The Equality Rights Group and rehabilitation campaigners ‘Stay Clean’ have called for the legalisation of cannabis in Gibraltar.
The groups said only criminals benefited from the criminalisation of cannabis and urged Gibraltar to stop penalising its use.
Instead, the authorities should control supply and demand.
Felix Alvarez, chairman of the ERG, said society must still encourage healthy lifestyles and discourage the use of psychoactive substances as a matter of priority.
“But there are many good reasons why it’s time for us in Gibraltar to now legalise the medical and recreational use of cannabis,” he said, adding that a growing number of countries was following that route.
“As with tobacco and alcohol, awareness and regulatory control, time and again, have proved to be far more effective than criminalisation in significantly reducing medical and criminal harm.”
ERG and Stay Clean proposed a number of changes to the infrastructure for care and rehabilitation in Gibraltar as part of a ‘Connected Health’ project presented to the Gibraltar Government recently.
“Part of that approach is to modernise and revamp our legislation, moving away from punishment, fines, and heavy investment in police and court time and resources and, instead, putting our efforts into support, treatment and compassion,” Mr Alvarez said.
The groups said there was scientific evidence backing the medical use of cannabis in the relief of acute pain
They said it was “plain wrong” to deny people in Gibraltar access to this relief.
They urged “sensitive, positive” regulation as a way monitoring cannabis use and controlling supply in a way that reduced risks.
“At the moment, regulation does indeed occur, but it’s organised crime that exclusively regulates every aspect of the demand and supply of drugs,” Mr Alvarez said.
The groups believe it is time to “wrest control” from organised crime and place it in the hands of government.
They compared the criminalisation of cannabis to the past prohibition of alcohol in some countries.
Cannabis, they added, should be controlled in the same way as every aspect of the sale of alcohol is controlled, including its strength, the safety and purity of the product, its advertising and the times and locations when it can be sold and consumed, as well as the legal age for purchase.
“We all benefit because under a regulatory system, the authorities and not the traffickers are put in control, and people have no fear in approaching health professionals when necessary, confident that if they have a problem, they will be treated as patients, not criminals,” Mr Alvarez said.
The message was supported by Damian Broton, the head of ‘Stay Clean’, a local group that works on substance abuse issues.
“The general consensus is that cannabis may be broadly comparable to accepted social drugs such as alcohol in some respects, and, in fact, may even be less damaging in terms of health or crime harm,” he said.
“That’s why legalisation is being increasingly called for internationally, including by British parliamentarians and public.”
Mr Broton said his group advocated regulation, but that this did not mean all drugs should be treated in the same way.
“It is more sophisticated than that,” he said.
“It is not synonymous with blanket decriminalisation or legalisation.”
“How we manage and deal with each drug under a regulatory system depends entirely on the specifics of that substance and the level of demonstrated harm.”
“It’s not a simple ‘one size fits all’.”
Mr Broton said drugs such as heroin should not be legalised or freely available.
But he added: “Yet similarly, it would be disastrous to continue to allow each and every aspect of its sale and consumption to rest in the hands of organised crime, as happens now.”
“So, in the case of someone addicted to heroin, it is clearly desirable for the drug to be provided and administered by health professionals as part of a treatment plan rather than by someone down a dark alley.”
“And that is exactly why, as part of the Connected Health project, we urge and call for the adoption of regulation as a more effective, more compassionate, and more pro-active approach to managing a reality which will not just go away, however much we may foolishly ignore it or punish it at great cost to lives and to resources.”
“It’s time to finally take back control in every way, and talk in terms of more intelligent, better support and treatment.”