Politicians reject cannabis decriminalisation by a hair

Jersey's politicians have voted against decriminalising cannabis for personal use by the tightest of margins, but have asked the government to consider how the rules can be relaxed in the future.

Cannabis for personal use will not be allowed in Jersey anytime soon, as States members have rejected the principle of decriminalising personal possession of the drug by just a single vote.

They voted 22 in favour, 23 against  Deputy Tom Coles's request that the personal possession and recreational use of cannabis should be decriminalised for persons aged 18 and over.  Constable Karen Shenton-Stone abstained and three States members were absent for the vote. 

However, despite the reluctance to commit to changing the law, the Assembly backed part of the proposal that asks Ministers to look at ways of changing the rules in the future.

They'll bring those proposals back to the House before November 2025.

Those considerations will include how islanders could carry and grow personal amounts of the drug, and moving cannabinol derivatives to a class B substance.

Deputy Tom Coles, brought the original proposition to the debating Chamber:

"The world's view on the subject is changing and we should be considering changing with it.

"Jersey criminalised cannabis in the 1960s. So here we are, still criminalising people but nothing has changed, people still use cannabis daily."

Politicians were also split on allowing people in Jersey to grow their own cannabis plants - with 21 votes for, 19 against and one abstention.

Deputy Alex Curtis urged for home-cultivation:

"Jurisdictions apply a limit on the number of plants that can be grown, this allowance can be per person or household.

"Jurisdictions often apply a total dried plant matter to be allowed to be kept at home on private premises once harvested. This is no different to the allowed plant matter that one would be permitted to keep under the decriminalisation of personal possession."

Meanwhile, when it came to a suggestion that some cannabinol derivatives, such as oils, should be downgraded from to Class B from Class A, members were more in unison, voting 28 for and 15 against.

Deputy Inna Gardiner successfully argued that ministers' future work on the subject should include re-classification of certain extracts.

"For me, it's to bring us in line with lots of jurisdictions around the world that classify cannabis as one product, with some exemptions."

Warning against decriminalisation of cannabis, Deputy Andy Howell shared a story of a university friend who she said developed schizophrenia from using the drug.

"She smoked cannabis. She was one of the unlucky ones. Her life and the life of her family were wrecked. She could no longer function. It was, and is, awful."

Education Minister Rob Ward expressed his view:

"We should stay away from alcohol, we should stay away from cigarettes, we should stay away from fatty foods... they're really bad for us.

"We should stay away from high sugar foods, we should stay away from pain killers such as codeine...massively addictive. Look at what's happened in America. 

"But we don't stay away from those things, Sir, we've accepted them into society, and all of the problems that have gone with them it seems."

"We need to legalise, and we need to legalise all drugs, because that is the only way to control them."

Economic Development Minister Kirsten Morel told the Assembly he believed the most harmful drug in British society is alcohol, not crack cocaine, heroin,  or cannabis, which he said is ranked eighth.  He added that islanders should be able to live free, safe lives.

"I know there are plenty of members of this Assembly that will be voting against this proposition but will be happily having a drink tonight, and they will happily be having a drink tonight in a way that discriminates against those people who prefer not to have a drink but would prefer to use cannabis."

However, Deputy Moz Scott raised her voice, saying cannabis makes people suffer.

"I find it almost an insult to find myself being asked to support a proposition that talks about supporting the use of a narcotic for recreational purposes. Can't people find something better to do?"

Warning against politicians basing their opinion on anecdote, Deputy Montfort Tadier told a tongue-in-cheek story about young people finding other highs, saying there is a particular high at the moment which is perfectly legal that young people are turning to in droves.

"They start off with a long walk, they then move to jogging, and before you know it they're doing Park Runs. You've got pushers of exercise deliberately targeting vulnerable people by peddling harmless sounding initiatives like 'Couch to 5K'.

"Before you know it they're doing things like half-marathons, and I even heard of someone signing up to do a marathon, complete madness!

"I know a guy who did a run and he ended up getting a stroke.  I know another one, who years on after giving it up, has loads of problems with their knees.  It's particularly problematic with people who have underlying problems relating to arthritis, of course, they don't tell them this when they're pushing those kinds of runs. It's a slippery slope [...] so there are risks in that."

Constable of Grouville Mark Labey said he could not understand why the Assembly was even discussing decriminalising a drug that cannot even be tested on the side of the road by the police.

"Why are we even talking about this? 

"We have just had some damning road safety statistics recently published where it clearly state that we are the worst jurisdiction in the British Isles for road safety.

"Surely we must take a lesson from that and say that 'why are we even discussing this?' when technology has not yet caught up with roadside testing."

Restrictions on driving under the influence of cannabis and roadside testing capacity form part of the agreed mandate for ministers to consider, along with a total acceptable gram allowance and restrictions on the where cannabis could be consumed.

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