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Cannabis, weed, skunk.
Call it what you will.
For many people,
it's a common sight at music festivals, house parties,
and frankly, your local town centre.
It's the most commonly used illegal drug in Britain,
and last year in England and Wales alone,
over 2 million people admitted taking it,
even though being caught could land you in prison.
But all over the world, attitudes to cannabis are changing.
These countries have decriminalised the drug, meaning if you're caught
with a small amount of weed, you're not going to jail.
Some have gone further and legalised it,
and if you want to see things changing at pace,
look at North America.
In the US, 21 states have decriminalised
small amounts of cannabis for personal consumption,
and eight have gone further, legalising recreational use.
But the place that many are watching is Canada,
with the country set to legalise the drug next year.
So with all this happening around the world,
some in the UK are asking...
I'm in Brighton to meet Rob.
Hiya. How're you doing?
He's the chair of the Brighton Cannabis Club
and thinks the answer to that question is yes.
So, basically, we're visiting a venue that offer
a fully medicated meal to Brighton Cannabis Club members.
And you say "fully medicated" -
that means there's loads of weed in the meal.
Yes, it's cannabis infused,
so it will get you high if you consume it.
-So this meal is all about taking lots of cannabis, basically.
Lots of people today, it's a rainy, drizzly day on the seaside,
lots of people would just go to the pub at lunchtime.
Why not just have a pint like everyone else?
Why does it have to be cannabis?
For us, we consider cannabis to be the less harmful alternative to
basically smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol,
and that isn't for everyone.
So where exactly are we going?
Because we are wandering the streets a bit at the minute.
I can't tell you the exact location. What it is, it's a restaurant
in Brighton that will allow you, 24 hours in advance, to book in
a fully medicated menu if you are a Brighton Cannabis Club member.
Right. That makes it sound quite dodgy.
Unfortunately, that's due to the legality
and that's why it is only available for Brighton Cannabis Club members.
So, in the kitchen here, a couple of chefs have been hard at work
all morning knocking up some food.
Just taking a look over there now,
it looks pretty impressive, to be honest.
And...I'll be honest, it's not the kind of food you'd expect in
a sort of cafe in Amsterdam or somewhere like that.
It's not brownies and space cake or anything like this -
it's pretty high-end food.
And I've actually been chatting to the chef who's behind it,
and he's worked in some really top restaurants.
And before you get the wrong end of the stick, this is not
what they're going to put in all the food.
This green stuff here is actually genuinely a dressing for it.
The food is going to be infused with an oil that goes through it,
and that's where the cannabis will be.
So, Rob, what's for starters today?
It'll be corn-fed chicken goujons with black garlic aioli,
and for the main course, we'll be having grilled sea beam fillet
with purple Afghan and pea arancini.
I mean, where in there is the cannabis?
Where are we finding cannabis in that?
So, you'll find it in the pea arancini.
The purple Afghan will be the strain with the pea arancini.
It's strange, isn't it?
Cos we're sat here, and it's quite a civilised event.
You're all sat around, you've a glass of red wine in front of you,
it's quite a relaxed atmosphere.
But the Government would say, what you're doing is illegal,
and it's illegal because of the harm it can do to you
and your friends and also wider society.
Why do you think you should be doing this?
We believe that the information is outdated.
Their reports and, basically, research is all very outdated.
If you take a look at Spain, Portugal, Canada, America, they're
all coming through with progressive, forward-thinking policies
that are basically spreading more of a positive impact
and utilising the cannabis culture for the positive it can do -
for the local community, for the industry, for medical patients,
for recreational users that just want to have a social experience
but not be criminalised for it.
It's pretty obvious you represent Brighton Cannabis Club -
-it's blazed all over your T-shirt.
-How popular is the club?
-So far, we have over 400 club members.
We've been around for about three, four years now.
We have over 40,000 Instagram followers and 6,000 Facebook likes,
and we basically keep growing.
We've had, one of our outdoor events, Green Pride,
which is growing year-on-year.
So, our first year, we only had 100 people turn up to it.
Our second year, 1,000, our third year 1,500
and about eight different stalls.
And this year, we hit over 3,000 people attending
and about 25 different stalls setting up for the day
with, basically, limited police interruption.
