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It's high time to start debate on using cannabis

By Liam Clarke

Published 02/04/2015

If you fancy seeing, or even taking part in, a party political broadcast in favour of cannabis being legalised you have just a week to speak up.

Mind you, who takes part will have to be a "joint decision" with CISTA (Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol) who are looking for a third runner to qualify for a broadcast.

CISTA is the new political party "campaigning for a proper, enforceable review of the UK's drugs laws, in particular in relation to cannabis". In particular it wants a Royal Commission to look at the drug laws.

Lucy Roberts, a spokeswoman, spelt out the party line. "Only CISTA aims to make the failed war-on-drugs an election issue. Other parties simply avoid this key social and economic issue. An enforceable review is the essential first step towards a new approach that protects consumers, cuts out criminality and opens up research into the use of cannabis for medical purposes," she said.

At present they are contesting two constituencies here. Barry Brown, a former SDLP candidate and GAA star from Omagh, is standing in West Tyrone and Glenn Donnelly is standing in North Down. Another Omagh man, former Tory Shane O'Donnell, is standing in the London constituency of Holborn and St Pancras.

Mr Brown (38) recently told the Ulster Herald that he has been a recreational cannabis user for 20 years. The former assistant to Joe Byrne, an SDLP MLA, said: "I thought, this is something I can get involved in. I thought I could bring a Northern Ireland perspective or angle to it, because what works for England doesn't really work for here", which explained his change of allegiance.

The CISTA candidate who pulled out was Andrew Magorrian in South Down but the replacement could be in another constituency.

It would be foolish to put money on anyone getting elected on this platform, but it may create a debate. In the Republic Luke "Ming" Flanagan is an MEP elected on a similar programme, though he also has other policies.

Cannabis has been legalised in large parts of the US and Europe and research is being sponsored by Cancer Research UK on medical applications, especially for brain tumours.

Claimed curative properties of the drug are unproven by current research, though there have been some interesting results from mice in the University of Madrid and London. The palliative effects seem better established for some people at least. Many of the claimed ill-effects are also disputed and, now that a medical marker is opening up in some countries like America, strains are being developed for medical use which contain less of the intoxicating component, so the drug's image may change in time.

The jury is still out on the value or otherwise of cannabis but many will feel that it's, ahem, high time for something new in the way of party political broadcasts which would put a few new issues up for for discussion. Could there be any other new parties with unusual ideas waiting in the wings?

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