Podcast Diaries: The Cannabis Conversation E19

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The Cannabis Conversation. A European perspective on the emerging legal cannabis industry.

Welcome to The Cannabis Conversation with Anuj Desai, where we explore the new legal cannabis industry by speaking to the professionals that are helping to shape it. It's been a pretty big week. The inaugural European Cannabis Week rounded off at the end of last week, which I mentioned on last week's show. Quite a few bits and pieces going on, but there were a couple of other big things going on as well, people flying in from all around the world, I think there was a debate at Parliament. The Center for Medicinal Cannabis released its most comprehensive CBD report in the UK. And the front page of the London Evening Standard was plastered with a cannabis leaf asking whether it's time to legalize cannabis.

So plenty going on, leads us nicely up to this week's show, which is actually about drug reform. And I'm interviewing a great guy called Paul North from an organization called Volteface, which is a drugs think tank. A really, really great organization that's been instrumental in changing a law. And we will hear a bit more from Paul now on where we are with the state of drug reform and what are the challenges ahead. Enjoy.

We're here today to talk about cannabis and drugs policy. And we're very fortunate to be able to do this interview from the Cannabis Europa Conference at the Southbank Center in a lovely glass booth, which is incredibly hot, but there are 1,200 people here today and I'm here with Paul North from Volteface. Paul is Director of External Affairs of Volteface and they are a drug policy think tank and one of the key drivers in changing the law back in November. Welcome Paul.

Cheers mate. Thanks for having me on. You made me sound very special when you said there were 1,200 people here.

Yeah, well, and I picked you.

And you picked me.

And I picked you.

Well, let's pretend you didn't have anybody else booked in as well. And we're missing the lunch, what dedication to the cause.

This is dedication. Yeah, it is.

Sweating and not eating.

A fantastic lunch being served just behind us, which we'll get to after, I hope. So, yeah. I mean, it's great to be here, isn't it?

Yeah. Yeah. It's amazing. The guys have come a long way since last year. The conference last year was brilliant. Really enjoyed it, but this feels a lot grander.

It's like a step up, isn't it?

Yeah.

Yeah, for sure.

Yeah. It's great. Really good.

Credit to them. So why don't we start with a bit about what Volteface do?

So I used to work in drug treatment and when people would say, "I work for a think tank." I thought, because obviously you're not really exposed to think tanks when you work in drug treatment, your days are spent seeing lots of problematic drug users. And I thought, because sometimes they used to come on the radio, "I work for a think tank." And I'd think, "Do they just sit in rooms and think?" I mean, they're like, "I've got an idea. Should we tell someone?" I mean, it kind of is that in a way, there's a lot of sitting in rooms, a lot of discussions around what our current drug policies are doing and a lot of thought and research into what they could look like.

So I guess ultimately, a classic day at Volteface involves thinking about our drug policy, talking to people who are involved in it, talking to people who want to be involved in it, and essentially our model as such is to write evidence-based reports, which stand up to academic eyes. Because I think what a lot of think tanks do is they produce reports, which are based on their ideology. So, they create an ideological position. They go, "We're a left wing or neo-liberal or whatever." And then they write reports which fit that ideological position.

And probably ignore stuff that doesn't fit that.

Yeah. Yeah. And they'll skip bits out which don't agree with it, which I'm kind of jealous of in a way, because that sounds quite, not easy, I'm discrediting people that do the job. It's not easy. But you know your lines. Whereas what we do at Volteface, what we've tried to do over the past five years is instead of just going, "This is what we want, that's our position." Instead, do the evidence and the research first and then formulate a position.

Now you could look at all our work and go, "Yeah, but you always come to the point where you recommend drug reform or you recommend a regulated cannabis market." But I think if you look at the evidence, that's kind of where you get to. So often our reports and the work that we do puts us in a position where we can engage to people and talk to them about things we can do differently with regards to our drug policy.

So that's good. So you're going in with not a specified outcome. It's more, "Let's see what we find and then-"

Yeah. Definitely. Definitely.

"... formulate our policy recommendations off the back of that?"

Yeah. Yeah. For sure. And-

Sorry, just to interrupt quickly, and Volteface, is it more than just cannabis? Is it wider drugs policy?