That might be Rob's experience in Brighton,
but I want to get a sense of the national picture from Greg,
chair of the UK Cannabis Social Clubs.
Generally we've got a movement that's built up now.
Six years ago, when we started in 2011,
we didn't have any clubs in the country.
People were just growing their own and consuming their own,
and if they got busted, they got busted.
But what we've done now is we've put out a model and there are
over 100 clubs six years later working towards that model
to try and say, "This is how we can integrate into the rest of society."
You know, we are a self-regulated model that has, you know,
shown over the years to be successful -
quite the proof that we've seen.
The meal that you've all been eating today looks pretty fancy,
but is it really not the case that it's just five or six guys
sitting around a table getting stoned?
Well, I wouldn't say we're just sitting
around the table getting stoned.
Cannabis is just the thing that's brought us together.
We are just socialising, just in the same way as people
go to, you know, at lunchtime and say, "Let's go and have a beer."
Is the idea of this sort of thing,
with all this fancy food knocking around,
and in this kind of environment, to try and take people away from
the idea of what a cannabis club would be?
Cos I think a lot of people would think it's a smoky club in Amsterdam
or something like that.
We're definitely trying to normalise cannabis use,
and to be open about it is really important.
It does normalise it and it does gradually change minds in society.
We're not asking people to suddenly go,
"Oh, right, yeah, we accept it now."
We're saying, like, "Listen to what we've got to say.
"We're not the demon people that you might have once thought we were."
The thing about spending time with Rob, Greg,
and the guys down at the meal was what they were doing in that
environment feels quite normal in that setting, but what you've
got to remember is that what they were doing was actually illegal,
and, frankly, they could have all been arrested for doing just that.
But that's the question, isn't it?
We're asking, should weed, cannabis, call it what you want, be illegal?
The chances of the guys down there getting arrested today were
probably quite slim, but had they done that in a country with
much stricter drug laws, they probably would be.
Somewhere like Sweden,
which, despite having a reputation for being a liberal country,
has some of the strictest drug laws in Europe, arguably the world.
Annika Strandhall is the minister in charge of drug policy.
Because, you know, in Sweden we have very broad political support
in both the government and the parliament for our...
-SHE SAYS A SWEDISH WORD
-..as we call it in Sweden,
a drug-free society.
At the heart of Swedish drug policy is this idea that cannabis is
a gateway drug.
Can you explain why you hold that policy so close?
We see, especially among young people and also a lot of studies
show, that an extensive use of cannabis or regular use of cannabis
at an early age also affects especially young people's brains,
so that's why it's an important part in our drug policy
and the way that we work to prevent the start, or the gateway,
that cannabis is for many young people into heavier drugs.
Talking to people here in Sweden, there does seem to be a bit of
a generational divide, in that a lot of the older Swedes that we speak to
seem to back the government and the government policy,
but a lot of the younger Swedes have a much more liberal attitude
when it comes to drugs.
Do you see drug policy changing over here?
In Sweden we had quite liberal use of drugs and policies
in the '60s and '70s,
and we saw an increase of drug use in society as a whole,
and, of course, the elderly Swedes know that we had this
development in Sweden, and also what it led to.
We also have quite low levels of young people that use drugs
regularly or even occasionally.
So, in that way, our policies are successful,
but we also have challenges, especially when it comes to...
to the mortality rate if you are a more heavy drug user,
and this is something that we are working on.
Whilst many Swedes I've spoken to agree with the government's
strict drug policy, there are plenty that don't.
Alexander Bard is a bit of a celebrity here,
a former musician and now a judge on Sweden's Got Talent.
He's also passionate about changing the law on drugs.
Essentially why Sweden was the Saudi Arabia of drugs,
which it has been until recently in Europe,
was because in Sweden we had this idea that we'd have a government,
it could be socialist or conservative, it didn't matter,
but the government would actually sponsor
an aggressive anti-drugs policy,
and suddenly Sweden is at least the country in Europe where drug policy
and culture surrounding drugs is changing the fastest at the moment.
Because we've come here because people say,
"Oh, it's the strictest country in Europe."
But your argument is it might be strict from the politicians
-and the people putting the laws in place...
..but lots of young people are moving away from that
and their attitudes are changing.
-Oh, totally, totally.
