Chief Minister Allan Bell MHK believes consideration should be given to the decriminalisation of cannabis in the Isle of Man.
Mr Bell was speaking after former UK government drugs adviser Professor David Nutt gave a presentation in the Manx Museum suggesting the island could relax restrictive laws to become a research centre looking into the medical benefits of drugs like cannabis.
The Chief Minister said he had been following Professor Nutt’s comments for some time and agreed a new approach was needed to drug use.
He told Examiner: ‘Professor Nutt brings a fresh perspective to the debate on how we deal with drug use in the round. I think there is a consensus developing internationally now that the old-style war on drugs has failed miserably and there needs to be a new approach.
‘Look at changes in America where a number of states have legalised cannabis. Uruguay has legalised cannabis. I really do think, and have long believed, that drug use should be considered a health matter and not a criminal activity. We should not be imprisoning people for drug use.’
Mr Bell insisted, however: ‘I’m not saying it should be legalised but that there should be a different approach. I’ve an open mind on this – chanting the long-established mantra that “drugs are bad” is not going to resolve this issue at all. There needs to be fresh debate on how we deal with drug use, including possible decriminalisation.
‘I think we have to consider every approach to take criminality out of drug use. The vast majority of people who do drugs do it recreationally and should not be considered criminals.’
Mr Bell said he was approached 20 years ago while he was Tourism Minister about whether the opening of a cannabis cafe could stimulate the tourism industry.
He said: ‘It would be premature to say we support cannabis cafes at this stage. But I do think the issue does merit further consideration.’
However, Mr Bell said he was doubtful the island could go it alone. ‘There are restrictions on what the Isle of Man can do. We are bound by a UN protocol,’ he said.
He said there was a distinction between decriminalistion and legalisation. Decriminalisation would mean small amounts for personal use would be tolerated but those with larger amounts would still be prosecuted.
Mr Bell said he had never used cannabis. ‘Even if I wanted to I would not,’ he said.
He said it was a myth that cannabis was a gateway to other drugs.
He accepted its long term use may be linked to mental health problems but said there was a lot of evidence that certain elements in cannabis could be beneficial in the treatment of a range of medical conditions.