Back to basics: 3 Aims and Objectives of Regulation
Cannabis reform in Ireland has never been closer. The question has moved from “if we regulate to when we regulate” which may seem like a small difference but in reality, that difference is immense. Support for reform has never been greater, with more and more people understanding the detrimental effects our punitive drug policies have had over the last century. Even the once staunch prohibitionist United Nations have gone from seeking a drug-free world to understanding that criminalisation and prohibition are ineffective and acknowledging the disastrous consequences of prohibition. The experiment we call prohibition has failed, drug consumption has increased, and alongside this, the harms have also increased with the introduction of potent synthetic cannabis to the illegal market.
Clear aims and objectives must be established before developing drug policy towards a regulated market, both for evaluating its impact and to inform us of future developments. Today, these goals are absent, often swallowed by rhetoric like “Just Say No” or “tough on drugs”.
When Canada began its regulation journey in 2018, the government outlined 3 clear aims and
· keep cannabis out of the hands of youth
· keep profits out of the pockets of criminals
· protect public health and safety by allowing adults access to legal cannabis
Keep cannabis out of the hands of youths
Regulating and reforming cannabis use must include measures to keep minors from accessing it. Strict age restrictions are required as the distinct short- and long-term dangers related to cannabis usage are higher for minors. Under prohibition, there are no age thresholds for accessing, “Drug dealers do not ask for ID”
In regulated markets, youths cannot easily gain access to cannabis, minimising the risk of premature access. The “Youth Risk Behaviour Study”, which captures data from 10 legalised states, found that a change to a legal market had a "statistically indistinguishable from zero" effect on youth consumption. Instead, the research reveals that changes in the legal environment cause a decline in youth cannabis consumption. They concluded that cannabis legalisation was not linked to recent or regular cannabis use, instead in states where legalisation has taken place youth consumption has decreased.
The debate then is, what age constitutes adulthood? There is no universal answer to that question, the age of adulthood varies across different social groups. For example, in the US alcohol Is prohibited until the age of 21, so it would come as no surprise the same age would apply to cannabis. In most countries, cannabis is prohibited until a person reaches 18 years. A novel approach to this debate is to permit cannabis purchases at 18, but with restrictions on the purchase of high-THC products until the age of 21.
Keep profits out of the hands of criminals
The drug market in Europe represents a major source of income for organised criminal gangs. The EU drug market was conservatively estimated to be worth about € 30 billion, of which cannabis accounts for 39%. Making the illegal cannabis industry worth between €10.5 Billion - €12.8 Billion
Beyond the direct and indirect effects of drug use itself, illegal drug markets have an impact on society. These include connections to other criminal activities, terrorism, connections to human trafficking, the harm done to communities and the legal economy, and the growing concern over how the drug market might encourage corruption and weaken the government.
As it transforms into regulated sector, the development sector must protect the most vulnerable individuals. Those who have been most at risk of poverty and exploitation under prohibition will still be at risk in a post-prohibition society if multinational corporations continue where cartels and criminal gangs left off. To safeguard public health and end poverty, the entire market needs to be regulated. We have the chance to work with impacted communities to ensure that reforms are carried out in accordance with a social justice paradigm. In addition, we can address the social and economic issues that first led them to trade.
Drug legalisation is not radical; it is prudent. Drugs are too profitable and risky to not be taxed and regulated
Protect Public Health and safety by allowing adults access to legal cannabis
In a regulated market, cannabis will be highly controlled. Stringent standards for quality and safety will be set. From the Preparation stages to packaging, potency, advertising, vendors and potential purchasers, all will have guidelines and restrictions.
To adequately inform the public, steps must be put in place to educate them on safety precautions and any potential health risks. Evidence-based education campaigns have shown the greatest return. For example, we know that the use of edibles is rising among consumers, yet I have not seen any information regarding safe consumption from many public health services. Information on edibles, vapes, safe consumption, poly-drug use, and recommended dosage are all highly important.
Blending these three aims and objectives and ensuring cross-departmental communication and cooperation will be key. These aims cannot be achieved in a silo, they are interlinked and each feeds the other. Cannabis in an unregulated market, cannabis is left uncontrolled and out of control. Coupled with criminalisation and punitive sentencing, any risks of cannabis as a drug are far outweighed by the harms associated with prohibition. These harms are not contained to the individual, they are felt across society, rippling beyond the bubble of cannabis consumption. Bringing cannabis into regulation is the healthiest approach.