medical purposes in Germany in a total amount of 10,400 kilogrammes and only for four years.

Patients can have access to medical cannabis in the form of dried flower or extracts only if they have a prescription by their physician and only in case of a very serious illness, but in the case that all of these requirements are met, the patients have the right to get reimbursed by the German health insurer for cannabis therapy.  On the other hand, recreational use of cannabis is not permitted in Germany yet.  So, what is the plan to change this?  The current German government was elected in September 2021 and plans to legalise recreational cannabis in Germany.  According to the coalition treaty between the three governing parties of centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), environmentalist Greens and neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP), the government plans a controlled distribution of recreational cannabis to adults and only in licenced shops.  So, in general it’s very good news for the industry but there are many questions regarding the legalisation which are still open, for example, in which licence stores shall the cannabis be sold?

Some argue that only pharmacists shall be allowed to sell cannabis for recreational purposes because they already have experience with the plant and the professional background to oversee its retail.  But others argue that in this case, the hurdles would be too high for people to buy and with the only available legal source confined to pharmacists, it will push those to continue to purchase from the black market.  Another big problem is how the increasing demand will be met. Experts estimate that the cannabis grown in Germany would by far not be enough to meet the newly increased demand for recreational use and that Germany very much would depend on imports from other countries. However, imports and exports of recreational cannabis from other countries are forbidden at the moment by international law.  Therefore, it remains to be seen how the legalisation of recreational cannabis will be implemented in German law and what the details will look like.  Lastly, what is the current time for the legalisation?

The coalition treaty did not set a certain time frame for the realisation of the legalisation. Due to other important topics like the Ukraine crisis and the COVID pandemic, it seemed that legalisation is not the most pressing issue for the new government. However, recently it became public that the budget committee of the General Parliament put pressure on the Federal Ministry of Health by threatening to block funds in case the Health Ministry didn’t possess a draft for the legalisation by the end of the year.  So, the Ministry of Health now announced that they will publish the draft in the second half of this year, however, it will still take some time until the new law will come into force since it will have to pass the German Parliament and German Federal Council, so it may not come into force until the end of the 2023 or even 2024.

The demand for such change is compounded with a recent report on drug-related crime from the Federal Criminal Police Office which found only 1 in 6 cases of cannabis arrests are to do with drug dealing with approximately 30,000 of 190,000 cases defined as “consumption-related offenses”.  Prohibition predominately affects recreational smokers compared to the bigger fish such legislation intends to catch. 

Burkhard Blienert, of the Social Democratic Party stated “I want a regulated market. Decriminalization goes along with that,” emphasized the drug commissioner. “It is better not to break things down into individual elements now, but instead to think everything through together. We want a comprehensive result.” [4]  It’s a foregone conclusion that Germany will legalise cannabis but no one can accurately tell when.  Such a decision will no doubt have a rippling effect across the entire EU as countries dragging their heels on the issue will struggle to convince the public to remain complacent as a major success story originating from Germany may be what tips the pendulum in favour of cannabis users across Europe. 


[1] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322051

[2] https://mjbizdaily.com/germany-taking-safety-first-approach-to-cannabis-legalization-health-minister-says/

[3] https://www.emcdda.europa.eu/system/files/publications/11334/germany-cdr-2019_0.pdf

[4] https://www.dw.com/en/germany-will-legalize-cannabis-but-nobody-knows-when/a-62810179

Will They Ever Cop On?

Nicholas takes a look at An Garda Síochána’s recent call for action on the war on drugs, an arrest of a former superintendent and requests for more surveillance on the public.  Will they ever cop on? Or will they continue kicking the can down the road?

With the black market back up and running within hours after raids, a retired garda superintendent arrested for possession, proposals for increased surveillance and an overall oblivious approach to their war on drugs, the hi-vis protectors of the public have had quite a year.  As we battle rising costs of inflation, possible food shortages and definite housing shortages, we mustn’t ignore how Drew Harris’ bravest are coping with the increased usage of cannabis and the possible solutions they have in tackling what they consider more important than assaults, rape and robbery. 

In Galway, Garda Chief Superintendent Tom Curley has committed to directing more resources to tackle the black market.  The war on drugs has become the top priority going forward.  In justifying his stance, Mr Curley said “Only for the demand is there for illegal drugs, then the criminal gangs simply wouldn’t have the ready market available to them for the sale of those substances”.[1]  Couldn’t agree more Mr Curley.  If only there was a way of disabling the black market while providing clean, safe, regulated cannabis to the public. 

This comes after a reported increase in cases of domestic violence, cybercriminals targeting pensioners and alcohol-fuelled assaults.  But yes, the black market is the biggest threat to the citizens of Galway and requires devout attention.  While the circulation of cocaine, ecstasy and other Class A drugs are problematic in society, the criminalisation of cannabis fuels the channels that distribute them.  Eliminating cannabis from the black market altogether would weaken their position significantly as the gateway myth would be dissolved and the “war on drugs” would finally see a return on its investment.

What resources Mr Curley is referring to more than likely fall under a recently passed bill, the Garda Síochána (Functions and Operational Areas) Act 2022.[2]  The new bill recommends the granting of powers unseen in the ranks of the Gardaí.  The powers include the authority to stop and search for possession of prohibited materials along with the ability to sign off on search warrants which furthermore affords the Gardaí to exclude any legal counsel they consider to be “disruptive”. 

The law reform commission states clearly that warrants are only to be issued by the courts.  The new bill proposed a provision where garda members are enabled to issue search warrants in cases of urgent importance, contrary to the view of the Law Reform Commission.[3]  I’m sure Ireland being fast-tracked into 1984 by one of the most incompetent police forces in Europe will quell all of the problems we face today. Still, raids will continue, smokers will be prosecuted and the black market will prevail as they return to operations within the hour of a raid which is the case for residents in Limerick. [4]

Surprisingly, the Gardaí themselves aren’t being left out of the fun.  John Murphy, a 61-year-old retired Garda Superintendent was charged with possessing cannabis worth over €13,000 at his home in north Dublin under section 50 of the Criminal Justice Act 2007.  The seizure, carried out by the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation discovered cannabis during search operations on September 29th 2021. He had been granted free legal aid in the realisation of a possible 10-year sentence to which he remained in custody since the initial arrest.  He pled guilty on March 24th 2022 and the Director of Public Prosecutions consented.  Mr Murphy was remanded in custody until the 4th of October when he will be formally sentenced.  No doubt, Mr Murphy stepped on the wrong toes as this is one of the very few cases with little leniency for a former Garda, especially considering his prolonged stay at Cloverhill Prison. 

Though one would expect his sentencing may very well fall under the amount the time he has spent on remand, meaning he could very well be a free man come October. A luxury not befitting of a civilian caught with the reported figure.   

The €13,000 worth of cannabis is surprising though.  Given previous estimates from An Garda Síochána’s state of the art Drug Pricing Algorithm™, Mr Murphy could have been copped for €600,000 to coincide with the €20 per gram pricing they have for the majority of their seizures.[5] Mr Murphy had €587,000 subtracted when the algorithm factored in his previous employment with the Gardaí.  Very handy.

And we can’t forget the man at the helm, Drew Harris who believes the law is too soft on drugs.  This man serves as the commissioner of a police force that shares the same island as Judge Martin Nolan.  A paedophile apologist, Judge Nolan is synonymous with light and suspended sentences for the most guttural men residing in this country.  His most recent ruling on a drug case was a 3-and-a-half-year sentence for James Cullen who was convicted of holding drugs under threat. [6]  He didn’t intend to sell or consume but this still found him receiving a relatively stark sentence compared to Judge Nolan’s most recent case regarding the assault of a child. 