I mean, policy in Sweden, and the aggressive anti-drugs stance there
is kind of an anomaly in Swedish culture.
Sweden is incredibly liberal about sex, for example.
So these, sort of...
This aggressive conservative stance concerning drugs is, kind of,
an anomaly in Swedish policy.
Swedish drug policy has always been about this idea of the gateway drug,
and cannabis was seen as this gateway drug.
-It was the, kind of...
-All your drug policy is based around this philosophy...
..and lots of people still believe that to be the case.
We've spoken to the head of police who's tackling narcotics.
We've spoken to the MPs. All these people say that's still the case.
-Why do you think that's different, then?
Well, it turned out it was a lie. That's frankly not true.
It's not empirically true. That's not how it works.
And, ironically, some people start with LSD
and then they smoke cannabis.
If I come back in five years' time, will it be completely different?
Will it be a legalised, liberal system?
We have to start differentiating between the drugs that are
recreational in use and are not addictive -
they're one category - but then we have the other category which is
incredibly addictive drugs that are destructive for you
and make you dysfunctional as a human being,
and I don't see that we're going to legalise those drugs in a long time.
Rather we're going to have a much more advanced
and civilised debate on how we deal with addiction per se,
and I think Sweden could definitely go at the forefront
of that movement.
Later that evening, I found two friends in a bar who have
very different views on cannabis, so I jumped in for a chat.
It's like with alcohol.
I think that it should be as prohibited as with alcohol.
I don't... I don't see the difference between it.
Cos your off-licences are government-regulated, aren't they?
-And that's how you'd like to treat weed?
Yeah. Yeah, I think so.
You can, you can, you can have a...
You can have a beer or a glass of wine or anything,
pairing with food and wine or beer,
but when it comes to drugs it's...it's just drugs.
And you think they should just be banned
-and that's the easiest way to do that?
-Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
-But you don't...
-But is that really, like, the solution to that?
It's a generation question, actually.
I think a lot of, like, the younger ones, they smoke more, like...
-Have you ever smoked a joint?
-Yes, I have.
-But you wouldn't do it in front of her?
-You'd jeopardise your friendship.
-No, no, no.
I know she loves me anyway.
The Swedish approach, on paper, isn't a million miles from the laws
we have in the UK,
but my next stop is somewhere with a completely different approach.
16 years ago, Portugal took the bold step of decriminalising all drugs,
and while that doesn't mean they've been legalised,
it does mean if you're stopped with a small amount of anything
from cannabis to heroin, you'll be treated as if you've got
a medical problem, rather than a criminal one.
Dr Joao Goulao is the man who designed the system.
We started from a catastrophic position,
but we had one of the highest rates of problematic drug use
in Europe by the late '90s.
It was almost impossible to find a Portuguese family that had
no problems in relation with drugs.
We decided to try a new approach, and we are happy -
15, 16 years later we can look back and say that
we have a lot of improvement
in the consequences of drug use in Portugal.
If you look at the statistics, the UK has some of the highest rates
of people admitting that they've used drugs in their lifetime,
much higher than here in Portugal.
Do you think we've got a lesson to learn from how you're doing it here?
We are not trying to sell a model.
We are sharing our experience,
which was, in my view, and it's assumed,
it was...it was successful,
and can be an example for others.
One of the ideas the Portuguese government are really keen on
is this idea that drug users are treated medically
and not criminally.
That means teaching people how, in their words,
to use drugs more safely,
and this place claims to do just that.
-Ricardo, nice to meet you.
So we have a lot of paraphernalia here -
some of the materials we give.
-And you've got users here that work with you as well, don't you?
So it's a system that's a bit different to normal.
You're not, sort of, medics on one side and users on the other.
-You've got users amongst you guys, working here?
I think you should talk to Magda. You should meet her.
She's an interesting person. She came here as a client.
She knows many services as a client,
and now she's been working for some years also
-in this project.
-Is it Magda?
-Nice to meet you.
Do you want to pop round and we'll sit and have a chat
over on the sofa, where it's a bit more comfortable?
So, have you got any personal experience of drug use yourself?
Yes. I've been using drugs since I was 12.
I started doing hashish,
and, about when I was 16, I tried heroin, smoked,
but I wasn't aware.
There was no information at that time about drugs,
and I had the idea that only injecting
would get me hooked on heroin.
