The following is an open letter I wrote to Serge Lebigot from Parents Contre La Drogue after seeing a Facebook post by NORML France, in which they encouraged activists in the cannabis world to respond to Lebigot’s accusations that cannabis advocates are ‘teddy bears’ and ‘utopians’.
Serge Lebigot is not exactly a public figure. It is difficult to find any meaningful article online, his YouTube videos average on the 70 views or so. His organization has no signs of having collaborators. In his outdated website he markets books about the dangers of cannabis. These books are authored by himself. It is seemingly a one-man show, and not a successful one at that.
But I still wanted to answer. Not just to him, but to the entire French and global public, and especially those that currently oppose the legalisation of cannabis.
France is a special country when it comes to cannabis
There is an enormous gap between the habits of French people in real life and the laws of France that govern its people. It is estimated that 11% of adults aged 18–64 are cannabis users. For those aged 18–34, the figure doubles at 22%. Prohibition Partners estimate 5 million people participate in this market. Yet France counts with some of the most repressive cannabis policies in Europe and is among the last countries to consider cannabis consumption a crime. People caught smoking on the street can get fines for over 3,000 euros and prison sentences.
It is true that the French government announced plans to soften penalties for cannabis use, exchanging prison sentences for on-the-spot fines. However, this is a purely pragmatic change designed to alleviate police resources. The French government is still opposed to legalising cannabis, and has little consideration for its potential to do good to its economy and society.
It doesn’t seem logical for a government to spend resources on policing 5 million people for consuming something that is less harmful than tobacco and alcohol, and something that has such a huge proven wellness potential. It goes counter to science and logic.
Prohibition means wasting scientific opportunities to investigate cannabis and its effects better. Prohibition sustains a black market that provides low quality products with no standards or information that truly put French citizens in danger.
If the safety and wellbeing of the French people are the number one priority, then legalisation is the most responsible and only step.
Below my letter to Serge Lebigot from Parents Contre la Drogue.
Open letter to Serge Lebigot and Parents contre la drogue
Dear S. Lebigot,
Following your recent publications and your criticisms towards NORML France, I’d like to take the opportunity to introduce my point of view as a cannabis patient and neutral Swiss citizen.
I’ve be suffering from a rare genetic disease since the age of 15. I had to quit school. I had to leave my job that I had outside of school. For years, I wasn’t able to do much. My hands are painful, and there are a number of things I can’t do with them.
All the painkillers prescribed by my doctors failed to help. Where the pain would go away, side effects would be the next thing not allowing me to function normally. To me, the biggest benefit of cannabis was the absence of any negative secondary effects. Thanks to cannabis, I am now 32, living almost “normally” and feeling good.
I looked carefully at your website and was very surprise that “your drug catalogue” didn’t mention products like Cortisone, Prozac, Xanax, Ritalin, Oxycodone, and many more that are indeed ‘legal drugs’ but have disastrous secondary effects. A lot of those products are highly addictive.
In contrast, the latest scientific studies highlight cannabis as being one of the least addictive substances, far behind coffee, cigarettes or alcohol. In fact, people suffering from severe addictions of any kind could turn to legal, safe cannabis as a means of treatment.
I’ve spent the last 15 years studying the various uses of cannabis. In those years, I’ve been in contact with hundreds of self-medicated patients that have benefitted from cannabis in different ways, using oils, topicals, edibles, inhalations, and of course smoking the flowers. It has also worked for them. A lot of these patients live in France. They have to medicate in hiding…
You are right, today, unfortunately, we don’t know nearly as much about cannabis as we should. There are serious limitations to the research we can do nowadays, due to the current regulations. Nevertheless, various studies, experiences around the world and centuries of cannabis history have given us evidence that prohibition has not been beneficial for society. And we know enough to start with a regulation that would guarantee safe use of cannabis.
I’m in contact with the desperate parents of epileptic children. For them, the use of cannabis has resulted in tremendous changes in the lives of their children. I’ve heard the same story from retired people paralysed by Parkinson’s ‘prescribed treatments’. Cannabis changed their lives, allowing them to feel normal and bringing them comfort.
I could prepare a very long list of names of patients I’m directly in contact with. This is no “internet fake news”. These are people who use cannabis now and have seen their lives changed despite having to deal with severe Epylepsia, Parkinson’s, fibromylgia, Multiple sclerosis, cancer, Muscle pain, Arthritis, ADHD, Anxiety and many more pathologies.
A well-thought regulation would not only provide a safer environment for these patients. It would open the doors to studies that go wider and deeper. It would help educate people, yes, also creating prevention mechanisms for young people and other groups of the population. But also educate doctors to prescribe cannabis instead of synthetic drugs in cases where it is the right thing to do. All my grand-parents currently use cannabis to treat their arthritis and spasms.
With everything we know today, it would be easy to create safe standards for products, and regulate quality and access. If cannabis is properly regulated and the black market removed, it will be much harder for minors to get cannabis. This is something that even you should advocate for.
I will not get in the game of listing dozens of scientific studies. If you are looking for relevant references I recommend two sources. These are both scientists that have been involved in their communities and, backed by science, are trying to improve the lives of the people in it with cannabis.
Dr. Jokūbas Žiburkus is a Lithuanian neuroscientist based at the University of Houston. He has spent most of his scientific career researching treatments for severe neurological disorders. He has found that cannabis is effective in alleviating some of the most severe and painful symptoms children can go through, with CBD being especially interesting because of its lack of the psychoactive THC.
David Nutt is a British neuropsychopharmacologist who has led psychiatry and pharmacology in various institutions and served in the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), as Chair of the Technical Committee as well as Chairman. While in government, his research concluded that cannabis is, if not completely harmless, one of the least harmful and addictive substances, far less so than caffeine, alcohol and tobacco. He continues to advocate laws that better match what science reveals to us to be better.
If we are to talk about what this regulation would look like, and why it would be better than the current regime of prohibition, we could break it down into its main components:
- Distribution: Legal physical points of sale would guarantee that only adults with valid ID gain access to recreational cannabis. Access to medical cannabis should be limited to patients with prescriptions from doctors with cannabis education.
- Taxes: A well balanced tax regime allowing for competitive cannabis prices will drive the black market, with its inferior quality products, out of competition. Dealers will disappear from neighbourhoods and schools, and with them, ‘dirty’ cannabis, synthetic cannabis and many dangerous products the black markets uses to make the cannabis heavier.
- Product quality control: regulated products translate into safer use and treatments for any kind of patients: adults, children and the elder.
Cannabis legalization is not a utopia. It already exists and is helping thousands of patients, including children, for more than 20 years. Beyond therapeutic cannabis, in Canada, Uruguay and various states in the US, recreational cannabis has been legalized, with positive impact on their societies and economies.
I understand you are not interested in the use of cannabis for yourself, and I’m glad you’re in good health and don’t need medication.
Unfortunately, around the world, many people suffer everyday from various conditions where cannabis can be a real help without the side effects of synthetic medicines. It’s an act of kindness not to condemn them, and to help them find some comfort by guaranteeing a safe access to the treatment they wish to have, instead of criminalizing them.