International research has shown that cannabis use has increased over the last few years, particularly post-Covid, as people appear to be more vulnerable and struggle with resilience when dealing with the problems of modern life. Although many of those who indulge in this illegal pastime may feel it is relatively harmless and relaxing, that is not the case for a growing and significant number of people.
Medical evidence is now emerging about the long-term impact of cannabis, particularly from high strength variants like Skunk. Academic research now shows that cannabis can cause severe psychological harm, leading to serious depression, pathological sloth, psychosis and violent aggression. It can also affect your DNA, lead to birth defects similar to those caused by Thalidomide, causes cancer and premature ageing, and increases the number of road deaths if drivers are under the influence.
While illegal drugs are also behind much of the crime that blights our communities, the cost to the NHS and society is immeasurable. Time and again people complain to me about the anti-social behaviour caused by cannabis and its pervasive stench.
A prompt discussion to ensure there is a fair and consistent approach
So, whilst cannabis is a Class B illegal drug, it drives criminality, is a gateway to harder drugs like cocaine and heroin, and there is evidence it can cause similar harm. Recognising this, I have supported a recent initiative calling for a reclassification of cannabis from Class B to Class A, to reflect the harm it represents to society.
To be clear, this is not a response to increased criminality or detections in Gloucestershire, but a wider, national policy initiative to recognise the long-term dangers to health caused by cannabis, and have that graded appropriately. It is aimed at prompting discussion to ensure there is a fair and consistent approach on these issues and consequences nationally.
I am supportive of moves for first time users being given a formal warning and offered a drug awareness course; more serious users, keen to find a way out, should be offered treatment to deal with their addiction. But I am also clear that drug dealers should be pursued with the full force of the law, imprisoned for a lengthy term, with all their ill-gotten gains confiscated.
I am working with my fellow Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables in the South West to ensure we are a hostile place for drug dealers and that Gloucestershire is No Place for Drugs.