From the sound of what you're saying,
you've lived through both drug systems.
You've lived through the, kind of, criminalised previous system
and this more decriminalised medical system now.
How is it different and which do you prefer?
The difference is that before the decriminalisation
we were seen as dangerous people,
and after the decriminalisation,
there were much more places where people could get treatment.
Well, chatting to people in Lisbon, it's clear that most people
seem to think that the government here's got it just about right
when it comes to the more liberal, kind of, medical approach to drugs,
but, as with these things, not everyone agrees.
We're heading just outside of the city now to meet a guy who
runs his own drug clinic, and the interesting thing about him is,
from what we've heard,
he thinks it's all gone that little bit too far.
-Hi, Carlos. Nice to meet you.
-How are you doing?
-How are you?
Carlos Fugas has been working to help users for over 30 years,
and now runs this residential rehab centre for recovering addicts.
What is it about the Portuguese system that you think has
just overstepped the mark?
We need more restrictive measures,
because it's too easy for our youngsters to get drugs.
As we've walked around, we've seen, clearly,
people dealing in the streets in certain areas,
and that's because, in your mind, they're allowed to carry
quite a lot of drugs on them, so it's quite an easy cover.
You can just walk around and say, "Oh, this is for me."
That's the main problem we have, and, erm...
But I must clarify that I'm in favour of decriminalisation.
I'm not against the system.
I think the real problem is the business that is behind
all this movement.
Clients, they just want to have a good time when they start
consuming drugs, but afterwards that good time becomes a nightmare,
and when it becomes a nightmare,
where goes the rose picture of liberalisation
that one can do what ever he wants?
People are slaves from the substances.
23-year-old Andreas showed me round the centre.
He's been living here for six months.
I'm keen to find out more about his drug problems.
At first I have problems with hashish, cannabis.
They were the first.
Then I started to go to the parties, trance parties,
and I started to take amphetamines.
And later, when I was 16, 17, I started to take cocaine.
And that was very bad for me. I destroyed my life with that.
Quite a common path that people mention, isn't it?
People, it's controversial, people don't agree,
but this idea of a gateway, so you start smoking cannabis,
then you go on to other drugs.
Do you see a link between your cannabis use
and your later use in other drugs?
Yes, because we get used to the drugs
and then they seem to stop working, and we need something harder.
How have drugs, and specifically cannabis
and all the psychedelic drugs that you take,
affected your mental health?
-Have you suffered with mental health issues because of drugs?
Cannabis has THC and psychotropics
that really busts your head.
I started to have psychotic thoughts,
and I end in the hospital,
it's cos I hear voices in my head and that was very bad.
When I walk in the street, I have always the feeling that
someone is stalking me and I need to hide and run.
And then here I start to take the right pills, the right
medication to heal myself, and it's working and I am grateful to that.
Day two in Portugal and I've been invited out with a street team.
As all drugs are decriminalised,
they deal with some users who have serious addictions.
HE SPEAKS IN OWN LANGUAGE
This man was the only person we met who agreed to be on camera,
but most of the users we spoke to said cannabis was the first
drug they tried.
Standing in a wasteland on the outskirts of Lisbon,
surrounded by needles and crack pipes, it's a sobering reminder
that Portugal's drug problem is far from fixed.
It's our third day here in Lisbon
and one of the things that's really struck me since I've been
here is the levels of open drug use here in the city centre.
Also, the other thing that's perhaps even more shocking is
the levels of open drug dealing that's happening.
I mean, this street for example,
we were here yesterday with a drugs team.
They said to us, "Look, put your cameras away, stop filming, because
"lots of the people we work with here will be put off
"and be worried about their dealers seeing you in action,"
so we've come back today with a bit more discreet kit.
Just to give you a sense of where we are in the city
and how this isn't a run-down bit of town,
this is actually one of the main tourist areas,
and just over there, well, that's one of the biggest
squares that everyone comes to when they visit Lisbon.
The final stop for me in Portugal is the dissuasion court.
I think it must be this one,
so, this is definitely the address we've been given.
Well, they've let us in, so that's a good sign.
Certainly not what you'd expect of a court back in Britain,
but maybe we've got the wrong end of the stick,
maybe this isn't a traditional court.