Yeah. So when we first started the think tank or an advocacy... We call ourselves an advocacy organization, because I think it better reflects what we do, but it was first set up about two and a half years ago now by Paul Birch and Steve Moore. Paul ran a political group called Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol. Paul just set this thing up, was like, "I want to change our cannabis laws. They're really bad." And he just made this political group called CISTA, Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol. And they should make a sitcom about some of the stuff that happened, because even though it had good intentions and it was full of really cool activist characters that I look up to and I've met over the past few years, really, really cool characters, it was all a bit mad. And Steve saw that and started speaking to Paul and kind of said, "If you want to do this, let's do it properly." So they set up Volteface to look at cannabis.

What's happened since then is lots of people have come to work through Volteface, there's been different iterations of groups. They get the guys that are running and settle this event, Cannabis Europa, all three of them, Alistair, George, and Henry all worked as directors when I first came in as a policy advisor and then they moved on to do other things. So you got all these different waves of people working for the organization, but there's always been this underlying passion for just drug reform generally. So we've done work on spice use in prisons, drug consumption rooms, drug festival testing, education, drug education. And that's all due to, there's this central thread of cannabis reform and I can talk about why that's there, but around that you see lots of people coming in and going, "Hey, I've got a real passion about this. I want to do something on it." But there's no doubt that cannabis is the main thread.

And I mean, that's really useful to know as well. I suspect that the reason that things are changing in part is due to a slightly more sophisticated approach to lobbying in this area. And-

I think so. Well, I mean, I think...

Advice.

This isn't a dig at groups that have existed and worked in this space for a long time by any means and I have great respect for everybody who campaigns in this space and tries to change reform. But I think what's happened for a long time is people have just sat in those ideological bubbles. So as I mentioned earlier when I was talking about what does a think tank do? What is a think tank? I think the left, there are lots of left wing think tanks that kind of just sit there and go, "Decrim all drugs." They just just say things over and over again.

"Prohibition kills people. Blah, blah, blah, blah." All these things that are really true and we need to act on, but they've not thought about the issue in a nuanced enough way to try and engage different sectors. And I think sometimes people, Volteface will go... So The Guardian wrote this big thing about us at the weekend and described us as a libertarian think tank. We're not a libertarian think tank. I've certainly not voted for any party that I'd describe a libertarian since I was 18. But I think because we branch out of one particular ideological bubble and don't just look like a left wing group saying left wing things over and over again, and we're talking about the establishment of markets and the economy, people would be like, "Oh my God, you're libertarians, you're talking about markets." But we're not. We're just creating work and producing work, which engages people from different ideological spectrums.

Some people might find this uncomfortable, but drug reform is not going to happen, it's not going to be owned by the left and just the left and only the left and left wing people saying over and over and over again that prohibition doesn't work. It's going to be owned by everybody of all ideological spectrums going, "We really need to do something differently about our cannabis laws." And I guess that's what we've been trying to do in a number of different ways. And also it just helps generally by continuing to create, not even create, it's there for people to see. But highlight how drug reform is not working in lots of different areas too, like drug consumption, rather than just going on about cannabis all the time.

I mean, that's great. The nuance is great. It's the art of persuasion, I suppose, finding areas of common ground and emotional resonance.

Yeah. And you've got to go to those fears. This sort of thing that I get quite animated around, as you can tell because I'm starting to articulate a bit. But if you want to create drug reform in this country, you've got to go to the things people are scared about, and you've got to have a conversation with them, engage them. I released a report a couple years ago, which I still get abused for, which was talking about how cannabis can be a problem and for some people, there are issues around THC and there's certainly a concern in this country around potency and there's a concern about mental health. If you want to reform drug laws in the UK, you have to go to that place and have that conversation.

And you've got to start there. And some people don't like that, it makes them uncomfortable because, "It's not true. THC, it's not even addictive. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." But again, they're just sitting in an ideological position without going, "I'm going to make myself uncomfortable and step outside of that." And if you want to change laws, you've got to go and say to people, "Talk to me about potency. What is it you're worried about? What are your fears?" And you can't just tell them that they're wrong, you've got to create work and evidence which shows that actually things will be better if we changed laws.

