After a string of lethal overdoses in Scottish prisons, one doctor says giving cannabis to prison inmates could prevent deaths going forward. A part of the United Kingdom, Scotland is wrestling with its own failed drug war. The symptoms of this failure are familiar. A thriving illegal market, massive resources devoted to enforcement and incarceration and steadily increasing drug-related harm and death.
Prisoners Are “Condemned To Death” Due To Cannabis Prohibition, Expert Says
UK law completely forbids the possession, use and sale of cannabis within its borders. Even medical marijuana is illegal (as it is under federal law in the United States).
Yet the punitive approach isn’t producing results, argues pharmacologist Dr. Stephanie Sharp. Sharp argues that full legalization is the only way to prevent drug-related deaths.
In particular, the doctor says giving cannabis to prison inmates could prevent deaths from the “zombie drug” Spice, a synthetic cannabinoid.
In 2016, Scotland saw nearly a thousand deaths from drug use. Many argue that fifty years of prohibition has spread harm. There are now more than 380,000 Scots suffering from drug abuse and addiction, according to the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse.
As might be expected, the Scottish prison population is largely made up of non-violent drug offenders. And the majority of those are cannabis crimes.
In 2014, cannabis offenses accounted for 67 percent of all police recorded drug violations in the UK.
Responding with punishment instead of treatment has further led to a rash of drug-related deaths inside prisons themselves. Both correctional officers and inmates have died from using dangerous, synthetic drugs.
And that’s why Dr. Stephanie Sharp wants to get cannabis to inmates behind bars. Failure to do so, Sharp says, amounts to condemning inmates to death at the hands of synthetic substances.
Dr. Stephanie Sharp is a pharmacologist and co-founder of Glasgow Expert Witness Service. She says synthetic cannabis and other dangerous psychoactive drugs are making their way into Scotland’s jails and prisons.
Thanks to some legal loopholes, synthetic cannabinoids are readily and legally available in the UK and the US. These chemicals are blended with smokable herbs to make what users call “Spice” or “K2.”
These synthetic drugs are regularly deemed illegal. But manufacturers just change some of the ingredients, and the product becomes legal again.
The synthetic nature of these cannabinoids makes their potency much higher than natural plant cannabinoids like THC. As a result, users can suffer from serious side-effects. Some can even die from adverse reactions to the synthetic drug.
Therefore, letting prisoners have “the real thing” would prevent them and prison staff from serious injury or death, argues Sharp.
Indeed, there is no known lethal dose of cannabis. No one has ever died from an overdose of marijuana.
The recent death of an inmate due to Spice sparked Sharp to push for the admittance of natural cannabis into Scotland’s jails.
And it’s not just inmates lives that are at risk. Last year, three Scots correctional officers went to the hospital after inhaling smoke from an inmate using Spice in his cell.
Legalizing and monitoring cannabis use, even among inmates, would spare inmates and staff these significant health risks, argues Sharp. “We should accept people will take drugs and we should keep them safe by allowing them to get it through pharmacists,” Sharp said.