Must have a... It's getting weirder.
It's definitely not the entrance to a court you would be
accustomed to back home.
Users who are caught with small amounts of drugs are referred
here and dealt with as medical patients and not criminals.
HE RINGS DOORBELL
-Nice to meet you. Show us around.
This is the waiting room.
These are the rooms where we have the preliminary
interview before the hearing stage.
And this is the room where we are having a hearing now.
We'll be able to join them.
Ricardo has been given an appointment after being
caught with cannabis at a music festival.
He's agreed to let us film his hearing if we don't show his face.
I heard the word hashish mentioned there.
He was caught with some cannabis then?
Yeah, he was caught with a small amount of hashish,
a cannabis derivative.
Because it's a non-addict, a recreational user,
first-time offence, we suspend the procedure for three months.
And if he's not caught a second time in that period of treatment,
we will close the procedure.
After the hearing I'm keen to have a chat with Ricardo to see what
he thinks of the dissuasion court.
We won't film your face.
Do you think this process so, chatting to a psychologist,
a doctor, coming in here, has made you think about your drug use?
I am not addicted, so I will stop.
From now it will make me stop.
I don't need it.
And the systems in Portugal, I think this is the best, because it's
not for one mistake that a person has to be for a life sentence.
Well, that was fascinating, and quite an experience.
Everything about this is weird, isn't it?
Look, the building,
not a court in the sense that you'd know back home.
The whole experience was very relaxed, it was very informal,
and we saw a guy going through that case
and at the end of it saying,
"Look, I'm not going to smoke weed again," so surely for the people,
the authorities here, that's a success of their system.
Back in the UK, and is it time for a change here?
HE KNOCKS AT DOOR
At the last election,
only one major party said it wanted to do things differently.
The Lib Dems want to legalise cannabis.
-Nice to meet you.
I went to see their new leader, Vince Cable.
The evidence is clear that if you want to stop abuse
and damage to young people, you've got to bring the trade
into the open and out of the hands of the criminal underworld.
The Government says it bases its policy on research and evidence,
and it says it's protecting people from the harm that drugs causes.
Well, I certainly don't want to promote drug use,
and, you know, there are some forms of drugs
that are legal like cigarettes and alcohol,
and they do cause harm, but they're still legal, and you try to
minimise the use and you use taxation and regulation to try and limit it.
Others are illegal, cannabis being a good example, but there
are serious negative side-effects from driving it underground.
And common sense suggests to me that you should try to regulate
and control this market rather than just have a free-market
anarchy in the underground which is what happens at the moment.
When cannabis plants are being bred and grown,
they have a substance called cannabigerol that goes on to form
three other substances when the plant grows.
Two are really important
when it comes to how the user is affected by the drug.
THC, that's what gets people high, but at increased levels it's
also the thing blamed for mental health issues.
The other substance is CBD.
It acts as an anti-psychotic
and counteracts some of the negative effects of THC.
Depending on the genetics of the plant, you can
either have a high THC, low CBD strain, or CBD can be
the main compound, or you can have something a bit more balanced.
There are three main types of cannabis product,
and the amount of THC in each of them varies massively.
Hash, where CBD is generally higher and THC tends to be low.
Herbal cannabis, where THC levels are low
and CBD is usually low or not there at all.
And then there's high potency cannabis, often called skunk,
which has high levels of THC and almost no CBD.
It's also the most common type of cannabis being sold,
making up around 80% to 90% of the market in the UK.
And some argue it's this lack of CBD and high THC in skunk that
leads to mental health problems, especially in those with underlying problems.
We wanted to put what we'd found in Sweden and Portugal
to the Government here, but it wouldn't speak to us.
In an e-mail it says it has no plans to legalise cannabis,
saying there's clear scientific and medical evidence that it's a
harmful drug which can damage people's mental and physical health.
Well, the Government wouldn't speak to us in person there,
but we are going to meet someone who will, who's very passionate
about this subject, he's a hereditary peer called Lord Monson.
He's got a very personal reason for being interested in this subject.
Yep, that looks like a suitably grand house for a Lord,
so, right, I'll just move in here.
Jim, really nice to meet you.
He's invited me along to talk about his 21-year-old son,
who had a problem with cannabis.
We noticed that there was something that was becoming strange
with Rupert about a year ago.
