Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood hosted an event at the Senedd to examine how a cannabis industry in Wales could improve the economy, free up police resources and improve health.
The ‘Wales’ Emerging Cannabis Industry’ summit was held at the National Assembly for Wales and featured contributions from people representing the police, hemp growers, social users and patients who have benefitted from cannabis prescription.
Arfon Jones, the Plaid Cymru Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales, was among the speakers along with Nathaniel Loxley, Founder British Hemp Association and owner of Vitality Hemp, former US resident John Calcagni who ditched a cocktail of powerful medication in favour of cannabis to combat anxiety, Greg de Hoedt, Chair of the UK Cannabis Social Clubs, consultant Neil Anderson on a strategy for cannabis in Wales and Dr Axel Klein from the Global Drug Policy Observatory.
During his speech, former police inspector Arfon Jones said the continued cannabis prohibition will only continue to fuel organised crime and take up the dwindling resources of police officers. Mr de Hoedt spoke of how cannabis use transformed his life as a means of combatting chronic Crohn’s disease. He also said the cannabis social clubs he is part of help to divert money from organised crime by providing an ethical product to consume.
Mr Loxley spoke of the bureaucratic hoops he had to jump through with the Home Office to grow hemp in Sussex. He said hemp is associated with 50,000 different products and growing it has huge potential for the UK economy and reconnecting with the environment. Dr Klein spoke about organised crime did not exist on the level it is now without prohibition and said changing the law on cannabis could be used to tackle organised crime as well as improving health and wellbeing and even desertification in countries like Malawi.
Before their speeches and a brief discussion, the Rhondda AM gave an introductory speech in which she said: “In some countries of the world this may not be a revolutionary topic of discussion, but here in Wales it is long overdue. Away from the knee-jerk reactions of reactionary politicians and tabloid editors, it is high time we had a sensible debate about drug policy and the potential benefits of a cannabis industry.
“Many of you today will already know that some of the countries where smoking cannabis is no longer a criminal offence include Australia, Belgium, Canada, Uruguay, Italy, Argentina and Russia. The US – a country hardly known for its tolerant view of drugs – has a number of states which permits cannabis use.
“So, the paradigms that once framed society’s view of cannabis are rapidly changing. We have to make sure that Wales is positioned to take advantages of the shifting sands upon which draconian drugs policy is based.
“As a country where unemployment is higher than it should be and economic activity is lower than it should be, Wales should be prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that a fledgling cannabis industry would provide.”
She added: “Over the past couple of years, I have been working across party divides, with MS Cymru, to push for the legalisation of medicinal cannabis.
“We have achieved success in getting the Westminster Government to move on this but there are still obstacles to overcome in terms of ensuring patients that need medicinal cannabis get it.
“While the campaign has been fruitful to some extent, my dealings with Westminster over the past couple of years have only reaffirmed my belief that the criminal justice system has to be devolved to Wales if we are to develop a compassionate and progressive raft of policies that do not criminalise innocent people.
“If you’re devolution sceptic and with me on this just yet, I hope by the end of this evening’s event you will ask yourself one question. That is ‘how much easier it would be to some of the policies we have heard about if we had the power and responsibility over the criminal justice system here, in this very building, in Wales?’
“I hope you will then agree with me and conclude that devolution of the criminal justice system is the best way to bring about that change.”
After the event, a spokesman for Cannabis Industry Wales said: "A regulated cannabis market in the UK is inevitable. Major investment platforms are already here in London lobbying government.
“If Wales is to truly benefit from this global opportunity, then it must develop a sensible and sustainable policy. This important summit is the first step in ensuring that Wales develops an industry in a way that benefits our communities, maximises opportunities and minimises harms.”
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