Yeah. I mean, I think it's particularly common in this area and one of the things that I wanted to do on our show. So we had an episode on cannabis and psychosis a few weeks ago to talk about that, because it is a concern for a lot of people. We possibly don't know all there is to know in this area, so I think it's a really good strategy for engaging with people. Okay. So why don't we talk a bit about, why. You mentioned why, what is the why for you?

Why did I get involved in it? Oh, why legalize? Or why did I get involved in it?

Yeah. Yeah. Why [crosstalk 00:09:25]. What's the why behind what Volteface are trying to do?

I think the why is driven by lots of individual motivations. So let everyone that works there, and I mean, I can only speak for myself, but everyone that works there will have their own reason for coming into this space and doing something about it. I think ultimately the why, organizationally is that we feel that every time we look at the UK drug laws, it looks like they're not working and the difference between drug laws and drug policy and cycling policy or any other sort of policy area you can think of, not every other, but most you can think of, it doesn't have the same level of death, deprivation, and horror that you see with drug reform. I worked in drug treatment for nine years. It was great. I loved it. And everyone that works in drug treatment, I've got most respectful for. It's a fantastic area to work in, but it's really difficult. And you do have to see some horrible sights, it's really grim.

And you see firsthand the harm and the damage that our drug policies do. You see people come in missing limbs, you see... Well, not so much see, but you see clients and then the next week, they die. You see horrific wounds and injuries. You just see people having problematic relationships with alcohol, cannabis, all sorts of stuff. And you see the damage that it's doing to their life and the criminalization of it. So the why question is, to me and to people that work for Volteface as an organization, some area that is worth doing something about. There's too much harm caused by [inaudible 00:10:45] policies. It's not just an inconvenience, it's literally someone's life ending. And I think it's one of the most urgent areas of policy that we need to review.

And if we can drill down on that a bit more, what would you say are the key tenets of what Volteface advocate, in particular in relation to cannabis?

I think again, I think we have to be nuanced with this because it's not always about us as an organization saying, "Here is the way we must do it." It's not always about us saying, "Here's our definition of what we should do in the UK with cannabis and everybody must follow it." Because we're an advocacy group, we don't have all the answers. So I think it's often about going to people of different groups and saying, "What would work for you? What do you think it needs to look like?" I think where we've got to at the point with Volteface and our work is, we've highlighted that our cannabis policies aren't working. All the work we've done today is saying, "This is an abject failure. This is wrong." And what that looks like, we've alluded to in previous reports that it's probably a regulated market, it's probably a sensibly regulated market of cannabis.

Across the board, medical and recreational?

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And so, I mean, we've not produced a seminal piece on that yet. I think our future years will be a case of, okay, now everybody realizes that these laws aren't working, what is it that we should do about it? And it's in that that we'll start to look more definitively at models. But personally speaking, I think that we definitely need a regulated market for cannabis. It definitely needs to be sensibly regulated, but not regulated to the point where it can defeat and remove the illicit market. I think it's fundamental that the regulatory restrictions you've put in place, don't hinder the market in eliminating the illicit market. Otherwise it's just a pointless process. You've now got two things you've got to manage, rather than just one. And I appreciate that's not easy, but you definitely want to see a progressional elimination of that market through sensible regulation.

And that's regulation that's going to have to make people across both ideological perspectives a little bit uncomfortable. Maybe the left will have to relent a little bit when it comes to marketing and advertisement and make the process of procuring cannabis enjoyable and fun. And maybe the right will have to relent a bit in terms of pricing and taxation and have, rather than just, "Let's see how much money we can make," be like, "Well now how do we eliminate the market?" So I think the most successful policy will be a little bit nuanced rather than just, it's this.

And crucially we've got to have medical cannabis programs which work for people. Personally, this is not Volteface's opinion, this is this mine from someone who was involved in Charlotte Caldwell's campaign and I keep my eye on what's happening when it comes to medical cannabis. I don't think it's going to work without a regulated market. The NHS is so bureaucratic and doctors are so resistant to things like cannabis on the whole that I don't see how it's going to work, unless we have years and years and years of bureaucracy. We could just create a regulated market, give people the option of medical cannabis, create a space and a system where you can go and get expert advice as a medical patient and just get the weed. Just go get it. If you want to try weed for X condition, walk in that place and buy it at an affordable price, that seems a way better system than go to your doctor, explain your systems, try all these other things. Just go get it, go get it and try it. It's not going to kill you. It's not an opiate.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. A really interesting and realistic spin on what we need to do, I think. Every one of those statistics, have you got any statistics you can throw at us? In terms of-

With regards to what?