Anyway, he was diagnosed with drug induced psychosis,
and he was duly sectioned.
One day in January he said to his mother that he was,
the voices were getting so strong in his head and he was very scared.
Anyway, two days later he went out in the evening, and then, uh...
..he killed himself.
Afterwards, I spoke to the doctors.
Somebody just said in an offhand way, "This is yet another,
"kind of, casualty of skunk."
And I said, "Well, listen, that, sort of, skunk, cannabis must have changed."
He said, "Well, this is not really cannabis
"that you might have known, with the greatest of respect, sir, 40
"years ago when you might have been experimenting with the old toke."
He said this was completely different stuff, so I looked it up on the internet.
And I was actually shocked to discover how strong this variant of cannabis is.
And, as such, it's my belief that the way to tackle skunk is to
legalise the old-fashioned cannabis so it has the right balance
of THC with CBD, and it has only
a sort of certain level of potency.
Lots of people listening to this will find it strange that
a drug that you say killed your son, you are now campaigning to legalise.
I think that skunk is, it's been labelled as cannabis,
but it's not really, it's a Frankenstein variant.
Some people will argue that, frankly,
your son may have had underlying mental health issues,
and that's what led to him killing himself and it wasn't the drug.
Well, indeed, yes, that has been, um, put to me.
Well, I have received a whole lot of letters,
people who read about Rupert's death.
-Can I read you out one of them?
It said, "I was so sad to read about the loss of your son, Rupert.
"It had so many parallels with the death of my son.
"He also had a history of mental illness,
"in the most part caused by smoking cannabis and skunk."
Lord Monson has received a number of letters,
all containing stories very similar to Rupert's.
Whilst we're going through them, his friend Louisa arrives.
Hello, Louisa! How lovely to see you!
She's a drug worker in London and they've been working
together on an approach to high potency cannabis.
You work with people that use all different types of drugs,
so heroin addicts, crack addicts.
How does that compare with someone that's got a skunk problem?
This won't be the popular answer, but I would say, give me
a roomful of heroin addicts than skunk addicts.
If I take my therapist hat off and I think of my own sons,
I remember saying to my oldest son, "I'll prefer you to take
"heroin than to smoke skunk," and he looked at me like, "Mum! You can't say that!"
He doesn't work with the impact.
Heroin and crack, it does what it says on the tin.
It's physical, it's emotional, it's spiritual,
whereas skunk is the psychotic aspect.
Somebody has to wake up and say the unsayable, which is
that there is going to be generations of kids with
severe mental health issues or, with Nicholas's case,
kids dying, and it won't be from your normal OD from a heroin
overdose, it will be from suicide because they can't deal with
the voices, and it's the voices which I work with.
I just want to get one final thought from you.
You say you've had this correspondence with the
Prime Minister, you've had letters going backwards and forwards.
Recently in the latest Government drug strategy,
the idea of decriminalisation was mentioned, but very briefly,
and in short it was dismissed as not having enough evidence.
I think that the Liberal Democrats have embraced my argument
and I know that there are many people in the Conservative Party,
whom beforehand you would never have expected to embrace
a counterintuitive initiative such as one I'm suggesting,
and I think there could be, in the next five years I hope, a change of
heart in the Government, with at least a green paper I should imagine.
Since meeting Lord Monson, I spoke to the Prime Minister.
Unfortunately we weren't allowed to film the conversation,
but she told us she stands by her Government's new drug
strategy which she says is all about helping people recover.
Walking around here,
and it's not hard to find signs of people using cannabis.
Everywhere you go in this area of east London,
and to be honest, most other places in the UK, you can see it.
And even on a weekday morning, you can smell it in the air.
We had the same experience in Portugal,
which on the face of it has got much more relaxed drug policies.
But, I keep thinking back to Ricardo,
who we saw at the dissuasion court.
He was caught with a few joints going into a music festival
and had to go through a half-hour appointment with a psychiatrist,
he had to go through that kind of court case experience.
And I keep thinking, what would have happened to him
if that had have happened in the UK, had he been caught with the same amount of drugs at a festival here?
Realistically, I suspect, not a lot.
So, it does beg the question, when it comes to, say, weed,
do we already have one of the more tolerant approaches in Europe?