Why some cannabis activists do not want an end to prohibition.

I’ve been thinking about the world of cannabis activism and campaigning and how I became increasingly perplexed by the discord between different people and groups. If the over-riding motivation is the abolition of prohibition and the creation of a just, legally regulated system for the production, supply and consumption of cannabis why the lack of cohesiveness?
Well, it does occur to me that there are many in the “movement” who make a living out of the current circumstances producing and selling cannabis in its various forms. From their perspective a legally regulated market could put them out of business, unless they could be sure of retaining their market share. As any legally regulated market would inevitably involve commercial organisations, with their sophisticated marketing and sales expertise, it presents a real threat. Also a market where home-growing is allowed will further erode their market share.
It seems, therefore, that it is actually in the interests of some activists not to change the status quo.  This would also explain the extreme hostility to the commercialisation of the industry (as would a left-wing political perspective) and the condemnation of those who are willing to explore opportunities to develop new approaches with politicians of all persuasions and engage with potential commercial interests.
This stance, of effectively supporting prohibition while in fact subverting efforts to abolish it, is difficult to carry off while maintaining progressive credentials.  Difficult, yes, but not impossible if the strategy adopted is openly to support legal regulation but in fact to counter any progressive strategies and tactics by promoting marginal, or even more direct, objections. It is easy to find some aspect of any proposal with which you can take issue to ensure that the whole proposal fails to gain collective support.  This amounts to a disingenuous pursuit of the perfect at the expense of the achievable good.
I think that this is why there has been a dearth of really effective campaigning and a reliance on a smoke screen of ineffective activism such as open air events and rallies. They provide a show of activity without ever really effecting change.
I refer to some activists, not all, so let’s try and continue this discussion without rancour, eschew personal ambitions and ensure that we all focus on our mission:
“Legal access to cannabis for all adults and legal access to cannabis as a medicine for all”

About tomclloyd

International Drug Policy Adviser and former UK Chief Constable
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9 Responses to Why some cannabis activists do not want an end to prohibition.

  1. Peter Reynolds says:

    I couldn’t agree more Tom. The truth is that many actually enjoy being ‘outlaws’. Some have even used that term as a social media handle.

    It’s also about tribalism, the most destructive force in British politics, which says that if you advocate cannabis law reform, you must also be on the left on other issues and if you’re not you’ll be abused, trolled and villified.

    I’ve made myself unpopular because I am a proud supporter of Margaret Thatcher and her achievements. One of the reasons is that she was the very opposite of this small-minded tribalism. On drugs policy it was she, as a scientist, that saw the value of clean needle exchange and forced it through despite opposition from her cabinet. Also, she came to the values of the liberal, free-market economy, not from the privilege that now rules the Tory party but from working-class, small business enterprise.

    Pragmatism is what we need more of. Practical steps that will enable all sides to get behind the urgent need for drug policy reform. Let’s drop the ‘Big Pharma’ conspiracy obsession (It’s Big Booze that really holds back cannabis law reform). Let’s, drop the demonisation of GW Pharma which has actually outwitted everyone else in beating UK prohibition of cannabis and become the greatest centre of expertise on cannabinoid medicine in the world.

    We see the same self-defeating bickering in California again over the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) where some openly advocate retaining prohibition over a reform that they prefer to quibble about.

    In the UK, holding out for ‘growing your own’ is a not a sensible strategy for reform. It is a grave handicap to the campaign that will never be taken seriously, particularly not for medicinal use.

    Commercialisation is the only sustainable route to legalisation. The way forward is strict regulation along the lines proposed by the Liberal Democrats but without the anti-business elements and the pandering to tabloid scaremongering. Ask a Lib Dem spokesman about cannabis and he/she will still give you an answer about heroin.

    We’ll never be free of the ‘outlaws’ and their determination to ferment conflict. There is no unity in this campaign. That’s why we need new strategies. That’s why CLEAR is now actively involved in developing a medicinal cannabis product through the establishment route – a Home Office licence to grow and an MHRA authorisation to market.

    We will never win unless we do so on ‘their’ terms. The idea of a revolution of GYO and legalisation of ‘outlaw’ ideas is a fantasy.

    • Never heard such a self-agenda story in my life. This man is living in a fantasy land of his own with the selfish belief he and his cronies in government are to be the license holders of how, who, when, where and why we should be consuming cannabis and obeying their rules in order to put profit before anything else.

      Personal agenda’s are rife in the UK today. This man is a perfect example of exactly that. Disgusting!

      This is the real problem in this country right now. This is what needs to be eradicated – folk like this in it for themselves only!

  2. Hi Tom

    You can’t just present a fait accompli and then complain that real actual cannabis users don’t like it. The policy suggestions come across as a top-down bourgeois fetish about making money from one plant, it’s not a grass roots affair. Lets face it, drugs were never about middle-class conformity, rather the whole thing is, by necessity, embedded in counter-cultural history, and it isn’t that simple to gentrify the market. Really the focus on one plant is part of the problem, the Libdem proposals don’t touch upon the core issue which is the total disrespect and contempt the law has for adult private peaceful activities. We need to get this right rather than invite a myriad of new forms of state policing about the minutiae of promoting the cannabis business.

  3. OK, lots of issues here Tom. Having been involved in the campaign for over 20 years myself, I’ve seen a lot of the squabbles.

