The Assembly repeatedly heard that cannabis use was ‘widespread’ in Guernsey, and that there was a multi-million pound underground local market which could represent a fortune for the States coffers through excise duties.
Deputies agreed that options should be drawn up for alternative and non-punitive approaches to the possession and use of small quantities of illegal drugs, which should not be limited to cannabis.
The new regime could include a regulatory approach to all aspects of personal drug use, creating a lucrative tax stream for the States.
As a backdrop to the debate, dozens of pro-cannabis campaigners had gathered on the court steps with banners reading ‘I’m not a criminal for using medicine’ and ‘evidence based policy’.
The peaceful group cheered and chatted with deputies as they arrived.
Deputy Emilie McSwiggan led the successful motion to require the Home Affairs committee to come up with concrete proposals on softening the drugs laws and sentencing policies generally.
‘Where is the boundary between criminal law and civil law? Between the things that should be criminalised and shouldn’t be criminalised. There is a fundamental question about what and who we choose to criminalise.’
The step towards a more socially liberal approach was passed by 24 votes to 14.
Highlighting data from Canada where the laws on cannabis were changed in 2018, Deputy Marc Leadbeater, a member of Home Affairs, said there was clear evidence to support the health and economic benefits of legalisation.
‘There is a groundswell of public support for the introduction of a legal cannabis regime in the Bailiwick and we as a government simply cannot ignore it.
‘We have a multi-million pound underground cannabis market in Guernsey and little, if any, of that money re-circulates in our economy.’
Deputy Peter Roffey acknowledged that cannabis could be a harmful substance, but he railed against the ‘double standards’ when compared to alcohol, and how criminalisation was ruining some young lives.
‘I think that criminal sanctions often do more harm than good in relation to cannabis, and cause large problems in the lives of people who are not inherently evil.’
However, some deputies cautioned that cannabis could be a dangerous substance causing paranoia, panic attacks, and psychosis such as schizophrenia, and become a gateway to class A drugs like cocaine and heroin.
Deputy Rob Prow countered claims that the war on drugs was lost, and he said Guernsey’s tough line was working: ‘In my view Guernsey’s combined strategies have been much more successful than elsewhere. With regard to drug use, the strategic approach of education, treatment and demand reduction has been joined up and deliver over many decades.’