Side event: Recent Developments in Cannabis Policy: Dangers and Misconceptions from the perspectives of Europe, Asia and the North America

Sedef Ercetin Gencosmanoglu, Moderator, Turkish Green Crescent Society: Welcome to this side event on cannabis policy, recent developments and misconceptions from Europe, Asia and North America, organised by the Turkish Green Crescent Society with the support of nations from Russia and Smart Approaches to Marijuana from the USA. My name is Sedef Ercetin Gencosmanoglu, and I work as International Operations Supervisor at the Turkish Green Crescent society, and will be moderating this side event. For your information, webinar is being recorded. Afterwards, we’ll have a q&a session so you can write your questions beforehand through the q&a box below, so that we will answer your questions in the end of speeches, as long as time permits. Today, we have distinguished speakers and presenters with us. I would like to introduce my speakers who will talk about the cannabis policies and their operations in Europe, Asia and North America. To start, I kindly Ambassador Muhtar Gun, the representative of Turkey to the United Nations and other International organisations in Vienna to share his opening remarks. Thank you.

Ahmet Muhtar Gun, Permanent Mission of Turkey to the Office of the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Vienna: Let me start by thanking Turkish Green Crescent and its counterparts National Anti drug Union from Russia, and SAM from USA for organising this important side event.  We believe that the world drug problem with its multifaceted nature could only be tackled through a multi sectoral approach, and the civil society participation plays a very important role in this regard. Cannabis is still the most abused drug and the major concern in the world drug problem. CND has voted regarding changing the control and scheduling of cannabis and cannabis related substances during its reconvened 63rd session in December last year. We have gladly witnessed that five of these recommendations were rejected by the CND members, and only one recommendation was adopted, only with one word difference. We believe this is also a sign that any change in the control of cannabis cannot find life support from member states. In spite of this new scheduling of cannabis, this change cannot be interpreted as legalisation of cannabis, under any circumstances. Turkey objected to all these six recommendations, and we have been underlining the necessity of strict control on cannabis harms and danger of the substance, risks of an increase in the cannabis production, and its negative impacts. We believe that an increase in cannabis production will have negative consequences on the struggle against financing of terrorism. It will also have negative impacts on food security, increasing hunger and poverty. We are witnessing with growing concern the dangerous trend of legalising marijuana in some countries. This is a clear violation of the obligations arising from the international drug control conventions. Such actions are creating a very wrong public impression. We witness that consumption of cannabis related substances increased, especially in the countries which have a more liberal approach, contrary to their international obligations. At that point, we trust in the efforts of the civil society, to prevent and tackle. With your permission I would like to commend and thank Turkish green Crescent for the tireless efforts to prevent and combat abuse of drugs in our society, especially among the youth. Thank you very much and I wish you a successful discussion.

Sedef Ercetin Gencosmanoglu, Chair, Turkish Green Crescent Society: Melike Şimşek from Turkish Green Crescent will now give a presentation.

Melike Şimşek, Turkish Green Crescent Society: Today I would like to talk about this cannabis dilemma, and I wanted to use this seesaw metaphor. There are some countries organisations defending that cannabis can be used for medical purposes or industrial purposes, and there’s no harm for legalisation but organisations defending that this is a substance as dangerous as other ones, and it can cause some negative effects, including addictions. I want to start with the industrial use of cannabis, and showing some examples from my country Turkey. Here is the map of Turkey, showing the kind of fields that are allowed by government under strict control and the plantation of cannabis for like the textile industry, mechanics, construction materials, fuel materials or paper production, alternative fuel production, even for climate change prevention and cosmetics.