A court of appeal was rejected in an attempt to jail a man who assaulted his baby daughter.  The man was given a six-month prison sentence for assaulting his partner in a separate incident and those six months were more than enough punishment.  Nolan said he was satisfied that the man never intended to harm the child despite punching her while in the hands of his partner at the time. [7]  He also sentenced a man who had attacked a toddler with a blowtorch to just 20 months in prison.[8] Yet Mr James Cullen gets 3 and a half years. Though Judge Nolan’s notoriety amassed specifically over his extremely lenient stance on child pornography.

If you’ve ever come across a news story of a suspended sentence handed down to a man convicted of distributing child pornography, you can bet it was Nolan’s call.  If you’ve ever come across a story of a judge finding it “unjust” to imprison a man found guilty of viewing child porn, you can bet it was Nolan’s sympathy.[9] Yet, drug users of Ireland are considered the worst, leading to lives irreversibly destroyed over drug convictions.  Victims of child abuse won’t be able to find any solace in the work of Drew Harris either, as the Gardaí “failed” a child abuse victim due to an insufficient investigation with the Garda Siochána Ombudsman Commission stating the failure to conduct an investigation had the effect of “leaving him to remain a risk to children”.[10]  If Mr Harris genuinely believes the state is being too soft on drugs, what in god’s name must he think of the state’s tackling of child abuse!?

As for now, we can only watch on as Germany is the latest country to deliberate on the legalisation of cannabis and unlike those that came before, Germany will have a far greater reach in demonstrating the benefits of cannabis reform in the E.U, hopefully influencing further members to follow in their footsteps.


References

[1] https://connachttribune.ie/galways-garda-chief-makes-war-on-drugs-his-top-focus-for-year-ahead/

[2] https://data.oireachtas.ie/ie/oireachtas/act/2022/7/eng/enacted/a0722.pdf

[3] https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/politics/arid-40762074.html

[4] https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/munster/arid-40768398.html

[5] https://twitter.com/rtenews/status/1444996286000816132?lang=en

[6] https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/courts/criminal-court/man-who-says-he-held-46k-of-drugs-due-to-threat-jailed-1.4883062

[7] https://www.independent.ie/regionals/dublin/fingal/court-of-appeal-rejects-states-attempt-to-jail-man-who-assaulted-his-baby-daughter-41303777.html

[8] https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/courts/circuit-court/man-jailed-for-burning-toddler-s-face-with-mini-blowtorch-1.4568525

[9] https://gript.ie/judge-martin-nolan-disgraces-himself-again/

[10] https://www.gardaombudsman.ie/news-room/archive/gsoc-publishes-its-2021-annual-report-gsoc-in-transition/

My First Toke: From Environment to Etiquette

My First Toke: From Environment to Etiquette

In the future, I’d like to think first-time smokers will be introduced to cannabis in a completely different environment. But unfortunately, it will be a long time coming as many newcomers will have to endure the touch and go setting of the black market. In a legalized, regulated Ireland, first-time smokers will have safe access to the plant and will be able to benefit from its properties more safely and appropriately. Due to the fact that they will know exactly the strain and potency of the cannabis they are smoking. This can’t be said for those of us back in the day or currently for that matter.  For my generation, we had to go through the necessary channels to access the drug to experiment for ourselves. As a result, many of us have found ourselves in situations that weren’t particularly safe, but alas, at the time this was the only method at our disposal.

In my case, thankfully it was nothing drastic. Though, looking back I have to wonder how much worse it could’ve been. My story begins conveniently under a bridge, smoking my first hash joint.  As is the case for many who need to shield themselves from the public eye before embarking on their first journey with cannabis.  For many of my generation in the 2000s, ghost sites where construction had come to a halt and derelict uncomplete houses were left behind leaving ample spots to smoke were the best locations.  For me though, it was with two ‘friends’ from school, one of which was well versed in the area of cannabis resin. We climbed over a wall and made our way down a riverbank, to which there was a ledge that we could prop ourselves on away from the stream flowing below us. From there, we watched the ‘friend’ that had procured the hash slit a cigarette to dump its tobacco into a three-skinner rollie he had made moments prior. 

We watched in awe as he filled the skin with the tobacco and then slowly burnt the hash with his lighter which allowed small little nuggets to break away from the eighth that we were all there for. I still remember the smell singeing from the hash. It is a smell that I’m not particularly fond of even today as the most vivid memory of my first time was how harsh the toke was.  But this couldn’t happen before the joint roller had the first pull, as were the rules you see.  Many, many rules were formulated in the culture of teenagers chasing the magic dragon, rules that I never want to hear about again.  He was the first to spark up before giving it to my ‘friend’, who took a few more tokes before passing it to me. I inhaled and exhaled. Coughing a little bit as I hadn’t lost myself to nicotine just yet meaning my virgin lungs weren’t equipped to take the puff like the champions sitting next to me under that bridge.  My coughing, of course, was met with roaring laughter from my two associates, who clearly forgotten we were meant to be incognito for the duration of our smoke but had no qualms about letting anyone passing above us know that there were teenagers up to no good underneath them. As you might have noticed from my use of putting ‘friends’ in quotations, there was very little concern for how I was dealing with the harshness of the smoke.  I don’t remember much else other than really playing up the act of feeling high. I still don’t know why I did that. I assume it’s because I was trying something new and had consumed so much stoner media that may be a placebo effect took over and in wanting to enjoy it more, I played up its effect on me? I’m not sure. I was a dumb 15-year-old.  

Still though, even then, I felt that I could have been with people more enjoyable to smoke with. Honestly, I don’t remember much from my first time other than the circumstances in which I smoked it. I would have longed for an opportunity to smoke indoors with a group of people that were all in the same boat as opposed to the hierarchy of experience I was subject to.  Instead, my adolescence was confined to the 2000s when one-upmanship was the go-to method to signal how masculine you were.  I won’t dispute this is no longer the case but, in my hometown, it was a lot more prevalent when the mid-2000s culture afforded it. 

This was the culture surrounding weed, where your mate pulling a ‘whitey’* was seen as a great source of entertainment.  Instead of looking after one another and making sure everybody was accounted for, smoking games would break out.  One of the games I always hated playing was called Around the World, a game whereupon you take a pull from the joint and keep the smoke in your lungs until the joint has passed around to every individual in the circle where it makes its way back to you to which you can finally exhale only to start the whole ordeal all over again.  I don’t exactly remember the penalty for exhaling before the joint reached you again but I do know it was just another mechanism for certain people in the group to capitalize on those in their worst moments and encourage them to not pace oneself to enjoy it for all its worth.  This was far removed from how the characters in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused acted while enjoying a joint amongst one another.

I thankfully never found myself in a situation where I got sick, but I have been exposed to those who have and it was this type of competitive behaviour, the bullying, the intimidation, that cultivated an atmosphere where you gained satisfaction from another person’s suffering. That left a bad taste in my mouth regarding the weed culture for teens. It was only until I got older that I realized that I had been introduced to the drug through individuals that, let’s say, aren’t of the most trustworthy character. Shocker I know. 

I didn’t expect myself to be smoking with bleeding heart empaths for the first time, but at the very least I expected concern for how I was doing.  It should come as no surprise that those I experienced my first joint with are no longer on speaking terms with me, not due to any negativity or in-fighting, but rather we were simply not the same people. And by growing and maturing, we went in completely opposite directions. One of the most potent memories I have of my early years of smoking was the price. I became aware very quickly that drug dealers, especially when you’re a teenager, have little to no respect.

This obviously came in the form of getting ‘maced’.  The art of getting screwed out of your money.  Keep in mind, my first time as a smoker, Ireland was a different place in regards to the accessibility of cannabis.  It’s crazy to think of a time when the only cannabis product you could acquire was cannabis resin.  Instead of being handed a bag of oregano to pass off as weed, I vividly remember being handed my first soap bar which had the complexion of a balled-up play-dough. Though yet it smelled exactly as it should. It wasn’t until I smoked it that I realized that I had been conned, such is the life of being a teenage black-market customer. What was I going to do about it? Complain to my mother? This of course wasn’t the last time either.

