A follow-up to the previous blog regarding the reply from Anne Milton at the Dep of Health to my request that the government run a campaign similar to TokePure, designed to advise cannabis consumers not to smoke tobacco. You can see the amazingly stupid reply I had from the minister here – there is no other way to describe it. I take great offence from such a dismissive reply as this, based as it is on little more than dogma.

I’ve just sent this to my MP, Simon Wright (Libdem Norwich South)

Dear Mr Wright

Thank you for relaying the reply from Anne Milton (17th January) regarding my request that the government runs a campaign similar to the CLEAR “TokePure” campaign, aimed at cannabis users to discourage the use of tobacco.

I am, to be frank, amazed at the response from the minister and can only conclude that as she has shown herself incapable of rational thought on this issue. I cannot accept a reply like this and demand a considered response based on evidence and not political dogma.

Let me make it clear again: This is not a request for a review of the legal status of cannabis; it is simply a request for a safer use campaign aimed at reducing tobacco use amongst cannabis users, which is rife. I am not, in this instance, making any claim for the safety or desirability of cannabis use. While I may not agree with it I understand the government’s position that cannabis “is a harmful drug and should not be used” and I do not dispute there may be health risks associated with its use. That, however, is irrelevant to the point I’m making.

I accept that “TokePure” as presented on the CLEAR website is written so as to appeal to cannabis users sympathetic to law reform and that this approach may be unacceptable for whatever reason. It should however be possible for your Government to present this argument in a different way more in line with the policy toward cannabis. I ask only that the essential message be presented although obviously it has to be done in such a way as to relate to the target audience.

In her letter of 17th January, the minister writes:

Cannabis can damage both physical and mental health and it would be irresponsible for anyone to suggest there is a “safe” way to smoke cannabis

I am asking for no such thing. The minister seems unable to grasp the simple concept of “safer”, as in “less dangerous”; a measure known as “harm reduction”. It is demonstrably true that smoking cannabis with tobacco is far more dangerous and damaging than smoking without. I refer the minister again to her own departments advice: “A summary of the health harms of drugs”:

http://www.nta.nhs.uk/uploads/healthharmsfinal-v1.pdf

The health harms of tobacco eclipse those of cannabis; Tobacco is highly addictive and carcinogenic along with a great deal of other adverse health effects not shown, or shown to a far lesser extent with cannabis use. These adverse effects of tobacco are in addition to those presented by cannabis if the two drugs are used together. The minister will be aware of the vast amount of research which supports this assertion.

If cannabis users could be persuaded not to use tobacco they would suffer far less lung damage and less dependency problems as well as a host of other issues outlined in the DoH document. It is no exaggeration to claim lives would be saved by this very simple measure.

However, the argument in favour of a safer use campaign may be even more clear-cut than accepting a simple compounding of harm. There is a body of research that indicates smoking tobacco with cannabis is more damaging than smoking tobacco alone, although smoking pure cannabis is less dangerous than smoking tobacco:

http://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20090413/smoking-pot-cigarettes-ups-copd-risk

* The incidence of COPD among participants who smoked cigarettes alone was 2.7 times higher than among nonsmokers.
* The incidence of COPD was 2.9 times higher among participants with a history of smoking both cigarettes and pot, even after controlling for other risk factors for the pulmonary disease.
* COPD risk among people who smoked marijuana, but not tobacco, was slightly higher than among nonsmokers, but the increase was not statistically significant.

The implications of this are stark. There is, simply, no case to be made for withholding information about the increased risk presented by smoking tobacco with cannabis and to do so endangers lives, to do so knowingly as the minister apparently is, can only be regarded as irresponsible and indeed potentially criminally so. I do not make that statement lightly..

The minister seems to understand the point of the TokePure campaign when she writes:

The Tokepure argument is clear – that people should be advised that smoking cannabis and tobacco together is more harmful than smoking cannabis without tobacco

But then makes the spurious comment that the government’s position is

 that cannabis and tobacco, whether smoked together or separately are dangerous and should not be used.

These two positions are not mutually exclusive. It is reasonable to advise people that both drugs are dangerous and should not be used, whilst also giving advice on ways to reduce the potential for harm for those who chose not to take the government’s advice.

Finally the Minister wrote

We do not agree with Mr Williams’ view that people will not stop smoking cannabis

This is little short of delusional. Cannabis is used by millions of people across the UK and continues to be used despite 50 years of attempted prohibition and enforcement. There is not one drugs advice agency in the country that would support the idea that cannabis use can ever be eliminated. It is a fact, whether the minister agrees or not, that cannabis is used and will continue to be used by a large section of the population. I cannot believe she is unaware of this reality.

I do expect a more considered and intelligent response from a senior minister to a serious proposal such as this and I therefore request in the strongest terms that if Anne Milton is unable or unwilling to respond in an acceptable way that you take this up with the minister in overall charge of drugs policy with a view to taking this forward at a more senior level.

I am open to advice as to how to proceed beyond this and would welcome your advice, but clearly I do intend to do my best to make an issue of this.

Sincerely

Derek Williams

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I don’t hold out much hope of getting a serious, considered, response from this government, it seems out of touch with reality when it comes to drug policy (probably with other things as well), However my message to them is simple; I am not a mushroom, do not keep me in the dark and feed me bullshit.