As we all know that some countries allow this use of cannabis, and then go back to the history, it actually starts in early 19th century, and for chronic pain for neurological disorders like cancer, some psychological problems like depression, anxiety disorders or sleep impairments. There are some short term effects actually negative effects of this medical use of cannabis like psychophysiological dysfunctions and some psychological effects like hallucinations, and maybe the most important problem is long term effects actually, because in the long term addiction develops, and we have to deal with severe addiction problems. So, and I would like to demonstrate to you some data from my counselling centres. More than 4000 applicants, these are substance users in the last four years, you can see that cannabis users are around 14% of total applicants and synthetic cannabinoids, which is another form of cannabinoid. Total cannabis cannabinoids users is 31%. You can see that these rates are non ignorable so we have to give importance to this problem as a perspective from addictions, and this is not the only thing you can see.  the complications in cannabis users, not only the addiction problems are exempt the rate of psychotic symptoms is 15.7%. And when we compare this rate with heroin users, which is also considered is a type of addiction. Cannabinoid users, rate of psychotic symptoms is higher than heroin users, and the result is same with psychiatric medical history, the rate in cannabinoid users is 62.3% or 30%. And the other complications are related with physical problems, the physical problems are seeing in cannabis users as well. So I would like to talk about some other significant issues, as you see that psychological problems like depression, anxiety, and some other social negative outcomes like effect on quality in cannabinoid use there are some really high. And these users, admit that they experience some problems caused by cannabis, and they have strong craving urges. And when it comes to quitting, they have difficulties in quitting. And in assessment process we ask our clients, whether they use during the day or at night or in the evening or in specific time periods in a day. And this If use is during the day, this means his or her functionality effects, negative effects from substance use and cannabis users. 28% of them say that yes they use during the day, and which shows another important problem. And when it comes to treatment attempts we can see that the cannabis users treatment attempts are around 17% significant important problematic issues experienced by cannabis users.

Let’s look at from a wider picture, this is that Turkey’s report from data collection capacity of Turkish national Monitoring Centre for Drugs and drugs addiction 2018 report. In this report, we can see that cannabis is the most widely used substance, and it is the second preferred substance by next year in 2019 on the same report. The use of other illicit drugs, and that the earlier cannabis is used, and the more regularly it says use the more likely, young person is to use other illicit drugs. So they consider three major competing explanations for this and the first one is there is a shared illicit market for cannabis and other drugs, which makes it more likely that other illicit drugs will be used if cannabis is used. So this shows us how it becomes a gateway drug for other ones, and also they’re explained by the characteristics of those who use cannabis, and they reflect the causal relationship in which the pharmacological effects of cannabis on brain function, increase the likelihood of using other illicit drugs, these outcomes gateway drug. And in another story, we can see that the association was to be found, particularly strong during adolescence but declined rapidly as age increase. so the sensitive age group, maybe should be the adolescent the teens, and the drug abuse that cost graph shows us that teens are more likely to use cannabis than cigarettes. There is also an appealing type of using cannabis edible ones, there’s a huge market of edible form of cannabis, for example in maple syrup is in Canada. And, again, a Canadian brand cannot be growth THC drinks, produced for vegans these drinks or two. And also there’s a huge beer markets, and started to produce cannabis infused beers. So, this shows us that THC cannabis is being likeable over the society. it becomes reachable, and it becomes acceptable. So, this is a public health threat, actually.

So, when we summarise all these findings, we come to the conclusion that industrial cannabis planting should be under strict control here in Turkey, the government follows these plantings, this industrial use of cannabis, with very strict rules, and the medical use of  in palliative care or some other treatments like cancer. These should be decided by scientific authorities not  by the patients themselves, and my organisation Turkish green Crescent is very concerned about the widely use of these medicines, especially when they are reachable without any prescription, and they are being promoted at medical support and the medical support or health lives.  When we talk about cannabis THC is seen as the psychoactive part of the substance, while CBD is seen as a miracle part of it, but the tests, they have, especially the toxicological test showed that even pure CBD products contain small amounts of THC. So, they still have the threat. So advocacy and prevention activities should be raised and against medical use of CBD, but this is a complicated issue, and we can hardly talk about some black or white areas, so we need more scientific studies for medical use, or maybe industrial use, but it is easy to say that it leads to addiction, and the medical use, industrial use of it should be under strict control. Thank you for your attention.

Sedef Ercetin Gencosmanoglu, Chair, Turkish Green Crescent Society: We thank you for your contribution and valuable work.. Our second speaker, Mr. Will Jones from Smart Approaches to Marijuana give his speech. He will be presenting data about the impact of cannabis legalisation on public health in the USA. He will will look into data from the states that have legalised recent laws, such as New York and New Mexico, as well as its impacts on your arrival and racial disparities in law enforcement, he will also briefly talk about the impact of the Big Tobacco influence is the driving force behind his recent policies and give a general overview about reasons behind such policy changes that manifests itself in national as well as the state and federal levels globally.