Sure, you’re aware the black market isn’t exactly known for its professional integrity. It wasn’t until my mid to late 20s that I finally found a dealer that was more concerned about the well-being of his customers. While he didn’t have access to information regarding the strain or potency of the weed on offer, he at the very least knew which types would suit each customer.  While Ireland in 2004 is a far cry from Ireland in 2022, one thing that hasn’t changed is the reality that drug dealers only want to make a quick buck. 

I would have hoped by now things were different for younger people, but in a lot of ways, I should be thankful for the timing of my introduction to weed. Currently, there is a minefield to sift through for new smokers as synthetic weed has been making the rounds to which drug dealers have no shame or remorse when passing it off as real cannabis.  As a result, there are higher chances of first-time smokers ingesting this fake cannabis leading to severe psychosis problems and other mental health issues that this artificial strain induces. Obviously, the strength of weed has increased over the years, which is something that many first-time smokers will have to experience the hard way. Drug dealers are only interested in making a profit, and if that means selling a highly potent cannabis strain to a first-time smoker then so be it, because all that matters is that they get paid. 

My experiences with weed never affected my judgement of the plant itself, only the behaviour of the individuals I was smoking with.  I could only dream of discovering cannabis in a legal regulated environment as I imagine the atmosphere, attitude and overall experience would be far more enjoyable and remembered more fondly than the memories I have.

*a term for one’s skin tone when in the midst of getting sick after consuming too much cannabis

No Stopping Now

Nicholas takes a look back at 2021 up until today and how cannabis legislation has progressed throughout the world.

2021 saw many developments in the reform of cannabis legislation across multiple countries.  We observed as America flourished in the wake of numerous states legalising cannabis and watched as Canada cultivated their regulated cannabis industry into one of the biggest revenue sources for the country.  Now, we are starting to see change across the world. Most recently in Malta. While the Netherlands is famous for its coffee shops where cannabis can be openly sold and consumed, Malta will be the first country in the E.U to legalise cannabis, at least in small amounts.

It is a debate that has persisted for decades, is cannabis a harmless recreational substance, certainly no more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco or is it a gateway drug that can have long term damaging effects, particularly on the young? For the lawmakers in Malta, the answer seems to be the former as they have voted to legalize cannabis, allowing adults to carry up to seven grams and grow up to four plants at home. The decision has afforded Malta to curb drug trafficking by making sure that people who use cannabis now have safe and regulated access to the plant.

Supporters of the reform celebrated amongst Malta’s Equality Minister, Owen Bonnici who promoted the legislation, stating the country has chosen a harm reduction approach to tackle its drug abuse and it will stop the criminalisation of otherwise law-abiding people. MPs in Malta voted 36 to 27 votes in parliament to make it legal for anyone 18 and over to possess up to seven grams of cannabis and to cultivate up to four plants while consuming in public and in the presence of minors remains illegal. New regulations will allow for the setting up of non-profit clubs that can distribute cannabis and cannabis plant seeds among their members.  This has resulted in Malta being the first European country to allow limited cultivation and possession of cannabis. Luxembourg which announced similar plans last October has yet to green light proposals and in Germany, the new coalition government says it plans to legalize cannabis for recreational use. The main opposition party opposed the plan, warning it would normalize and increase drug abuse but where Malta leads others may follow. Luxembourg and Germany are also promising changes in the law. [i]

Germany legalised medicinal cannabis in 2017 which was an important step forward for Europe and now countries like the UK, Poland, Italy, and France are looking into developing their own medicinal programs.  On the recreational side, Luxemburg is looking to legalize cannabis for personal use in the near future, and in Germany, many of the political parties have legalisation included in their campaigns. Currently, the European medicinal market is around €300 million to €400 million which is relatively small but considering the market started four years ago, it’s already scalable and the projections are that the market is going to grow to €3 billion.  With additional recreational markets, projections would be tenfold of what it currently stands. [ii]

Italy will also be looking to reform as cannabis advocates have already gathered enough signatures to hold a referendum to legalize marijuana next year.  A victory will turn Italy’s restrictive system into one of the most liberal in Europe resulting in multiple economic benefits as recent reforms have shown. The Italian market for recreational use is worth in the ballpark of €80 billion which Mafia gangs currently benefit from but once legalized and taxed no differently like cigarettes, it will add €6 million a year to the state.[iii]

The east is also going green as Thailand became the first country in Asia to decriminalise the production and use of cannabis for medicinal purposes in 2020 and this year saw them approve a “de facto” decriminalisation of cannabis.  Thailand’s Narcotics Control Board approved the dropping of the plant from its controlled drugs list following the exclusion of cannabis and hemp from the list of illegal drugs under Thailand’s Narcotic Law.  While recreational use is currently in a grey area of related laws making the legal status of recreational use unclear.  Health Minister Anutin Chanvirakul has been campaigning since 2019 for the legalisation of cannabis production to aid the farmers of the country with the latest progression seen to stimulate recreational cannabis use as a major industry.

Anutin noted that the FDA’s delisting “responds to the government’s urgent policy in developing marijuana and hemp for medical and health care benefits, developing technology and creating income for the public.”[iv]

The future looks hopeful with these recent events as we move towards cannabis legislation creeping ever closer to home.  With the E.U capitalising on the societal benefits of cannabis decriminalisation and medical benefits of its medicinal qualities, we may see Ireland follow in the footsteps of the most progressive countries a lot sooner than later.


References

[i] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-59660856

[ii] https://www.forbes.com/sites/ceciliarodriguez/2021/12/27/germany-moves-to-legalize-cannabis-second-country-after-malta-in-europe/

[iii] https://www.reuters.com/breakingviews/italy-will-be-first-light-up-europes-weed-biz-2021-09-22/

[iv] https://time.com/6142360/thailand-decriminalizes-marijuana/

Meglio Tardi Che Mai

‘Better late than never’. Nicholas looks at the recent news of Italian drug reform where next year, Italy will host a referendum on whether its citizens will be allowed to grow cannabis plants for personal use.

Italy is set to become the first European country to allow its citizens to personally grow up to four cannabis plants in their homes.  This comes after reform was approved by the lower houses’ justice committee on Wednesday the 8th of September. It states that the growth of up to four female cannabis plants at home is to be decriminalised in a decision that puts Italy at the focal point of European cannabis legislation.  Conversely, the reform has increased the penalties for crimes linked to the trafficking and dealing of cannabis from up to six to ten years.  This is a major development in cannabis reform as Italian politicians look to give their citizens more control in the matter.

The nationwide referendum is set to take place early next year in what many hope will cause a domino effect across Europe.  While it’s wishful thinking to assume the reform will pass, it is looking likely that it will with 57% of Italians expected to vote in favour of the referendum. As seen in the U.S the proposal will induce a myriad of financial and economic benefits with Italy’s market for recreational consumption worth close to €8 billion, as estimated by Piero David of the National Research Council.  Once legalised and taxed at the proposed 75% (similar to cigarettes), it is looking to add €6 billion a year to Italy’s economy with much of it coming from the savings incurred from fewer trials and jail detentions.  As it stands, cannabis is legal for recreational use in small quantities and consumption for medicinal purposes is allowed.  However, the selling and production of the plant is illegal.  The petition for a referendum called for the abolition of the Presidential Decree n.309 from 1990, essentially eradicating all cannabis-related criminal penalties.

The petition was significantly driven by online signatories, following a recent law that now allows people to sign through a digital platform, and as a result the internet and digital stratosphere now have an increasingly powerful impact on policy areas.  Due to a judge’s ruling amidst the covid pandemic, the petition was allowed to collect signatures online for the first time in Italian history and so the 5,000 signatures needed to trigger a referendum on the issue was reached.  The Italian government holds the production monopoly for legal use but cannot meet the demand as medical consumption alone rose 30% in 2020. 

