CISTA London Volunteer and Candidate Meet Up: Cannabis vs Alcohol

CISTA (Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol) is the UK’s major cannabis-based political party. They only launched two months ago, but they’ve already made a name for themselves in British politics and media, having been featured in VICE, The Guardian, and the BBC.

While no strong centralized party exists in the U.S. to take the lead on marijuana-related politics, CISTA is running 31 candidates in the UK’s May 7th election. The party’s goal is to bring legalization and regulation to British cannabis.

On Monday CISTA’s various candidates and volunteers gathered in Crowdshed, Central London to discuss their strategy running up to the crucial date. The party’s founder, Paul Birch, 48 answered some of our questions regarding the political party, elections and why cannabis really is safer than alcohol.

When was CISTA founded?

In the middle of February we became an official U.K party.

How did you start up CISTA?

The back story is we were aware of what has happened in the states recently and back in mid December we realised there was no cannabis voting opportunities anywhere in the U.K . So we thought it would be a great opportunity to start a party.

What do you think are the main pros if cannabis were to be legalised?

There would be a much wider choice of cannabis available to the public, and the cannabis would be significantly safer than what is currently available in the U.K, like skunk which has low CBD and high THC. What I’ve learnt from CISTA is that when you speak to pretty much anyone in the U.K they will say there are three types of cannabis available on the streets: Amnesia, Lemon Haze and Blue Cheese. People would be consuming safer cannabis if it were regulated.

For tax income, we could probably get something like a billion pounds worth in taxes from cannabis because it would be a large legal market. They could properly label the product too, so you know what you are buying.

What are the dangers of cannabis and the reason people are scared of it being legalised?

The risk of psychotic problems related to it. But when it comes to consumption overall, the alcoholic dangers are violence and death which are not closely related to cannabis. A significant amount of crime committed is when people are drunk which is not the case with cannabis. Cannabis isn’t killing a significant number of people, it goes from zero to a handful and alcohol in the U.K kills up to 30,00 people.

Why do you think the U.K is stricter than the U.S with cannabis use?

I think there’s more history in the states with cannabis consumption, it goes back way further, with the 50 different states, federal governments and 50 different opportunities to get progress to happen. And also the propositional voting you have in approximately in half of those states allows for a lot more progress.

How is cannabis safer than alcohol?

There was recently a study done in the U.S. relaying that cannabis is 114 times safer than alcohol, based on the risk around death and consumption. That’s a lot of a difference between the two!

In terms of what we do after the elections, we’re looking at ‘out there’ ideas like launching our own brand of alcohol that is very upfront about how risky and dangerous alcohol is.

What do you expect to get out of the election?

80% of people believe we should legalise recreational cannabis and it’s the key mover in people’s heads. Cannabis is evidently safer that alcohol and putting it in the title and being upfront about it puts the debate and facts out there at least. I’m looking to influence other candidates to make them more aware of the issue.

Other CISTA members came together to look at the most important ways of proving that cannabis should be taken out of the taboo category and embraced in society through regulation of the product, just like alcohol.

CISTA’s rhetoric is largely based around comparing cannabis with alcohol. The thesis of their argument is that marijuana is much less harmful to a consumer and the people around them than alcohol, and so the punishment for possession and distribution should be proportionately less severe.

Important points that were brought up was that alcohol that is available to the public, with         measures in place. Absinthe is an alcoholic beverage that has up to 90% of pure alcohol in it. It is perfectly within the law to consume at a bar or pub at the bartenders discretion. Although the    dangers are marginally higher than consuming a small amount of cannabis. Yet, if a person is caught with even less than five grams of cannabis, arrests can be made on the spot with a police record. The gap somehow does not add up between the two.

Sir Ian Blair, Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, saud in a letter to The Times, “The policing of possession of small amounts of cannabis has become increasingly pointless.”

If cannabis were to be regulated in a manner such as alcohol, with sensible public health guided regulatory interventions, the risks involved in using it would be greatly reduced. However, if the drug is illegal and out of the government’s hands, no progress can be made.

Matt Heenan, CISTA’s candidate in the Esher and Walton Constituency, suggested the key for bringing about change and development: ‘‘I’m going to be an open door and make it clear I’m in a strong position. The way forward is working with other candidates to negotiate with them about the legalisation of cannabis.’’

The war on drugs is a constant battle, but what about the war on wine? CISTA are rightly addressing the real menace that is out there. We’re keeping our joints crossed for the elections, since it would be pretty dope if CISTA won.

Article by Avneet Takhar