Will Jones, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), USA: We have, as I’m sure you’re aware several states here in the US that have legalised, even though it is still illegal at the federal level, there are still several states that have gone ahead and legalised marijuana, and so what I want to go through briefly, is some of the data and results that we’re seeing from states that have tried this and how it’s impacting public health.

Our organisation we work across the United States. We have a scientific advisory board with researchers, professors, legal experts and here in the US, we’re in most of the major networks, as the main organisation that is talking about information of some of the negative side effects of legalisation which we oppose. These are some of the organisations that we have worked with here in the US SC American Medical Association, American Academy of Paediatrics and others. Marijuana policy should be aligned with the scientific and academic consensus, and not just something that is done in a haphazard manner. In so you know one thing I do before going into the rest of the slides I do want to just share that the conversation, nationally, particularly I know here in the US and maybe in other countries as well. There are three separate issues conflated as one issue. In these three issues are penalising drug users versus decriminalisation, the medicinal use of compounds derived from marijuana, and then legalisation of marijuana for non medical or recreational use. I’m not really going to talk too much about decriminalisation, which again is just removing criminal penalties for personal possession and he is not going to talk that much about the medicinal use either that’s separate. Unfortunately, what’s happening in terms of the medical marijuana laws that we have here in the US, is that it’s not even though they’re called medical marijuana it’s not following any medical or scientific research or consensus. Unfortunately, it is legislators at a state by state level, deciding what can be treated by smoking the raw plant in many cases ensue there’s no type of consistency in one way. To illustrate by way of example, we don’t say that we have medical opium laws, because there’s morphine which is derivative of opium . So there are many plants that we use that we harness the medicinal components of the plant and make it available. However, again we do not refer to  the raw plant being smoked as the form of getting any type of medication, yet that’s what we see happening unfortunately in many states. And then the third category is legalisation of marijuana for recreational use and this is what I’m going to dig into a little bit deeper in the time that we have left, because we have several states again that have done this and want to see what the impact that has been having. This is just new data in articles that are being written as more and more states do this but as happened with secondhand smoke is a growing concern in many different places, in many different apartments and buildings and we’re finding more and more reports of that is easy to see there 67% of residents reported smelling marijuana smoking at home over the past year, which is more than people report for cigarettes and this is in some housing here in in New York. We’re seeing in some of these data points, we’ll get into a little bit deeper if we have time at the end, but this is just a summary of some of the things that we’re seeing. We’re seeing increases in calls to poison control centres for marijuana exposures following legalisation, this is in Washington State, Colorado, Massachusetts. We’re seeing that states are also unfortunately failing to regulate pesticide use. One of the things that people say is that we should legalise it so that these things are controlled and regulated, unfortunately that’s not taking place here in there still headlines after headlines after headlines showing that many 93% in this instance of products that do get tested in this was in California are testing really following the rules and regulations that, that they should be but are trying to maximise their profit.

What concerns us most as an organisation with what we’re seeing with legalisation here in the US, is that the influence of these big tobacco companies into legalisation they have invested billions of dollars into legalisation. Altria which is the mother company of Marlboro has invested billions of dollars. They have begun lobbying, at the federal and state level here in the US for legalisation I investing a lot of money in that as well. These are more headlines of other big tobacco companies that are heavily invested in the marijuana industry. They see it as an alternative cotton lining and it’s not just big tobacco it’s also we’re seeing investments from our major alcohol companies like Molson Coors companies get most of their revenue, not from people that use products responsibly but from people that have used the products and have problems with substance abuse. So for alcohol 75% of the revenue comes from 10% of the users and that’s people that drink on average 10 drinks a day. So, the alcohol industry, you know by example, would lose most of its revenue if people use the products responsibly. We see the tree as well this is from the Colorado Department of Revenue, we see that 67 or 22% of the users consume 67% of the product in so again that’s going to be people that are using heavily people that may have substance abuse problems and people that can unfortunately incur a public health cost, as they deal with their heavy use of their product.

