Originally published to the NORML UK website.

28th March – 2013

By Sarah McCulloch

When you woke up today, it was probably on a bed that didn’t collapse in the night because the manufacturers had made it from poor quality materials. When you went last went food shopping, none of the food you bought made you sick because the supermarket had thrown away all the out of date stock.If you’ve taken a public taxi, then you probably ended up where you wanted to go and didn’t get ripped off because all licensed taxis have to have visible meters fitted. All of these measures designed to keep you safe, healthy, and able to make your own financial decisions, are the result of government regulations.

There’s a lot of talk about how “bureaucratic red tape” slows down business and gets in the way of the consumer, but do you really want to go back to the good old days of “mad cow disease” when farmers were feeding infected dead cows to live cows and managed to kill 166 people in the process? This is why regulation of cannabis is important. Not because the government should be able to use the system to stop people taking drugs, but because cannabis users, especially medicinal cannabis users, shouldn’t be risking their health because unscrupulous dealers have a direct financial interest in compromising the quality of their product.

Cannabis on sale in an Amsterdam coffeeshop

Cannabis legally on sale in a Dutch coffeeshop.


Some cannabis activists have vehemently objected to any suggestion that the law should have any say in who sells what to whom. Some people believe that cannabis should just be decriminalised, because cannabis doesn’t kill anyone, and therefore no regulation is needed. But all drugs are psychoactive substances, it’s not really about whether they kill people or not, they all alter your consciousness. And even if something is harmless, the circumstances in which it is produced can be terrible. Trousers aren’t going to kill you, but the children making them in sweatshops in Indonesia might be happier if they didn’t have to work twelve hours a day to make them for us. So we should recognise that much of the time regulation is a good thing. When you get down to it, it seems the issue for many people is that the current laws regarding alcohol and tobacco are inconsistent and they object to the idea that cannabis will be subject to the same inconsistent regulation. In many places, you can smoke in the open air, but not drink, and you can drink indoors but not smoke! To argue that alcohol and tobacco should be regulated the same as cannabis really means that as reformers we should be supportive of a change in the alcohol and tobacco laws as well.

When it comes to the age of consent, it’s important to remember that the age of consent is not related to any form of scientific research into harms but the age at which you are deemed legally able to make your own decisions for yourself. So this public argument about when cannabis does and does not damage your developing brain seems to be irrelevant. It therefore seems fair to say that, within reason, certain drugs like cannabis should be commercially available to over 18 year olds without restriction, but from licenced production facilities which are subject to regular inspection in the same way that the sale of food is regulated and inspected, and that what you produce in your own home and give to your friends is your own business. I don’t mind taking the risk of eating a cake that a friend has made me, but I don’t want the kebab shop down the road to be doing whatever they want in their kitchen. In the same way, I’m sure that most canabis users are happy to consume whatever their friend grew in their garden, but are dissatisfied with street dealers selling them herbs with ground glass in – a tactic they often get away with because of the lack of regulation.

A selection of cannabis, Diablo Kush, Purple Gold, Afghani Kush, Super AfghaniAnother important thing to realise is that models of self-regulation already exist. The system by which medical cannabis could be regulated is already up and running everywhere that allows medical cannabis. Haborside Medical Centre has done a great job through their Weed Wars series to tell ordinary folks about how regulation can benefit rather than hinder cannabis consumers. We saw how they inspect every pound they get in for mould and reject any that don’t cut it, how they send a sample of every new grow to be chemically analysed so they can label it with the exact THC and CBD strength, and how they have gone out of their way to develop ranges of oils, creams, edibles and more to give customers choices in what they want to use and how they use it. So regulation of cannabis is already happening, in some places, but in some places it isn’t. Places where, to give a recent example, vietnamese gangs are human trafficking children to grow massive crops in residential houses which burns down from time to time and takes the neighbours with it. This is why the industry desperately needs regulation. We don’t just want good medical dispensaries, we want to prevent cowboy traders as well. But we can’t do this without a consistent regulatory framework set down in law. Cannabis communities can’t do anything about abuses in their area effectively if they face the same sanctions from a thoughtless government.

It’s ironic that I am writing this as the US federal government is cracking down on Harborside using housing legislation against their landlords, and the dispensary model would be inadequate for an area where cannabis was totally legal anyway, but a combination of dispensaries, coffee shops and already existing legislation for alcohol and tobacco shows us that regulation, voluntary or statutory, need not inherently be about restricting anyone’s right to use cannabis for any purpose, but could actually benefit cannabis users in providing them with a greater choice and safer range of cannabis products. Whether you’re a Tory or an anarchist, nearly everything in your life, from your clothes to your spice rack, are subject to safety regulations that you, the consumer, benefit from. It is unfair to cannabis users that they cannot be protected under the same legislation.

Sarah McCulloch is a blogger, activist and NORML UK board member. This article originally appeared in Weed World last year, you can read more of Sarah’s blogs on her web site at www.sarahmculloch.com.