A NEW political party campaigning for the legalisation of cannabis is to field a candidate in the Capital at the general election.
Cista – which stands for Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol – was set up just last month but plans to contest around 40 seats across the UK on May 7, including Edinburgh South West, where former Chancellor Alistair Darling is standing down.
Party leader Paul Birch, who co-founded social networking site Bebo before it was sold to AOL for £570 million, said Britain’s drug laws were “pretty messed up right now”.
He said: “There has been a lot of progress in other countries – there 700 cannabis social clubs in Spain, cannabis has been legalised in four American states and the number is growing every year.
“But here we have not moved much at all in the past ten to 20 years.”
He said politicians normally tried to avoid the issue and parties tended not to put too much about it in their manifestos.
“There’s a general reluctance to address the issue because there’s a perception it’s going to lose them votes.
“But public opinion from the polling we have done on cannabis is pretty much split down the middle. That’s progressed a lot over the past 20 to 30 years. In the past there was a clear margin against.”
He said politicians knew the “war on drugs” was not working.
“You won’t find a politician actively defending what they are doing,” he said. “They will give a couple of quick, off-pat phrases and move on to the next question.
“They never engage in debate because they know they will look daft if they do because there is no evidence to support what they are doing.”
He said it should be recognised that cannabis was also a medicine. “There are patients in the UK for whom cannabis is the perfect drug but they can’t legally get it,” he said.
“These people are real victims. A lot of them are suffering from 24-hour-a-day pain.”
Cista wants the UK government to appoint a Royal Commission to review drugs policy.
“We think that’s the best way to get things done when politicians feel this is a touchy, sensitive topic, which they would prefer not to handle too closely,” said Mr Birch.
“The theory is the politicians just have to take what comes out of the Royal Commission and make it law.”
But he said he was “100 per cent certain” a commission would come out in favour of legalising cannabis.
He added that if Scotland had ability to make its own decisions on drugs legislation it would give “an opportunity to move faster and more nimbly because it’s a smaller entity”.
Cista argue the UK government could raise around £900 million from sales of legalised cannabis if it was taxed in the same way as alcohol is.
Mr Birch is realistic about the party’s election prospects.
“We would love to win a seat but the past performance of single issues suggests that’s unlikely. We think we can make a difference by keeping the issue on the agenda. It has ben swept under carpet for far too long.”
Labour’s Ricky Henderson said he did not advocate legalisation of cannabis but a public debate would be healthy.
Conservative Gordon Lindhurst said: “There are medical studies that show it’s not as harmless as some might think.”
Green Richard Doherty said he favoured licensed distribution and controlled use of cannabis, as with alcohol.