In this episode, we speak to Paul North, Director of External Affairs at Volteface - a drugs think tank. We discuss drug policy reform, how far we've come and the challenges ahead. This episode comes to you from Cannabis Europa - London.
Paul is a criminologist and addiction specialist with nine years experience working in the drug treatment sector. During this time he managed services, delivered bespoke addiction training programmes for the public sector and lectured at Universities. After joining Volteface in 2017, Paul wrote his first policy report ‘Street Lottery’, which received extensive media coverage across the UK. Paul regularly comments in the media on drug treatment, cannabis use among young people, mental health and drugs education. Alongside his Volteface work, Paul is a Director at Drugs and Me, a social enterprise that provides services centered around drug harm reduction.
Podcast Episode Summary
Volteface are a think tank and often write academic and evidence based reports which are factual and unbiased meaning they are non-ideological. They are strong believers in conducting evidence based research before reaching any conclusion.
Volteface call themselves an ‘advocacy organisation and was originally set up by Paul Birch and Steve Moore two and a half years ago and was a natural progression from their initial advocacy group CISTA (Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol).
Drug reform on a more general scale is on the agenda of the company, having done work looking into spice use in prisons, drug consumption rooms, and drugs testing at festivals alongside looking into cannabis reform which Paul considers the ‘main thread’ running through the company.
Voltface have recognised that cannabis policy in the UK are not working. Paul describes them as ‘abject failures’.
Paul believes that we need a regulated market for Cannabis in the UK whereby the regulatory restrictions put in place don’t hinder or eliminate the illicit market.
It is difficult to draw an accurate number on the size of the market within the UK as it is so vast, and because there are no regulatory systems in place to control it. Paul estimates that billions of pounds per year are made through this as there is no taxation on money earned. It is also estimated that the market would be worth around £700 million per year in tax.
It is important that the economic argument of legalising cannabis is taken into account when considering drug reform in the UK, alongside the creation of jobs, the harvesting of tax money and the reduction in death, deprivation and criminalisation.
Education also needs to be taken into account when considering the reform on cannabis in the UK. As it is forbidden to use it on a recreational scale at this moment in time, many people can be ignorant to the variety of its uses - often thinking that it can only be smoked and it can only get you ‘high’. The reality is that there are hundreds of different strains of cannabis, each one having different effects. It can be taken in oil form, be made into teas, and edibles, alongside it being smoked which is a more mainstream and traditional image.
Paul states that he would only support a regulated model of legalisation whereby the harmful side of cannabis use is made public and is discussed. He considers it irresponsible to educate around cannabis from one ideological perspective, at the end of the day it isn’t a wonder drug which can cure cancer, although it does have some incredible effects, it still has risks and dangers and it needs to be consumed with caution.
Major blockers of reform in the UK include the fear of capitalism and the fear around what a regulated market would look like.
‘We are creating work and producing work which engages people from different ideological perspectives’ 5:52
‘If you want to create drug reform in this country you have to go to the things people are scared about and engage them’ 6:52
‘There is too much harm being caused by boardroom policies, it’s not just an inconvenience - people’s lives are ending. This is one of the most urgent areas of policy we need to review’. 09:20
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