By allowing new producers to deliver cannabis for multiple uses, 35,000 new jobs will be created according to supporters of the reform.  It’s not far from reality as American jobs linked to the legal cannabis industry doubled to 321,000 in 3 years according to cannabis marketplace Leafly. Italy looks to also gain an edge in the stock market as Canada’s 2018 legalisation of recreational cannabis prompted an initial public offering frenzy, but this has yet to be seen in Europe.  Having private use openly legal would give Borsa Italiana (the Italian stock exchange) an advantage over others in the European markets.  Antonella Soldo, a coordinator of Meglio Legale, a non-profit organization fighting for drug decriminalisation said:

“It will be hard for institutions and big parties to ignore us.  The extraordinary response of hundreds of thousands of people who have signed the petition in the span of a few hours proves just how important this topic is. If the yes side wins, we’ll start working towards a necessary reform programme.  All cannabis-related penalties would be removed, cultivation would no longer be a crime, and the most common sanction to date – the revocation of driving licences – would be abolished.”

If the campaign succeeds, Italy will be on par with the likes of the Netherlands and Spain, with one of the most liberal cannabis legislation in Europe.  This has still resulted in pushback from conservatives that see it as a threat to the country’s social fabric and are looking to fight the movement.  From the recent reform in America, experience shows once a state legalises cannabis, the economic rewards are felt by all in a domino effect that has benefited America as a whole. With Italy being the first to take the plunge, we can only hope it has a similar effect on Europe where neighbouring countries can no longer sit back and watch a fellow E.U member rake in the benefits of what many would consider to be a public health initiative.  Cannabis use is more prevalent than ever and by subverting the black market in favour of a regulated industry that provides citizens choice. 

Blunt Trauma: The Impact of Stigma on Cannabis Users and the need to Decriminalise Personal Possession in Ireland

Natalie O’Regan is a Master of Law who specialises in criminological theory concerning the stigma of drug use and the societal barriers that prevent people from seeking treatment. Her thesis Blunt Trauma: The Impact of Stigma on Cannabis Users and the need to Decriminalise Personal Possession in Ireland, upholds that decriminalisation of drug use will incur a multitude of health and communal benefits as seen with Portugal’s model of drug reform.

With every passing year, the discussion of cannabis legislation in Ireland becomes more prevalent due to the exposure of archaic and counterproductive laws governing cannabis. This occurs due to those experimenting with the drug for the first time only to realise the hurdles one must jump through to obtain it, or it could simply be a reaction to the avalanche of news cases where people receive a conviction for personal use, almost always for medicinal purposes. The discussion is becoming more prominent due to information about the plant’s benefits reaching those it wouldn’t have before and of course, the coverage of other country’s dealings with the drug and how it benefited them to reform their cannabis legislation. One of the many individuals sharing the truths about cannabis is Natalie O’Regan, whose thesis Blunt Trauma: The Impact of Stigma on Cannabis Users and the need to Decriminalise Personal Possession in Ireland sheds light on Portugal’s drug reform and how it has benefited its citizens as a whole. She focuses on the stigma of criminality that impacts the drug consumer’s life and how decriminalisation of personal possession is the first step of many in seeing Ireland reform its cannabis legislation.

Natalie begins with an introduction on how harm reduction has gained support recently as it serves to address the health and social issues that are rampant from drug use. The support comes from the realisation that the social issues that stem from an arrest are counterproductive in preventing further drug use and subsequently do more harm to the psyche of an individual due to how society views drug convictions. Since 2001, Portugal has been leading by example as they’ve seen numerous societal benefits since successfully decriminalising personal possession of illicit drugs in conjunction with investments into treatment options as well as education and prevention of drug use. The main takeaway from this change was the removal of the stigmas surrounding drug use, allowing for a more fruitful discussion into tackling the social harms associated with it.

Natalie notes that cannabis is the most commonly used drug today and the penalties for consuming it should be lower than harsher illicit drugs. That health should be the main concern for all of those involved but this takes a back seat to the protocol of punishment that society deems to be the only solution in preventing drug use. To combat drug use, medical care should be the first option as we’ve seen with the system we have now, imprisonment doesn’t deter individuals from partaking in drugs. Natalie then sheds light on the enactment of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 which failed to define personal use leaving many in the dark regarding its classification.

Natalie reveals 70% of drug-related incidents were due to possession for personal use according to the Central Statistics Office. These were mainly dealt with fines and suspended sentences though data shows that just under 600 people were imprisoned for drug offences in 2019. Natalie states these figures alone demonstrate the increase in personal use and with it, the increase in criminal penalties. The Garda Adult Caution Scheme was introduced in 2006 which affords the guards to caution an individual as it wouldn’t be in the public interest to prosecute. While personal possession was originally included in the list of offences, it was removed before the scheme was implemented.

Criminalisation has yet to prove itself as a deterrent as drug users are overrepresented in the prison system. Prohibition also fails to reduce drug use and the harms associated with it as the War on Drugs has been exposed as a farce over the last 2 decades. Natalie expands on the international perspective on cannabis which was defined at the 1925 Opium Convention. It had officially become a prohibited drug which has led many countries to share similar laws concerning the governance of cannabis. This stigmatised drug use further, leading us to today where a regulated drug market to address the health risks is now advocated by those who once wanted a drug free world. There was little change in attitudes from the 1998 General Assembly Special Session on Drugs to the one held in 2016 but now there is a new outlook on drug abuse prevention as countries began to shift from criminalisation to harm reduction with the United Nations highlighting the unintended consequences of criminalisation.

The attitude towards drug use has shifted with the introduction of harm reduction principles as treatment alternatives have now taken priority. There are many differences in opinion on harm reduction with critics citing it as a “trojan horse”, nevertheless, many do not support the same views when it comes to the argument of decriminalisation vs reform. This leads us to the crux of Natalie’s dissertation where Portugal’s model has led the gold standard in harm reduction since 2001. Portugal ended penalties for those caught with cannabis for personal use, which has led to an increase in life expectancy and wellbeing for many. A commission comprised of doctors, lawyers, psychologists, and social activists have ensured an educated, well-informed discussion on drug laws which has led Portugal to the model we should be all be envious of. The decriminalisation of personal possession of licit drugs has led to a health centred approach to drug policy as drug possession is now seen as an administrative violation resulting in a fine and recommended treatment as opposed to imprisonment.

Following on, Natalie expands on the Drugs Discussion Commission that saw legal experts, doctors, and social workers distanced themselves from the court system. They opted for a system where an individual will be handed a suspended sentence if they agree to undergo treatment. This was brought forward with heroin addicts in mind, but it is cannabis users who have benefited most. This has resulted in eliminating stigma while encouraging health and treatment plans.

Natalie continues, delineating Portugal’s reformed drug laws which were quick to expose the fictitious bogeyman of addiction as in the wake of reform, there was no increase in drug use. In fact, it had declined with no rise in drug tourism which had been a fear for many detractors and resulted in a lower E.U average of drug use. Drug offences dropped which afforded Portugal to now address most of the social harms associated with drug use by offering treatment-based solutions for which demand had increased exponentially. Despite the success, Natalie notes the reform still faced criticism. Despite the positives, there was concern regarding the amount of investment needed to have any major impact and its success relied heavily on a commitment to provide the tools needed for drug users to gain help. Data showing decriminalisation didn’t ease drug trade was the main point of contention for opponents though the goal of reform wasn’t to tackle the black market but to provide health alternatives to those who needed them most. The predominant worry was that without a deterrent, drug use would increase and become more socially acceptable for others to abuse. This wasn’t the case as Natalie notes drug use actually increased under prohibition, while community engagement and employment flourished under decriminalisation. There was little belief that Portugal would succeed with their proposal but 20 years later, that clearly is not the case as the investment of social and health supports have proven effective.