Just, I guess the size of the market? The illicit market.

Oh. The market. Yeah. Yeah. So it's difficult to get an accurate number on how big the illicit market is just because it is so vast and because there's no system of regulation or control in it, who's to say how much money is being made? I've absolutely no doubt that it's in the realm of billions because obviously the profit, there's no taxation, there are very few outgoings for people. Well, there are some outgoings because you've got to grow the weed and that's costing you something. But it's quite low level of outgrowing, so pretty much all the money's going back to whoever's growing and selling it.

I mean, we had a Chris Snowdon from the Institute of Economic Affairs did a report last year around how big the market might be. And you can check it out if you just go on the IEA's website. It's a really interesting report. And I think he estimated in terms of taxation, it'd be around 700 million, but that was a very conservative estimate. So the establishment of a regulated market in the UK would make, conservative guess, around 700 million in taxation a year, which is a decent amount.

I mean, it's obviously nowhere near the level of alcohol and tobacco, but again, you're not going to instantly create a regulated market and [inaudible 00:15:00]. It's going to be something that people will have to gradually work out over time, but it's significant and it's important that the economic argument is made and that we highlight to people how jobs will be created, taxation be created, but fundamentally I think the social justice issue and the amount of death and deprivation and criminalization is the reason we should really push it forward. That sort of stuff is just a very useful-

Yeah. Yeah. I guess it is very hard to predict because you also can't predict by changing the landscape the new entrance to the market who won't be smoking, who'll be having teas, who'll be having drinks, and vaping and all the other things.

And it's so [inaudible 00:15:36]. I think sometimes people forget the scope of the regulated cannabis market and fall into the trap of just imagining someone smoking a joint. "Yeah. It's about people smoking joints." No, not at all, it's really exciting. There's oils, there's edibles, there's loads of different ways in which you can consume cannabis itself. And there's loads of different effects you can get from that method of consumption. And then furthermore, the number of strains and different levels of THC and CBD you can access just makes it a really exciting space. And I think there's a job to be done in the industry and people like ourselves, like policymakers, advocates, think tanks, in showing people what that looks like. And saying, this isn't just about people smoking weed. And at that, it's not just about them smoking street weed or weed that's got loads of THC.

It's a massive, exciting thing, but you just got to be careful. You have to be careful with that though, in that you don't want to strike too much fear and create a regulated model, which freaks out the social conservatives who are the main ponents, I guess if that's even a word, to cannabis reform. They're the main people saying, "We absolutely don't want this." And the reason they don't want it is because they fear a massive uptake in use and rising problems and loads of young people smoking it and [inaudible 00:16:42]. So you have to create a regulatory model, which doesn't like, "Oh my God, it's going to be crazy. Everyone's going to be taking all these fun products." You don't want that. You want somewhere in the middle that's like, "It's an exciting, enjoyable, new, innovative market, but also it's not going to cause chaos."

Yeah. And I think all of that has to be backed up with education, really. Educating the consumer, the wider public on what to do, what not to do. And at the moment, because it's so forbidden, there's just huge amounts of ignorance, I think.

Yeah. Massive ignorance. And one thing that I really liked about... So I used to spend a lot of time going into schools when I worked in drug treatment, spent a lot of time going into schools, talking to kids about these illicit drugs, this is what they'll do, blah, blah, blah. Here's what you need to know. And I think we did a good job. I think me and my team had feedback. We're pretty innovative. We didn't go in and go, "Drugs are bad. Don't do them. Drugs are terrible, scary. You could just die." We didn't do any of that rubbish. Instead we were like, "If you choose to take it, this is what you need to know. This is how it's going to affect you. This is what a problem looks like. If you get in this sort of situation, that's how you're going to get help. And addiction is not just as simple as, did you take it? Are you going to do it again?" It's much, much, much more complicated than that.

So when I come into this space, it was good to know that what's going on in Canada is that, in that regulatory model, the government have made money available to educate kids sensibly about the risks of cannabis. And that I would only support a regulated model here in the UK, which paid homage to that and recognized that a lot of this is about education. It's about being honest and straight up with people about drugs.