    Firstly and perhaps most importantly, there are two fundamentally incompatible reasons for wanting an end to prohibition: A desire for “freedom of choice” to use cannabis on the one hand and a desire to control and effectively regulate the trade on the other. The two approaches are chalk and cheese to some people.

    For many years I naively tried to fight the corner of wanting a drugs policy based on harm reduction, regulation of the supply and proper grading of the product on cannabis activist forums. This was totally unacceptable to the “freedom” lobby who called regulation “partial prohibition” and demanded what we came to call “The cabbage model” for cannabis, ie that it be sold like any other vegetable with absolutely no regulation, limits or controls.

    I have since come to the conclusion that although some of those arguing for the cabbage model were genuine, a hell of a lot were not and what was going on was indeed pure disruption. The regulation idea was always the most potent argument to make against prohibition and hence it became the focus of the disruptive efforts. That some of them engaged in some truly vile attempts of intimidation demonstrated only too clearly something was indeed up.

    One issue I would take with your assessment though is around the inevitability of fully blown commercialisation, it isn’t inevitable and I would argue it isn’t desirable. Wanting an end to prohibition does not mean wanting to encourage cannabis consumption. A lot of people who would support bringing the market under control don’t want to see more people using cannabis and so this is another one of those issues it isn’t worth getting into a fight over.

    Firstly there actually isn’t a need to promote or brand cannabis products; the market has survived years of repression quite well and is now a multi million pound industry – it’s big enough to not need commercial promotion. In any case with the current suppression of the tobacco industry with plain packaging and no promotion I think we have a ready made model to follow.

    The desire to see cannabis use reduced to the lowest level possible is a valid aim and is compatible with ending prohibition. I would argue that the lowest level of use can be achieved only by allowing (albeit a regulated) free trade for adults who are motivated to want to use cannabis, but by not allowing commercial promotion. Advertising, including branding, only has one function which is to increase turnover.

    I suppose what I’m saying here is demanding a fully blown “free” commercial market in cannabis isn’t a part of the core aim, just as the cabbage model isn’t. We all want to end prohibition, we don’t all want a total free for all or a total commercial exploitation. But we should be able to work together on the key core issues.

    • tomclloyd says:

      Thanks for your comments. I do think that commercial organisations will inevitably get involved, but that doesn’t have to be a ” fully blown “free”” model as I believe appropriate checks can be put in place. Like you, I think we should aim to establish something in the middle.

  4. Well said, Tom. I certainly do think it is a significant lever and perhaps for a few, the priority. Fits in rather nicely with something I blogged a few months ago – which I think is an aggravating factor in this too amongst others: Cannabis and Mental Health: http://jlieblingcannabis.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/cannabis-community-and-solidarity.html

  5. tx420 says:

    welcome to the world of UK cannabis law reform. Petty squabbles and in fighting about ‘who does what and who cares more’

  6. mrinternet says:

    . It is funny how the country or state perspective is VERY different. I am now an activist in Australia formerly of California. Here where everything is VERY illegal and new stricter laws are introduced while the media reports on Cannabis being legal, the issue is VERY different, like how the Internet evolved in different countries uniquely. In California Cannabis was legislated in 1996, pharma was not legalised for another 10 years in 2006. Now 20 years after California pharma is the only thing being discussed in Australia. To allow this the governments have even changed the definition of the word Cannabis in Bills recently to include GMO, single cannabinoids, and synthetics. They also just re-defined fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that killed Prince, is now Cannabis. The end result is “medical or medicinal Cannabis is not the same as Cannabis for medicinal or medical purposes”, so messy is the word play. As result of that, in Australia there are about 5 different perspectives just from those that are pro-Cannabis. 1) Full spectrum Cannabis for medical users only – hates recreational users / stoners – 2) hates stoners, ok with the new pharma and synthetics (does not know or care to know the details), Cannabis is Cannabis. 3) Recreational users that believe if they say they are medical they will be forced to go down the pharma route, go away medical users, remove prohibition, or decriminalise.- 4) Looks to a California / Colorado model where medical first but lay the framework so recreational can happen later. 5) Cannabis for all remove prohibition, happy with everyone. As we are in election status here in Australia with the election in 4 weeks. The government has even said Cannabis is now legal but only pills, sprays, or oils with NO THC. Not quite the Cannabis I am aware of. Finally, keeping in mind Australia is about the size of the USA, and the 1/3 the population of the UK We are hopeful of Jamaica, Canada and Even Norman Lamb’s UK bill as what happens in the Commonwealth might help the mess we are in –

    Loren W
    This Week in Weed TV
    Cannabis Law Report USA
    Australia Cannabis Law Reform
    twitter.com/mr_internet (join the 180,000 there now)

  7. mrinternet: The different perspectives and views I have seen as a spectrum, but I do like those categorisations, which do sound and feel very familiar. I do feel that the purpose is an important distinction, I help run a medical cannabis patient support and campaigning group, United Patients Alliance, but have as strong a desire to get to the end of this dangerous, stupid, prohibition nonsense completely. Both of those things are important and urgent, but it is morally indefensible to keep sick people in pain whilst working all that out. That one is critical so its prioritisation is reasonable or perhaps simply, right?. It does also seem to me to benefit from being an effective first step in moving public opinion forward on the rest which is evidenced from the US states. There is a great deal happening to be feeling positive about, in the UK but an awful lot of it is early days and behind the scenes or in progress.

    Hope you don’t mind if I quote and/or tweak/tailor?


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