Housing providers in Liverpool have joined forces with local authorities in an anti-cannabis campaign. The ‘Use it? Lose it!’ campaign warns tenants that they could be evicted from their homes if they are caught using cannabis. In other words, lives could be ruined for the crime of smoking a joint.
This move hasn’t gone unnoticed by the pro-cannabis lobby. Peter Reynolds, President of cannabis law reform group CLEAR, said the campaign is “disgusting” and reflects “despicable prejudice, hate and fear mongering”. He also insisted that:
The people responsible for this have broken every ethical and moral standard as well as preferring a government-funded campaign of misinformation and propaganda to a vast body of scientific evidence.
This initiative follows a number of house fires in Merseyside caused by cannabis farms. Indeed, since fires caused by cannabis farms can result in manslaughter, these operations are clearly very risky. And in the name of public safety, cracking down on these operations could be justified. Mark Wiggins, Liverpool local policing superintendent, said:
Our communities can help us stop these groups, who are only interested in making money from turning houses and flats into potential death traps.
On the other hand, these dangers only exist because cannabis growing is unregulated. Where cannabis has been legalised, these fires do not occur, because the plants are grown in licensed and well-regulated facilities. Public health and safety will always be more of a concern when cannabis is grown in hazardous conditions by gangs near where people live.
While cracking down on dodgy cannabis farms can be sensible, can the same be said about punishing cannabis users? Donna Kelly, regional director at Liverpool Housing Trust (LHT), said:
Cannabis use in rented properties, particularly those with communal areas, can be a real nuisance to residents. Not only is it illegal, it is also often linked to other anti-social behaviour.
Kelly added that, whilst helping people with substance abuse problems is important, “we are also concerned about the impact of cannabis on the wider community”.
However, it is not clear why the legal status of cannabis should carry the extra punishment of being evicted from one’s home. Kelly also repeats fear-mongering claims about how cannabis makes people more anti-social. An expert on the subject highlights that cannabis isn’t a cause of anti-social behaviour. More harm may actually result from criminalising people for using cannabis, by affecting their future opportunities.
The campaign is seen as unfair for tarring cannabis users with the same brush as cannabis growers. What actual risk do cannabis users pose to the public? According to Prof David Nutt’s drug harm index, alcohol causes significantly more harm to others than cannabis does. The overall annual cost of crime and anti-social behaviour linked to alcohol is approximately £7.3bn. But there don’t appear to be any plans to crack down on alcohol consumption. So there definitely seems to be some inconsistency in a campaign like this one.
A waste of time and money?
Wiggins says that growing cannabis is not a victimless crime. And this is true. But who will be protected if ordinary people who use cannabis are made homeless? It’s also hard to imagine cannabis growers deciding to close down operations after getting this leaflet through their door. In short, the campaign may prove to be a waste of both time and money; causing more harm in the end than good.
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