Yes. And acknowledging the bad parts, as well as the good parts, I think. Yeah. All that makes sense.

Which is often missing. The bad part is often missing and why I get a lot of flack from the community or various communities, because I'm quite up for talking about the harms of cannabis, because I feel like you've got to have that chat. You can't pretend it's some kind of miracle drug that doesn't have any problems. It cures cancer and does all these wonderful things and there's no side effects, it's really irresponsible. And again, you're back into that ideological bubble I talked about at the beginning. You're completely lacking nuance, completely lack nuance when you start to make really definitive statements like that.

And that objectivity as well.

Yeah, completely. So I think we have to, from the beginning, be like, "Look, cannabis has its risks and its dangers and in a regulated model, this is how we mitigate against some of those." And a huge bit of that is to educate.

Okay. So what do you think the major blockers of reform are in the UK?

The major blockers of reform, there are a couple. One is owned by the left and that is a fear of businesses and capitalism. So I think, I'll go across the ideological spectrum sort of thing. So on the far left, there's an inherent worry about capitalism. And the evil industry moving in and lurking in and blah, blah, blah. And obviously like with any fear, there's truth in it. It's never like just, "I've completely made this fear up and it doesn't make any sense." I know that happens sometimes, but it's not that frequent. So the left are right to have concerns around businesses and industry. They're right to bring it up, but I worry that what might happen if we left this to the left, and I'll come over to the right, I'm as critical of the right as I am the left. If we just left this to the left though, we'd just get stuck at decrim and we'd go, "Let's decrim it." Which obviously is good, right? I mean, I'd say-

So that's decriminalization?

Decriminalization. So what I mean by that is, you will not be persecuted for the possession of illicit drugs. You'll probably be persecuted if you're trying to sell them, manufacture them. But if you get stopped by a copper and you've got a bit of weed on you or a bit of coke or whatever else, in a decriminalized model, you shouldn't get in trouble. And the left are really happy with that because it ticks those boxes of social justice. And sometimes the left will kind of go, "That's my main focus. That's all I want. I don't really want business coming in and making money. I'm not pro-dealers, but I'm as comfortable with that as I am businesses. So I'm happy with decrim."

But it's tacitly endorsing criminal enterprise, right? Because who's going to sell it to you?

Essentially. And that's why I'm critical of decrim. I don't think... Decrim is definitely better than what we've got now, the first point. But it's nowhere near enough. You don't just stop there. And sometimes what happens when people go, "I want decrim." And this is a left wing thing. Then, "I don't want businesses coming in, I want just the government to do it." Now I mean, I don't know about anybody else, but the thought of the government selling drugs just seems pretty mad in itself.

So to answer your question, what are the blocks? Sometimes those fears become a blockage because it keeps industry away. It stops industry forming positive relationships and partnerships with groups. It starts spreading generally unhelpful rhetoric, which doesn't help move reform because how you create reform is a complex relationship between politicians, the public, and the media. And by pushing those arguments and those fears, you freak everybody out and you slow things down. So the left have a bit of work to do in terms of embracing regulation and being comfortable with industry coming in.

In the middle and the center ground, you don't have that many blocks. The Lib Dem party are obviously pro-regulated markets. And you tend to find on issues like this, the center ground are quite good. They form quite nuanced positions. And as we move over to the right, a big, big block is people's fear around what a regulated market would do and look like. And the reason that block exists is that drug policy is such an emotive issue. If you and I were to debate cycling policy with people around London today, we won't get much resistance. People's moral reactions wouldn't really come through. People would be like, "Yeah, cycling. I don't really care about it, but it's fine if you wanted to do it. I'm not really bothered."

It was funny that you brought up the word moral because I assume, and maybe this is unjustified, but the right's issues are underpinned by a moral objection to-

They are. They are. Ultimately, the left, there is a moralistic element there, but it's a bit more fear based, a bit more like capitalism, whereas on the right, you definitely get this very quick moral reaction of like, "No, it's wrong, drugs are wrong. We shouldn't reform our drug laws because drugs are a bad thing and people that use them should be put off them and people that sell them and produce them should be punished. They're just wrong." And there's these very quick gut reaction, typically held by social conservatives.