By addressing and combating the stigma, Portugal has shown the world the benefits of removing it. Natalie then moves onto stigma as a whole where social supports have been key in removing criminal sanctions as criminalisation had shown to maximize the harm of drug use. Natalie sheds light on the Them vs Us mentality stemming from society’s categorization of drug users as “outsiders” which coincides with the narrative that drug users are criminals and must be treated as such in the justice system. How the criminal justice system processes these “outsiders” has negative consequences for the individual as Natalie states punishment and stigmatisation increases the probability of repeat drug offences. This comes full circle with the societal mentality that stems from the criminal justice system classifying drug users as weak-willed addicts.

Natalie delves further into this mindset as labelling establishes how people will be viewed in society. The younger a person is when they come in contact with the criminal justice system, the more likely they are to join a gang or at the very least, offend again. This facilitates divide and pushes people towards criminality. The fear of rejection due to the stereotyping of drug users makes it easy to place blame on the individual which impacts their prospects. Natalie then focuses on how employment establishes a new social identity for a person but if they have a conviction to their name, the process of being hired becomes a major hurdle. If we were to remove the power of the criminal label, we remove the stigma.

This is compounded by how unprepared health professionals are in treating addiction as Natalie expands on the barrier of attitudes pharmacy staff unconsciously emit towards those who want to seek help. This, along with the internalised stigma leads people to conceal their drug use and decide against seeking help due to low self-esteem and self-image. This is further intensified by the isolation and self-hatred many instil within themselves due to how the stigma affects them, which finds people seeking “social shelter” within the shackles of drug abuse. Those that do make the leap to seek treatment are usually hindered from completing it due to this stigma. By seeking treatment, you announce to the world you have a problem and for many, this is a major obstacle. By destigmatising these stereotypes, we prevent this barrier from forming as Portugal successfully achieved leading to an increased demand for treatment by 147%.

Natalie maintains that promoting health and wellbeing is the key to tackling drug abuse as the strategy is pointless if decriminalisation isn’t ratified. Recovery and rehabilitation are the appropriate services needed where the focus will be put on the needs of the person. Natalie acknowledges that localised and community-based treatment options should be available, though currently, access is limited as GPs are less likely to accept drug users as clients. With a focus on addiction education, compassion will improve among health professionals. This, along with a regulated drug education initiative for the most vulnerable will outline the dangers of drug abuse as shock tactics haven’t proven to be as effective as many say. Portugal has demonstrated it is possible to achieve this as they now have comprehensive education based on the principle that drug users are not criminals.

Portugal has shown that decriminalisation has reduced the fear the general public has towards drug users with people now more likely to encourage users to obtain assistance. Even if an individual seeks treatment, the stigmatisation of social integration can undermine the progress made during drug treatment. Natalie rounds off her thesis by focusing on the need for family engagement, community action and addressing the attitudes and perceptions of the public whilst promoting education of harm reduction which Portugal has shown to be a successful path in combatting drug addiction. We can’t rely on the criminal justice system as the stigma label associated with its proceedings has shown to be ineffective. Natalie O’Regan’s Blunt Trauma – Effective Stigma on Cannabis Users and Why We Need to Decriminalise Personal Possession in Ireland is a comprehensive view of the current landscape of drug use, addiction, and treatment with Portugal’s success story at the helm. Probation has failed and the War on Drugs has stumbled to the finish line with nothing to show for it. With a change in mindset and an onus put on understanding addiction, we may find ourselves benefiting from the same system that affords Portugal to care for its people regardless of the stigmas or judgement that have enveloped the issue.

You can find Blunt Trauma on Research Gate

Natalie’s Twitter

No Country for Auld Smokers (Part II)

Nicholas revisits the Keogh’s Crisps case and delves into more cases of arrests concerning cannabis seizures amongst older demographics.

As the Keogh’s Crisps case comes to a close, a number of arrests have been made for those not commonly associated with news stories of cannabis seizures.  Anthony Keogh, aged 64, the former Keogh’s Crisps director who grew cannabis as a ‘gardening experiment’ for medicinal purposes, can finally prepare for some decorum as he’ll have his sentence of eight months imprisonment deferred to October 4th, as stated by Judge Melanie Greally. The case has brought months of unrest to Mr Keogh and now there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel, but this isn’t the case for many people who found themselves in the same boat, growing cannabis for personal use.[1]

Evelyn Corrigan, aged 68, pleaded guilty to the possession of 325.7 grams of cannabis on the 11th of December 2017.  She argued that she had no intent to sell or supply and that the plant was simply utilised to treat her glaucoma and emphysema. In his closing statement, defendant James Dwyer SC, asked the court: “Is it suggested she was walking up and down the Square in Tallaght to sell it? Is this ‘Breaking Bad’ meets ‘The Golden Girls’?” The jury returned with a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict concerning the charge of possession of cannabis for sale or supply, as Judge Pauline Codd dismissed the charge of drugs possession under The Probation Act.

“International trends suggest that [medicinal cannabis] may change. It is people like Ms. Corrigan who are spearheading it. It’s been recognised as having significant health benefits.  She allowed me to make admissions so we could get to the point of this trial: the bizarre, frankly, suggestion that my client is a drug dealer.”

– James Dwyer SC. 

On behalf of the defence, Dwyer offered the jury “an apology that your precious time has been wasted on a ridiculous case like this”.[2]  Randolf Bruin, aged 52, found himself in a similar situation, having cultivated €16,000 worth of cannabis.  Unaware of how serious the situation had become, Mr Bruin’s lawyer said that Bruin, a father of one, was “trying things out, more or less”. Having cooperated with Gardaí during the initial search and following investigation, the court heard that Mr Bruin intended to use cannabis in his tea, cookies and to smoke it but there was no evidence of intent to sell. Mr Bruin had his charges struck out on the condition that he donate €1,000 to the Laura Lynn Foundation.[3]

Michael Curtis, aged 70, had over €1,000 worth of cannabis in his home when a detection dog discovered it during an investigation carried out by members of the Cork West Divisional Drugs Unit, under a search warrant at Mr Curtis’ property.  As we’ve seen in previous cases, there was no evidence that Mr Curtis had plans to supply the drug to anybody and that it was simply for personal consumption.  Judge Colm Roberts remarked, “It’s a lot to have for yourself, for a 70-year-old man.” As solicitor, Eamonn Fleming contended his client was not dealing in drugs. Judge Roberts responded, “My concern is there is a lifestyle choice here that believes he is above the law.”  This wasn’t the first time Mr Curtis had found himself in front of a judge. 

In 2017, he was sentenced to 100 hours of community service for cultivation.  A ruling that had no effect on a man that was trying “very hard” to give up drugs as stated by his solicitor, Mr Fleming. “I see no progress,” the judge retorted.[4]  The type of progress Judge Roberts expects from someone battling cannabis dependency is distilled in ignorance.  Does the referral of a General Practitioner not factor in when these sentences are handed out? Or is consuming cannabis simply a criminal’s activity? Given the empathy shown by these judges, I assume the latter.

While these are the stories that reach us, we don’t hear about the countless others that suffer the same fate.  The majority, if not all smokers over 40 are usually partaking in cannabis consumption as it provides a litany of benefits for aches, pains, and psychological issues commonly experienced as we mature in age.  Growing cannabis for personal use is becoming more prevalent in the wake of the blunder that is the Medicinal Cannabis Access Programme.  As we covered in a previous article, the programme was welcomed by many and in theory, stood to help thousands of people but in practice, has demonstrated that actions speak louder than words. 

