It has been well proven that cannabis can help to curb opioid addiction. After worrying statistics documenting the number of UK prisoners addicted to heroin and other opioids has been released, a UK police and crime commissioner has recommended a pilot scheme to provide inmates struggling with addiction cannabis. This programme would hope to curb opioid deaths in prisons, by providing inmates with a safe alternative. It would also hope to curb the presence of synthetic ‘spice’, which is a dangerous and possibly deadly alternative to cannabis, rife in prisons.
Afron Jones, a North Wales PCC, suggests that, despite the strict regulations within HM Prisons, there are many issues of continued usage and addiction within the facilities. There has been a worrying increase in drug-related deaths in policy custody. Legal prescription drugs, given to prisoners to help them with heroin addictions, are the cause of many of these deaths. Prescription heroin substitutes, such as methadone and buprenorphine, alongside common analgesics, such as pregabalin and gabapentinoids are prescribed regularly to prisoners. These drugs are highly addictive and often have harmful qualities.
Jones, therefore, seeks to replace these harmful and addictive substances with cannabis in UK prisons. Cannabis has been proven to lessen the effects of opiate withdrawal, and consequently provide a safe alternative to these drugs. It also provides a safe and natural alternative to synthetic ‘spice’ – which involved in the majority of drug-related deaths in prisons since 2018.
In 2020, the Guardian revealed that over 300 prison officials have been convicted or dismissed for smuggling prohibited items, often drugs, into prisons. The COVID-19 lockdown restrictions have only further proved the issue. Drug related incidents in prisons have not declined during this period, demonstrating that guards are smuggling the vast majority of drugs in. Jones stated, in an interview with The Guardian, “If they’re on opioids, why can’t they be prescribed cannabis? At the end of the day, opioids are a damn sight more dangerous than cannabis. It would be an improvement on the illegal spice smuggled in by corrupt prison officers too.”
Jones proposes a pilot scheme in which inmates are provided with cannabis, in a regulated way. This would enable guards to have legal records of the drugs being consumed, reduce opioid addiction in prison, and reduce the consumption of harmful spice. This proposal would make prisons a safer environment, and encourage the rehabilitation of inmates who struggle with addiction.
The UK Prison service continue to state that they have a ‘zero-tolerance’ drug policy in prisons, however, the evidence clearly states otherwise. It is clear that drug reform is needed in prisons, and cannabis could be a clear answer.