The Center for Social Justice did a report recently called The Case Against Legalization. And I mean, it wasn't a great report, it was quite critical. We kind of ripped it up, not literally, oh, we did literally [crosstalk 00:22:34] online. It was really bad. But it nailed down the social conservative position, which is kind of, "It should be illegal. We shouldn't be encouraging people to use and increase in their use. It's bad." That's a big barrier. So there is some progression there.

I mean, you look at The Mail, The Daily Mail run articles and headlines on cannabis possible every four to six weeks. And people are very critical of The Mail, "That's terrible, Daily Mail, blah, blah, blah, blah." But what The Mail are saying is our cannabis laws aren't working, which is a great starting point to engage them. That's a great start, because once you start to engage with that barrier, it's like, "Well, what do you think will work then?" A social conservative will say, "Well, more policing. We need to really clamp down." But if you just take them through a gentle process, they get to the conclusion of like, "Oh man, actually we can't do that. And that means they're going to prioritize cannabis over other things that are more bothered about." So you kind of unpick that and I think that's something that will happen in the next few years."

But yeah, big barrier that exists on the right is that like, "It's just wrong. We just shouldn't do it." And the other thing, it's quite a nuanced point, is that we don't have that many cannabis users in the UK, we've got like two to three million of a population of 65 million. That's not that many. We look at Canada, Canda have way more. I don't know their percentages, but they have way more cannabis users than we have here. They have much higher use [inaudible 00:23:42] people. So we have a level of ignorance around cannabis, not that many people are exposed to it. And yes, you've got cannabis activists that are doing great work here in the UK, but they're not really representative of a wider group. They're kind of seen by other people as, "They're the stoners, blah, blah, blah." You know what I mean?

And it's not really a drug that's owned and I don't think that's a fair label by the way, but I don't think it's a drug that's owned by a wider population. So when you're talking about it, you come up against a lot of moral, "No it's wrong." But also you come up against people going like, "Oh, what is it? It's just skunk, right?" And people not really understanding the drug.

That's a really good summary actually and I like the way that you characterized it across the political spectrum. We're kind of getting on a bit in the interview. So I might just jump over to your personal story if that's all right. So one of the things about podcasts I like to talk about is the idea around career change, because for this new industry or in general, everyone's probably done something before and you've mentioned it a couple of times that you're doing something different. What prompted you to move over more fully to-

Yeah. Yeah. It's a good question. So I liked working in treatment for nine years, running services, and then I got to a point where I was just really sick of people dying. Got really depressing.

I can imagine.

To start with, someone would die like every six months a year. This was about 11 years ago now, when I started off as a frontline worker. And I'd be like, "Oh, that's kind of shit, in it?" I mean, it's bad. It's bad any time you lose anybody in treatment, but it wasn't that frequent. By the end, it gradually got more and more. By the end, it was like every two, three weeks that another client had died and it just became this thing where it'd just be casually mentioned in a conversation.

I remember sat at my desk once they were like, "Oh yeah, Richard's dead." And I'd be like, "Oh, what? Pardon?" He was a guy that I'd known for like six years. I spoke to him every other day, great relationship with him. "YEah, yeah. He died last week. On the Friday. You were off on Monday, so you missed it. But yeah, he's collapsed and choked on his own vomit." And the worker wasn't being rude, I've no qualms against the worker. It was just the normalization of people dying.

Yeah, I was going to say. Yeah.

And I was like, "Man, you should have taken me in a room or something. You can't just tell me that now." And then they go for years, and they're like, "Oh, sorry. Like everybody knows." And I was like, "Well, I didn't." And again, it's not the workers' fault, it was just like cultural thing where people dying was just really normal. And I thought like, "Right." I was 30 and I thought, "I can keep doing this." And I got to a managerial position, so I could probably end up being a director at one of these organizations or something. I thought, "I'll probably keep doing this, or I could try and do something different."

And then I think it was just really good timing because as I started to think, "Oh, I think I want to do something different. I think I want to do something that tries to make a difference to all this death and deprivation and the harm that I was seeing." And then Lizzie just got in touch, who's now the other director at Volteface, and owns Volteface with us. And she interviewed me for a report that she was writing and I was applying to do a PhD at the same time. So I was like, "Maybe I'll be an academic." And I thought, these guys seem to be well funded. I've got lots of experience on this. Maybe I'll just go down and meet them.