Many would rather go through the appropriate channels to alleviate their ailments, but the programme has been such a farce that it leaves people to source cannabis themselves.  Recently, out of the twenty-four neurologists currently working in Ireland, nine have written to the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, voicing alarm over the products likely to be offered. Regarding the treatment of epilepsy patients, they have stated they will shun the programme over concerns of, “inappropriate and potentially harmful” products being made available under it. [5] 

The handling of medicinal cannabis in this country has been a disaster and has subsequently pushed people to either source from the unregulated black market or harvest the plant themselves.  This has resulted in more cases of varying ages and backgrounds being placed under arrest for attempting to care for themselves privately. But in cases of more mature demographics being arrested comes a new perspective for their peers who always assumed cannabis was a young person’s drug.  That cannabis prohibition only affected the generations untied to them politically and/or spiritually.  The dissemination of these cases only serves to provide those uninterested in the plight of the young person, a chance to acknowledge that cannabis prohibition affects everyone even if they don’t know it. With more pensioners likely to appear in the news from cannabis seizures, the awareness of archaic laws governing cannabis consumption will begin to turn the tide on the discussion of reform.  We can only hope….


References:

[1] https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/courtandcrime/arid-40337237.html

[2] https://www.thejournal.ie/pensioner-acquitted-of-possession-of-cannabis-for-sale-or-supply-after-plants-grow-too-big-5506624-Jul2021/

[3] https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/cannabis-growing-father-52planned-to-use-drug-in-tea-and-cookies-40571252.html

[4] https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/courtandcrime/arid-40282184.html

[5] https://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/some-doctors-say-they-will-shun-state-s-medicinal-cannabis-programme-1.4643103

Fake History: Ten Great Lies and How They Shaped the World | Review


Otto English is the pen name for Andrew Scott, a journalist that covers history and contemporary politics. His book Fake History: Ten Great Lies and How They Shaped the World takes a look at the numerous fictions of history and how and why they have become known to be historical facts.


In the wake of social media, fake news has become an epidemic in itself. And while it is nothing new, people are more aware than ever of the probability of lies and misinformation within the media. As the world rapidly changes with economic depression, rise in right-wing views, political corruption and lobbying, the war against misinformation has never been more palpable. With Otto English’s Fake History: Ten Great Lies and How They Shaped the World, Otto reminds us that fake news has been with us since history was first recorded and no different than today, it is utilised to control the collective mindset of countries all over the world.


What we are taught in schools comprises what we know of history, but do we know the full picture? Otto English delves into the mistruths constantly expelled into the modern consciousness of Britons in the form of Winston Churchill. One of the most notable figures in British history, Churchill’s image is still idolised to this day due to a litany of stories told about him to shape his legend. Many of the stories, sayings or quotes said to have come from the man were fabrications or plagiarisms in order to define him as someone extraordinary to look up to. With every decade comes a new quote usually plucked from a movie to further institutionalise the man as a god among men. In death, the man has almost been elevated to something of a mythical figure, but this couldn’t have come to fruition if not for Churchill’s innate ability to market himself above the man he was. His six-volume series of books, The Second World War, solidified his legend long before he passed, and biographers and admirers have happily played along since.


As is the case of many successful men in history, the influence of the women in his life were brushed to the side. His story is that of one man who overcame the odds on his own, so the role of Clementine Churchill had to be downplayed to coincide with the narrative Churchill’s admirers continue to push in the eyes of the public. As far as they’re concerned, there was no partnership, just Winston against the evil of the world. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests mid-2020, hundreds of millions all over the world were treated to practical history lessons of key figures tied to slavery as their statues were either pulled down or had their removal called for. The protests surged a retrospective look at these figures and Churchill was no different. Many came aware of the man’s views on suffrage, constantly flip-flopping on his stance of women’s rights, his views on Indians, his views on Africa and of course, closer to home, his part in unleashing the black and tans in Ireland.


Otto also touches upon one of the most bafflingly out of reach theories to rear its head within the conspiracy movement, Flat Earth. Again, the idea to impose order on things we don’t understand, to limit the fear of the unknown is the foundation for most conspiracy theorists and exaggerated ancient history has only fostered it. Such as the narrative of Christopher Columbus, a man who is known to have sailed the earth to prove it was spherical. This is a complete lie as we already knew the earth was round but that didn’t stop those from forcing the narrative we know of today. Otto reveals Columbus wasn’t the great navigator many proclaimed him to be, instead, he was an unhinged capitalist motivated solely by wealth. A far cry from the image we see of him today, one that was repurposed to fit the image of a new world, America. While his voyage was courageous, Columbus did in fact not discover America, much to the disagreement of nationalists.


Otto follows onto nationalism and how it continues to shape countries all for the worst. War has always been a major aspect of British exceptionalism, and this has bled over into football which serves to quench the bloodthirst of many nationalists before the next world war kicks off. But only when they’re on the upside of advantage, as Otto recounts England’s loss to Germany in the 1996 European Championship. Britain, still to this day is obsessed with Germany and their history and this was all to accumulate in a clash of football some 51 years after the end of WW2.


“The idea that people born in a geographical region have some common spirit and a common destiny is nonsense, but it’s compelling nonsense.”


British nationalism has gone through numerous revisions to protect the public from the concept of British failure. As seen in war films and the BBC’s Dad’s Army, British exceptionalism is akin to cultism due to the fixation of World War 2. From there Otto sheds light on the lineage of the royal family, a glaring record many British people would prefer to ignore. As Germany has been made to be the arch-nemesis of Britain, the reality of how the royal family have German blood is not only rejected by nationalists but also utilised as an attack against the family by their detractors. Otto goes on to describe the belief of blue bloods, “the idea that some families are ‘older’ than others is patently ridiculous.” The act of delegitimising the royals for having German blood mirrors the Birther movement in America which saw to have then-president Barack Obama removed from the White House over the false notion that he wasn’t an American citizen. It would serve nationalists well to believe in the existence of “royal DNA” but nevertheless it is a lie required to believe in the existence of ‘blue bloods’.


Otto continues, as Britain has become an amalgamation of different cultures and backgrounds, with it has come various culinary delights. Culture is shaped by language and has an effect on our relationship with food. What consisted of the British diet before was frozen fish, beans, oven chips, and dining out was no different. Otto focuses on how from the 1960s onwards, migrants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were suddenly introducing new recipes never experienced by the palate of Britons. One of the exotic dishes now available to the British public had unfortunately got lost in translation due to the ignorance of Indian cuisine. Such is the case for the “Birmingham Balti”, a base mix of onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric, slat and garam masala cooked in a traditional metal bowl called a “Balti”. Unbeknownst to many, including myself, Otto reveals a Balti is the Bengali and Hindustani term for a bucket used to wash, flush the toilet, or clean your backside. Ignorance holds no bounds.


One of the biggest untruths in history is the belief that all men are created equal as Otto moves onto the miscarriage of justice produced by the illustrated Ladybird books of the late 20th century. Primarily used in schools to teach children to read, these books established the “standard for what Englishness was meant to be.” Only the history of the empire mattered and even then, little light was shed on the brutality that led to its formation. At no point did the illustrations of Britain reflect what citizens experienced in the 70s and 80s, often leaning more towards a fictitious utopian world. This mentality of ‘only our history matters’ has increased tenfold since Brexit. The new world was said to be inhabited by feral savages, later to have their vicious ways unlearnt by the all benevolent white man, who saw the history of slavery repurposed “as voluntary community service.” Otto then delves into the narrative of Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves which wasn’t as simple as it’s written in history books. While he did lead the North into the war to liberate slaves, his views on black people shifted with the times along with his political needs. He was a politician, not the Jesus like figure many books, films and television shows portray him to be. The history of black men and women during the civil war was subtly left out of history books as it did not have a place in how white people wanted to recollect the events.


“Human beings need heroes. So, ordinary politicians become outsized gods, brave women escaping slavery become wonder women, and blemishes and human failings of ‘great people’ and the complexity of their stories get ironed out as their deeds get blown out of all proportion.”


