In a joint statement to media, Equality Rights Group and rehabilitation NGO, ‘Stay Clean’, have called for Gibraltar ‘to stop punishing and penalising the use of cannabis. That situation only benefits the mafias, who've had it too good for too long and grown fat on the profits. That has to end. Instead, we must look to the authorities, not the gangsters, to control this particular demand and supply problem. We've left it too long. Government and Society must now assume responsibility for bringing back control!

Chairman Felix Alvarez explained that ‘Encouragement to habits of health and avoidance of psychoactive substances is a priority, and definitely the direction we need to move in. But there are many good reasons why it’s time for us in Gibraltar to now legalise the medical and recreational use of cannabis. And more and more countries are already testifying to this fact. As with tobacco and alcohol, awareness and regulatory control, time and again, have proved to be far more effective than criminalisation in significantly reducing medical and criminal harm. As part of our ‘Connected Health’ project presented to Government in September, we have proposed important upgrades to the structural infrastructure of care and rehabilitation for those with a substance abuse problem. And part of that approach is to modernise and revamp our legislation, moving away from punishment, fines, and heavy investment in police and court time and resources and, instead, putting our efforts into support, treatment and compassion.

‘A change in the law should start with cannabis. First of all, because the medical use of cannabis in the relief of acute pain is proven, and it is plain wrong to get in the way of relieving the suffering of a significant number of people in our Community with important chronic pain issues. But whether for medical purposes or for recreational use, Regulation should be the method adopted in order to bring in sensible, positive legal and on-going monitoring that lowers all the risks. At the moment, regulation does indeed occur, but it’s organised crime that exclusively regulates every aspect of the demand and supply of drugs. For the sake of our wider Community, therefore, we call on Government's Inter-Ministerial Committee on this matter to wrest control from organised crime and, instead, place it securely and safely in the hands of Government.

‘Imagine if we imprisoned and pursued people for drinking whiskey or vodka. That’s what used to happen under Prohibition in the past. By contrast, under Regulation, society controls every aspect of the consumption of alcohol – from the strength or proof sold, to the safety and purity of the product, its advertising, the times and places where it can be bought and consumed, and the legal age for purchase. Cannabis needs to be controlled in exactly the same way. We all benefit because, under a regulatory system, the authorities, and not the traffickers, are put in control, and people have no fear in approaching health professionals when necessary, confident that, if they have a problem, they will be treated as patients, not criminals. We need to start taking this step forward now,’ Mr. Alvarez concluded.

Head of ‘Stay Clean’, Damian Broton, added that ‘The general consensus is that cannabis may be broadly comparable to accepted social drugs such as alcohol in some respects, and, in fact, may even be less damaging in terms of health or crime harm. That's why legalisation is being increasingly called for internationally, including by British parliamentarians and public. We advocate Regulation, but we must all understand, however, that Regulation does not mean we treat all drugs in exactly the same way. It is more sophisticated than that. It is not synonymous with blanket decriminalisation or legalisation,’ he continued. 'How we manage and deal with each drug under a regulatory system depends entirely on the specifics of that substance and the level of demonstrated harm. It's not a simple 'one size fits all'.

‘But regulation is not so strange. It's something we routinely do. We are already used to regulating all our foods and drinks to keep us from harm. In exactly the same way, and to give just one example, under regulation, heroin, which is clearly known to be a very dangerous drug, would not be legalised or be freely available. Yet similarly, it would be disastrous to continue to allow each and every aspect of its sale and consumption to rest in the hands of organised crime, as happens now. So, in the case of someone addicted to heroin, it is clearly desirable for the drug to be provided and administered by health professionals as part of a treatment plan rather than by someone down a dark alley. And that is exactly why, as part of the Connected Health project, we urge and call for the adoption of Regulation as a more effective, more compassionate, and more pro-active approach to managing a reality which will not just go away, however much we may foolishly ignore it or punish it at great cost to lives and to resources. It’s time to finally take back control in every way, and talk in terms of more intelligent, better support and treatment,’ the statement ended.