One of the main reasons that we hear for marijuana use in while our organisation acknowledges the concerns about arrests for marijuana use, we have supported in various states laws that remove criminal penalties for personal possession use when talking about legalisation in commercialization, which again is a separate issue, that will not necessarily solve the issue. And this is just removed we see with alcohol related arrests that’s perfectly legal, compared to a little under 700,000 or marijuana related risks. Unfortunately, it’s a mind altering substance and so people may still find themselves in cannabis law enforcement doing things that they wouldn’t ordinarily do in so the idea that if we just legalise it that the arrests will go away, is not held up, even if we look at what’s happening with with alcohol.

In the US we also have a disparity between arrests that that that happened. And unfortunately that continues to exist for African Americans here in the US, even after legalisation, we see that disparities mean, African Americans and other people of colour are still more likely to be arrested. But the deeper issues in the systemic issues in our criminal justice system, are not being addressed at all, all that’s happening is a new multi billion dollar industry is being created, but the systemic issues that create the injustice in disparity, have not been addressed people have not been held accountable. And so we continue to see things like this. We have also we have also not seen any significant decrease in the prison. In Colorado, right after legalisation there was a moderate increase in the prison population after legalisation rather than a decrease.

I will say though that the pot shops are being located in minority in disadvantaged communities. That’s another issue that we have in the UK or in the US is that our stores in our country. They’re invariably located in communities of colour, where people have less resources to combat addiction in to combat these industries that are profiting off of addiction, the black market is still growing actually in places like California, it has not decreased. that is because marijuana only accounts for about 15 to 25% of revenues for drug trafficking groups in the first place. After legalisation and again another parallels with tobacco, there’s a huge market for tobacco and is perfectly legal. And so what we’re seeing is that, again, that the majority and in some cases of what’s being sold is is still black market in different states. we’re not talking about people just smoking and drawing, talking about his products like this, this is ultra potent marijuana. We’re talking about products that glamorise the product that packages in ways that are attractive to kids and that do that are looking to get as many people using as much as possible marketing and packaging in a way that’s attractive to younger people. We are seeing increases in daily use. This is much more common with marijuana, especially with these high potency products compared to alcohol potency is significantly increased now, especially in the legalised states, where percent THC now we’re seeing 17% in the plan in 55 and up, even up to 99% THC in states that have legalised. So these are, these are some of the issues that we’re seeing arising again from this market for legalisation. And although again, we don’t want to state by state basis that some states are doing it still at our federal level. This is ads that are being put in newspapers for example this is a place where we go skiing so they say if you show your ski pass, you get, You know, you get a discount on your joint. We’re seeing billboards being put up in different places that are marketing. Simply appeals to youth, like the ad with big tobacco in the past, against the diet and so, again, these are some of the, these are some of the concerns that we have with what we’re seeing with legalisation here in the US. And it’s really being pushed again by that. A lot of investment by big tobacco and alcohol, and we’re seeing increases, as I showed earlier, in increases in youth use that is happening in our country. we’re seeing a significant increases in youth use compared to states that have not legalised and that’s again because of its massive advertising and marketing that we have present with legalisation. I’m happy to answer any question. Awesome, thank you.

Sedef Ercetin Gencosmanoglu, Chair, Turkish Green Crescent Society: Nikita Lushnikov from National Anti-Drug Union will share the insights about the cannabis policies and good empowerment for probation. If we know individuals, and especially you turn to substances such as cannabis in stressful situations such as COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore our speakers from National Anti-Drug Union can tell us about the essential needs to include youth in prevention in a multifactorial grade. So, our speakers will enlighten us about the misconceptions and dangers of the recent cannabis policies on youth health. The floor is yours.