No different than the tall tale of a cleaning lady finding the war plans for Churchill, Adolf Hitler created an urban myth onto himself as Otto moves into the catalogue of films, books, and expertise on the man to which he became a brand of evil to sell on history channels.


Otto states that the man is a figure that represents a marketable horror, occupying the same space as Hannibal Lecter. Many find it uncomfortable to explore discussion on Hitler as Otto puts it, to “understand the man risks legitimizing him”, preventing those from realizing Mein Kampf isn’t the bible of evil it’s feared to be. In reality, it serves as the biggest exposure to the insecurity that Hitler manifested within himself after his failure to become an artist came to a head. Mein Kampf is strife with insecurity as Adolf wasn’t as educated as he portrayed himself to be nor as intelligent as his supporters like to assert. He hated modern art, simply because he didn’t understand it and banned art criticism to seclude himself from disapproval. This bled over into the architecture of Nazi Germany which was ugly in nature as it became the case of bringing everything down to Hitler’s level to further his ego.


Otto continues to shed light on the reality Adolf wasn’t as charismatic as many proclaim him to be, with many of his contemporaries at the time looking down on him. He was a bad military leader due to his embracement of confirmation bias leading to the death of many of his men. All that mattered was being in charge. By keeping Mein Kampf hidden makes it scarier rather than an uncovering of the facade that was Adolf Hitler. This is no different than in China today, as Otto segues to President Xi Jinping, a man that influenced a similar effect in Chinese nationalism. The belief there is that Chinas history is older than others and therefore better. The similarities of these men can also be seen in Donald Trump. No different than Mein Kampf, Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal was a complete fabrication to sell a fugazi brand of success. Otto explains, just like Hitler lied that he was a great painter, Trump lied about being a great businessman though Trump, unsurprisingly went a step further and had someone else write it for him.


The myths of Hitler and Churchill persist and guarantee their place in history books forever, even with the truth opposing their legends such as the case for Napoleon where Otto compares the paintings and medallions of the era to Instagram, the music of the time to YouTube and the papers were Napoleon’s Twitter and Facebook. All possible due to powerful men’s need to weaken and divide enemies which was Josef Stalin’s prerogative.


Otto sheds light on the term ‘disinformation’ and how it was first coined in 1923 when Josef Stalin set up the special disinformation office in Moscow. This was for the sole purpose of destabilizing other countries to stir discontent abroad as to diminish his enemies and when the time came, to rewrite the past. Such is the case for countries that are on the upside of advantage, in order to define their identity, they must find their enemy. Otto talks about the impact of 9/11 and how it has shaped the America we see today. Since September 11th, 2001, America has had a renewed purpose and sense of unity.


The quest to find an enemy and utilize them to define an image was exemplified in WW2 when the Japanese were needed to test out how powerful America was with the dropping of Little Boy and Fat Boy on Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively. The latter of which could have been avoided due to Japan’s preparation of surrender. This was simply a means of sending a message to the USSR. Americans have come to justify a lot of atrocities since then due to yellow peril, an intolerance of China and Japan. Otto points out this has only increased in the wake of the coronavirus, as Trumps Administration had cultivated a new enemy in foreigners. A lot of the failings of the pandemic was blamed on China who became a scapegoat for all of Trump’s blunders in tackling the virus.


A willingness to buy into a man’s lies is what leads us to a cult of personalities like Hitler and Trump. None of these men live up to the stories and so must be preserved by their supporter’s lies throughout history. We’re currently living in the most peaceful period in history, though fake news threatens the stability of every country it’s disseminated in. Unlike generations before us, we now have the means to acknowledge the truth from fiction as we learn more in the information age. While this has given way to new methods of spreading untruths, we have the ability to document it in a way unlike ever before. To not do so is to allow future generations to fall into the trenches of deliberately disseminated falsehoods designed to undermine history in favour of self-serving goals to maintain and control the power of people. What Otto English covers in this book may already be known to some but the compilation of some of the worlds most notorious lies covered all in one medium provides a bigger picture of how unequipped we were and still are in defending the truth. All we can do to fight this is no better put than Otto himself:


“Human beings can do astonishing things when we rid ourselves of the menace of illusory superiority and embrace knowledge instead.”

You can buy Fake History here:

https://www.waterstones.com/book/fake-history/otto-english/9781787396395

https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/general-books/history/Fake-History-Otto-English-9781787396401

You Get What You Pay For

Nicholas looks into the issues that occur in the regulated market which will serve as a blueprint for what we need to avoid down the road when Ireland joins the discussion of cannabis reform.

As we gradually move towards the legalisation of cannabis, we must acknowledge such regulation would incur several differences not normally experienced in the black market.  While the obvious will be the restriction of sale to anyone under the state-appointed age, patrons will also have the ability to choose the strain and strength of the weed they’re purchasing from a safe and reliable source.  The reality is the cost that many smokers in this country currently have to pay will change drastically, which many fear will be for the worst.

In the series of interviews Richard has carried out since the inception of this blog, the primary response from interviewees regarding the safety of purchasing from the black market is universally negative.  The worst experiences coming from women who fear for their welfare whenever purchasing cannabis on the streets.  Currently, smokers have to do business with drug dealers who package cannabis in Ziplock bags, storing them under kitchen counters or garden sheds for the sale to anyone of any age.  In most cases, the marijuana isn’t even cured before it’s put on the market, making for a weak and less cost-effective purchase.   

It’s time to take cannabis out of the hands of the black market and put it in the safe, accessible, and reliable hands of specialists who can aid the customer in the type of strain and strength of the cannabis they’re buying.  The questions we must ask ourselves are, are we willing to spend more for the safety that comes with a regulated market?  Will we continue to feed the black market for our individual benefit in the wake of a legalised environment?  I fear this will be the case, as seen since the pandemic, people are prone to selfish acts in a very Irish cultural mentality of “but what do I get out of it?”.

This has become a topic of discussion going forward since Canada legalised cannabis in October 2018.  An area of concern has occurred, where the black market, which hasn’t suffered in sales since dispensaries opened, has left many to question what has brought this on.  The closing of legal cultivation greenhouses by Canopy Growth, the biggest firm in the cannabis sector, has come about due to the loss of revenue to the black market as the recreational market has “developed slower than anticipated”.  The consensus on this issue is the fact that the legal market is struggling to draw people to their products due to the higher cost and lower strength the market has on offer. 

This issue is a result of the Canadian government fumbling the landscape of selling cannabis as the government doesn’t advertise the type of cannabis you’re buying, leaving the customer more uninformed than those buying in the black market.  The quality and timeframe in accessing the drug has also left a lot to be desired.  The legal price of cannabis is driven up by taxes and those in power of regulating it have also aided in the problem by restricting suppliers from developing brands.  The strict rules around advertising cannabis have left the legal market with very little brand identity leading to little confidence in a purchase for the customer.  This is compounded by companies that struggle to open stores due to the protests of local authorities that don’t want cannabis sold in their communities. 

The issues seen in Canada are a result of a market that got ahead of itself and created a bubble by “drinking their own Kool-Aid” as said by Anthony Dutton, a co-founder and former Chief Executive of Cannex – a US-focused marijuana firm that is listed in Canada. 

