The Police, Cannabis and Human Rights

The Police, Cannabis and Human Rights

I’m sure the majority of police officers wish that we could return to the good old days before the dangerously vengeful Harry Anslinger[ref][/ref] and the power hungry President Nixon[ref][/ref] stirred up the “reefer madness” that led to and continued the world-wide prohibition of Cannabis.

Stuck between 20% financial cuts and never ceasing demands the modern policeman’s lot is not a happy one. Cannabis could be the answer.  I’m not suggesting that it’s consumed by officers, at least not on duty, but that a huge amount of time and money could be saved if the police stopped arresting people for producing and possessing cannabis, including for medical purposes.

I joined the police service to help people and catch criminals and for most of my 30 years service that’s exactly what I did, but when I look back on my enforcement of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 I have to confess that I caused more harm than good.  How can it help someone with problematic drug use to be criminalised and, for that matter, how can it help someone who doesn’t have a problem with their drug consumption to gain a criminal record?

Our drug policy is a hugely costly, counter-productive and harmful failure and nowhere is that more abundantly clear than when police officers arrest people consuming cannabis as a medicine.  When someone has suffered the anguish of being diagnosed with , for example, ME, MS, Crohn’s disease or cancer and has further suffered the debilitating side effects of powerful prescribed drugs, how can it be right to criminalise them for taking the medicine that works best; cannabis?  Not only that, the NHS would save millions if people treated themselves with cannabis rather than the expensive medicines sold by pharmaceutical companies and police officers could direct their energy and skills to activities that would really help the public.

The question I am often asked is whether the denial of access to drugs such as cannabis, not the punishment for its possession, for medicinal purposes is in violation of Human Rights, specifically The Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, Article 25 (1)[ref][/ref] which states thateveryone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including…medical care and necessary social services…”

Although the United Kingdom is a signatory to this Declaration, its articles are not legally binding. The UK has a legal obligation[ref][/ref], at least at the moment, to follow the European Convention on Human Rights but this convention does not contain a reference to a right to medical treatment. The European Social Charter, Section 11, does include the right to protection of health[ref][/ref], “to remove as far as possible the causes of ill-health; to provide advisory and educational facilities for the promotion of health and the encouragement of individual responsibility in matters of health;” However Prime Minister Tony Blair made it quite clear at the Lisbon Treaty negotiations in 2007 that nothing in this charter would “change UK law in any way”.

My conclusion is that there is no means of using the various international Declarations, Conventions or Charters on Human Rights to insist that the UK government allows legal access to cannabis for medicinal purposes.

However, the fact that the present government is committed to repealing the Human Rights Act might present an opportunity to change that, provided a section of the proposed British Bill of Human Rights includes the right for the individual to protect and promote their own health by the best means possible.