The issue at stake was whether or not to instruct Health & Social Care to conduct what they described as a ‘high level scoping exercise’ to come up with a schedule of work and resources needed in order to conduct a review of the legal status of cannabis.
But although the subject was simply a scoping exercise, the debate ended up discussing the pros and cons of legalising cannabis. Most members spoke and all but a handful made reference to cannabis.
On one side were members who had visions of the island becoming a second Amsterdam, concerns about a dramatic rise in the number of people suffering from cannabis-induced psychoses, or young people having much easier access to the drug than at present.
Supporters of legalisation argued that the black market would die off if dealers were not able to sell cannabis at the high prices it currently attracted, and that if it was regulated and taxed, like tobacco, the States would reap the financial rewards.
HSC president Deputy Al Brouard said a working party set up between Home Affairs and his committee would be coming back with a report on non-punitive measures for people found in possession of small amounts of illegal drugs.
Public Health could be prioritised to do whatever HSC wanted, he said.
‘But whatever we choose them to do, something else will not be done.’
He did not think a majority of people wanted the issue raised, but other members said that it was.
Deputy Charles Parkinson said it was an issue of public importance, and while some members had said it was just a minority calling for legalisation, there were many issues where the States acted to support those in the minority.
Deputy Peter Roffey said he had seen far more harm from the prohibition of the drug, which did not work any more than it had worked for the USA when it had tried to prohibit alcohol.
He was one of several members who were at pains to point out that legalisation was not the same as decriminalisation, where the latter would see the illegal market continue and people found with small amounts would not be charged.
Legalisation would see regulation of the sale and nature of the drug.
Deputy Bob Murray said this was not the time for such an issue to be prioritised, though he believed that even if a decision was taken not to proceed, there would still be internal and external pressure to do so.
Even the UK NHS, on its website, indicated support for cannabis use, said Deputy Marc Leadbeater, who said that it advised people to take it in a vaporiser. He disputed claims that legalisation would see numbers climb for younger people using cannabis, and urged members to support HSC's approach.
'Now is the time. Governments around the world are realising that now is the time.'
Alderney representative Alex Snowdon said members should consider the ‘street feeling’ on the matter. If the review was rejected he was sure the topic would come back. He was not alone as several members expected that colleagues would want to return with a requete.
How they voted ...
... on instructing Health & Social Care to investigate the schedule of work and resource requirements needed to enable a review of the legal status of cannabis.
For: Deputies Blin, Burford, Bury, Cameron, de Sausmarez, Fairclough, Gollop, Inder, Kazantseva-Miller, Leadbeater, Matthews, Meerveld, Oliver, Parkinson, Queripel, Roffey, Soulsby and Trott and Alderney representatives Roberts, Snowdon. Total: 20.
Against: Deputies Aldwell, Brouard, De Lisle, Dyke, Ferbrache, Haskins, Helyar, Mahoney, McKenna, Moakes, Murray, Prow, Taylor and Vermeulen. Total: 14.
Absent: Deputies Dudley-Owen, Falla, Gabriel, Le Tocq and St Pier.