“So, what we’re seeing now, thankfully, is a lot of the companies that probably should never have been financed – and probably should never have gone public in the first place – are slowly withering on the vine and they’ll just disappear.  Now there will be a consolidation around half a dozen strong operating companies, including 4Front, and those will be the companies that will take it into the next cycle. It’s just like in the dotcom boom. Oracle, Microsoft, and other big companies were all around then, and they were profitable. And when the little companies began to fail, Microsoft and Oracle and the others picked up the ones they wanted, and the others they just let die.” – Anthony Dutton [1]

Then there is of course the grey market which can be seen in California, as the red tape of acquiring a licence to sell has put off companies from following the stringent rules the regulated market enforces.  This has resulted in another competitor for the legal market due to companies refusing to abide by the intricate regulations that encompass everything about the procurement and selling of cannabis. From security to product testing, the grey market can undersell their law-abiding competitors by up to 50% as noted by Bryce Berryessa, the president of the licensed California cannabis company La Vida Verde.[2] 

Unlike the black market, the grey market operates in plain sight and doesn’t advertise to customers whether the store is legal or not.  However, like the black market, the grey market stocks counterfeit products that imitate known legal brands.  There have been measures to combat unlicensed dispensaries in the form of guard troops deployed into northern California’s cannabis cultivation regions to crack down on the grey market but still, it isn’t enough. [3]

As cannabis legislation is in its infant stages, it will be some time before legalisation becomes more widespread and corporatised, eventually causing the black and grey markets to wane, though many legal businesses won’t last before this happens.  Weed shortages are a big proprietor to the black market flourishing, as the lack of availability forces people to find different sources.  The shortages also cause the legal market to increase prices further, leading to cynicism about purchasing legally.  This is also seen in Illinois, where illegal sales of marijuana are expected to outpace legal sales at least through 2024, according to data from cannabis industry research firm BDS Analytics.[4]

These problems and the solutions we will come to see in future years should be the blueprint for how we approach cannabis legislation in this country.  The strength and availability of cannabis should be considered as to not make the same mistakes seen in Canada.  Limiting smokers to specific strains, while charging twice what is standard in the black market is a pothole that can be easily avoided by acknowledging what is happening now, so it doesn’t have to occur here in the future.  Obviously, this is easier said than done. We can only assume how the government will take on such an ambitious venture – whether Ireland will grow its own supply, or similar to our fishing industries, will we sell our new-found potential to a neighbouring country, allowing them to profit from an industry we can seize for ourselves?  Only time will tell.


References:

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/mar/18/cannabis-canada-legal-recreational-business

[2] https://www.record-bee.com/2018/12/01/legalizing-marijuana-was-supposed-to-slow-illegal-activity-in-california-it-hasnt/

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/mar/17/legal-weed-black-market-california-gavin-newsom

[4] https://wgme.com/news/marijuana-in-maine/it-may-be-legal-but-high-prices-inconvenience-may-drive-black-market-marijuana-for-years


No Country for Auld Smokers


Nicholas looks into two recent arrests of mature cannabis users which have provided a different perspective on the type of people affected by Irish Drug Laws.

With the recent news of a 54-year-old man being convicted over €4 worth of cannabis, one has to think how much longer will this go on? The thousands of Euro spent to bring a man to justice over cannabis no bigger than the size of your fingernail.  Keep in mind, this wasn’t a case of a man enjoying cannabis recreationally. It was a case where a man was abstaining from his opiate addiction, which cannabis afforded him. He was subsequently arrested in what one could only imagine to be a triumph for An Garda Síochána.  Clearly, this man holds the same ranks as the heroin and coke dealers of this country and by making an example of him, we can all rest assured that the streets of this little country of ours are now safe. But in all seriousness, advocacy groups have called for laws surrounding possession of small amounts of drugs to be reformed in light of such laws failing to prevent drug use.

Mr. Lee, a former heroin addict, was cautious of the legally prescribed medication he was to take to refrain from his addictions.  The warrant issued to search his apartment was due to six previous convictions, all of which were for possession of cannabis. A chef and a gardener, Mr Lee suffers from osteoporosis and is currently awaiting an MRI scan. For his pain, he was prescribed an opiate-based treatment and considering his past use of heroin, Mr. Lee’s apprehension to take the medicine in favour of non-addictive treatment in cannabis is understandable.[1]  The fact this man was sitting in his own home and the courts authorised a search warrant for what turned out to be a fraction of a gram’s worth of cannabis is quite frankly embarrassing.

You would expect most civilised countries’ law enforcement wouldn’t have bothered arresting a man for such a small amount.  The Gardaí were looking for evidence of drugs with the intent to sell and failed in doing so, leading them to scrape up what they could find to justify the waste of time, money, and resources the Irish taxpayer afforded them.  Given Mr. Lee’s previous convictions and run-ins with the law, it could be said the effort put into bringing Mr. Lee to “justice” could’ve been a personal one. But then again, given the attitude most Gardaí have towards “druggies”, this may very well have just been another means of keeping busy. 

Anna Quigley of Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign is among those who came forward to challenge the mindset of this conviction.  Quigley states no evidence criminalising individuals for possession of small amounts of drugs prevents them from using, with socio-economic factors and mental health issues more likely to play a part.

“A lot of the people who use our services have mental health issues along with their addiction… Many are using drugs to self-medicate, and the drugs can make their problem worse. So, the idea that the right response is to criminalise people like that just defies logic.”[2]

While the arrest and conviction of cannabis users in this country tends to be younger adults, it is becoming more common that we see older demographics succumb to these antiquated laws.  A case from July last year saw horticulture expert and farmer Tony Keogh, former director of Keoghs crisps, arrested and charged with the possession of what Gardaí estimated to be €20,000 worth of cannabis.  At 64 years old, he was looking to experiment with the plant to make nutritional food supplements alongside the company’s crisps. 

Originally charged with the cultivation of cannabis and unlawful possession of the plant with the purpose of sale or supply, all under the Misuse of Drugs Act, the charge of supplying was withdrawn last month along with a drastic fall from the exaggerated €20,000 he was originally charged over, to the €7,800 worth of cannabis he actually possessed.  With no prior criminal convictions, the greenhouse where Mr. Keogh cultivated his 39 plants “did not have the hallmarks of being part of a wider criminal enterprise” as stated by Garda Olan Keating of the Dublin North Crime Taskforce.  In recent weeks, the courts have also heard that Mr. Keogh bought hemp seeds lawfully but “jumped ahead” in growing the plants as nutritional food supplements, without a licence from the government, as the hemp industry grows bigger and bigger.[3]  Mr. Keogh retired from the family business in 2019 and unbeknownst to the family, he began researching medical cannabis production in the wake of the Irish government’s decision to commence the much-to-be-desired Medical Cannabis Access Programme.

In the wake of his arrest, one would expect a public relations disaster for the family-owned crisp manufacturer. But on the contrary, as seen with the change in attitudes towards cannabis, many came out in support of Mr. Keogh after an apology from the family was posted on social media. 

Playfully dubbed ‘Uncle Tony’, the reaction to his arrest serves as a reminder of the change in attitudes many people have towards cannabis and its cultivation in this country. The State-supported fear mongering of cannabis is proving itself to be a joke, as Keoghs saw a surge in sales in light of the ‘scandal’.[4]  Mr. Keogh will continue to be remanded on bail and will appear before the courts again on the 2nd of July to be served with a book of evidence.  The Keoghs brand will continue without Uncle Tony and it appears they won’t be jumping on the legalisation train anytime soon, due to their distancing from the situation.  But the news of this story has done more good than harm to the development of cannabis reform, similar to the recent news about teenage mental health and cannabis use.  Every time cannabis is brought to the discussion table, more and more people are in favour of change than those who want to keep the status quo. This is an optimistic reality going forward as the archetype criminal is no longer the face of cannabis use, as now we see a multitude of people from different ages and backgrounds getting struck by our archaic drug laws.

References:

[1] https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/courtandcrime/arid-40290185.html

[2] https://www.thejournal.ie/irish-laws-cannabis-possession-personal-use-5440582-May2021/

[3] https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/former-crisps-company-boss-grew-39-cannabis-plants-as-experimentto-make-nutritional-food-supplements-court-hears-40437714.html

[4] https://www.rte.ie/news/business/2020/0727/1155750-kantar-grocery-sales-figures/