Nikita Lushnikov, National Anti-Drug Union (NAU), Russia: The Turkish Green Crescent drew attention to the decision of the United Nations Commision on Narcotic Drugs, adopted on 2nd December on the exclusion of medical cannabis from the single convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, which unfortunately a number of major outlets interpreted the Commission’s decision in their own way, which led to misunderstanding on the part of civil society. Cannabis resin remains in the zone of strict regulation and restrictions by the commission itself. I’m convinced that any ease of consequences will lead to the deaths of a huge number of young people. Therefore, today, as representatives of Russian civil society who derive directly help in the recovery of dependent persons, we stand on the principal position of complete rejection of the use of any narcotic drugs. For our part, we support the position of the President and the government of the Russian Federation, on an uncompromising attitude to the revision of drug policy, and are convinced that only such an approach can reduce the spread of drug addiction and drug trafficking in general. We also support the position in helping and treating people that there is not criminal punishment for drug use in Russia, all measures are aimed at the most effective recovery of parties. The importance of involving young people in anti drug programmes helping to form a critical attitude to the problem of conception, to promote preventive measures among young.

Valeria Polyakova, National Anti-Drug Union (NAU), Russia: Hi. In the last two years, one of the main activities of the NAU has been caused by an active increase in the consumption of various smoking, ministers, among children and adults since scientific cannabinoids in the world. Among those who have been diagnosed for the first time in their lives with drug dependence syndrome, drug addiction, more than 90% of people age 12-89 years. At the same time the age of the first consumption can vary from 12 to 20 years. drug addiction as a disease covers, an increasing number of teenagers every year. Taking into account the modification of narcotic drugs we’re forced to stated the problem of drug addiction is getting much younger. Today, dependence on various drugs of varying severity is already detected in school children and sometimes even younger children. The emergence of new potentially dangerous active substances, such as spice and snooze. We have conducted inspection of tobacco sales points, with the support of TV channels were conducted covered booming, confirming that students could easily buy. The practice of the national introduction union in the development of prevention programme shows that the most effective forms of primary prevention programmes are classes for young children, training sessions for children aged six years and older. Today they have about 10 different formats of lessons on the topics of drugs, alcohol and tobacco. As a part of the classes teenagers which film in which a particular problem is raised, followed by discussion of the  programme, and independent work, but also give children, their parents, and teacher information about outpatient programme that helped find answers to exciting questions. In the near future we want to develop several more projects, one of which will be an anti drug use quest.

National Anti-Drug Union (NAU), Russia: Hello everyone. So, in the document of the anti drug strategy of the Russian Federation, until 2013, the strategic directions of activity is the primary prevention of the use of psychoactive substances and alcohol among young people and adults sense. In order to involve as many participants from youth activists as possible, our team initiated and developed a new form of prevention and of preventative work in the format of a game quest, conducting tests in a game format forming basic attitudes to abstaining from the use of psychoactive substances and developing emotional intelligence. Our project was created for young people aged from 13 to 23 to help them find themselves, their way, their talents and learn to live in the creative flow. Thanks to the programme, children not only understand but it also helps realising that talent, develop qualities that contribute to success, responsibility, discipline, involvement, commitment, acquire skills for setting goals and achieving results, the ability to create a team, the ability to generate ideas, acquire the support of parents, understand the value of healthy lifestyle, understand which professions are the most optimal for them. With the help of quest, we create conditions for the formation of skills. Establish contact and build relationships based on mutual understanding, cooperation and support, as well as for the formation of skills for taking responsibility for their actions, relationships, and other lives, the development of independence. The quest will have an international scale. Starting with a presentation at the first offline event of the United Nations. We hope that our initiative will find a response among the youth movements of their other countries, and as the next international offline event we will be able to organise an international quest, and particularly considering its significance, and uniqueness.

 

Ahmet Muhtar Gun, Permanent Mission of Turkey to the Office of the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Vienna: As you have rightly pointed out it was a very informative. We are following the political discussions, not only in the law enforcement side of this file, but also from the preventive side as well. Yesterday I delivered our statement on behalf of my government during the CND general debate in discussions, and I would like to repeat one thing as I mentioned yesterday. International cooperation is a must in the fight against all drug trafficking issues. One missing ring and destroys the whole chain is through a to genuinely cooperate worldwide. I don’t want to repeat the figures I mean Turkish law enforcement authorities seize huge amounts of drugs, and different types of drugs. We will continue to cooperate, genuinely and strongly with our partners, and then from the prevention side your activities Turkish Red Crescent activities. And I’m also grateful for friends from other countries for the really sincere and thoughtful statements. Thank you very much for organising and thank you very much for inviting us.

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