And that just started a process of gradually moving over and working for Volteface where they sussed me out. And I met Steve a few times, who ran it at the time, wrote a few things for them. And then eventually it was like, "Do you want to just come and work in this space?" And my personal circumstances were such where I could be like, "Yeah, I could just move to London and go for it and do it." And you kind of look around, how much this has grown from last year to this year, there's loads going on in this space. There's countless people, this no joke, who've emailed us or just come into the office and been like, "Oh, is there jobs going?" And I'm like, "Well, if we were recruiting, we'd put something up. We're not recruiting. But come into the office, I'll meet you for a coffee and I'll introduce you to some people."

I've got loads of time for anybody that wants to work in this space, and then they've gone to a First Wednesdays or something or this, that, and the other. And then they're around here now having jobs, working for Hanway, organizing Cannabis Europa. I recognize a lot of the people working for Hanway just because they've got in touch saying they want a job in this space. And they come from loads of different backgrounds. I was a bit upset over the weekend at a piece that was written by The Guardian, which was making out like the industry's this big evil lurching machine coming in. It was a terrible piece of journalism.

It wasn't good.

Because come down, it's just not true. I get people's fear of the industry, but come and actually meet the people, come and meet the guy that was just working for Aurora. Come and have these conversations and talk to them about opportunities that exist. And I guarantee you, it will lead to more conversations. I can't guarantee it'll lead to a job, but definitely to more conversations. And my experience just working is that the more conversations you have around something you wanted to do, you gradually find yourself in that space.

Completely. This was my journey, really. It was this conference a year ago. It was my first experience in the legal cannabis industry and I from then on just went to more talks and met more people and I now decided to start podcast-

What do you think about it? What'd you think about the the industry's this evil lurching thing? What's your take? You speak to plenty of people.

What do I think about it? I think there's a lot of money coming into it, but that's understandable. I think what was happening before was it was too activist and it's why it didn't move on that much in my limited experience. And I think it needed a step change in order to facilitate something like this. And unfortunately, you have to take the fact that there's going to be corporate elements to it, but actually that corporate elements can drive some really good stuff as well. And again, if you can have a balance of effective regulation, then probably got the right checks and balances and stuff.

And then I think it's important activists, or people that have been in this space a long time that might feel miffed about the industry turning up, go and engage the industry. And if you want to read any book or speak to anybody around engagement, what works, it is about being frank and open about people, but also being welcoming.

Well, thank you for that. So just our last question, my customary last question is, what did your parents say when you told them you were going to be a drug advocate?

Well, they're like, I think my parents have gone for a bit of a journey with me. I worked in treatment for a long time and they've always known that my position has never been drugs are bad and that I don't like the term pro-drugs, because what does that even mean? But I've always been very open to using drugs and illicit drugs. So for them, I don't think it came as a particular shock, just to have a really honest and open relationship with them. They know that I'm pretty chilled about this sort of thing. They know that I like to go to lots of festivals and I volunteer for The Loop and stuff and do drug testing at The Loop. So I don't think it was too much of a shock in that sense. They're excited by it. I mean, they watch my Twitter stuff, unfortunately they see all the abuse I get, but that's balanced out by coming to events in parliament.

But that's Twitter in general, isn't it?

Twitter is an evil [crosstalk 00:29:48].

It's quite hard to not get abused on that platform.

Yeah. I think they kind of enjoy me doing it.

Yeah. That's great, man. I'm really glad. And I love the way that you guys think about stuff. So it's great that you are fighting the good fight and putting a really objective and balanced view across. So...

Cheers, mate. I appreciate that.

Thank you very much for joining me and I'm sure we can have another chat in about six months' time with a big update.

Yeah. Or a chat in 10 minutes, but with food.

Yeah. Let's eat some food.

Thanks for your time.

Cool. Thank you. Cheers.

Thanks for joining me for that. I hope you enjoyed it. Paul's a great guy and a really good, interesting interview, actually, think he summed up a lot of stuff around the left and the right's approach to these sort of things and as ever, the truth and the sense lie somewhere in between. It was really great to do a podcast at the conference on many levels. I got to meet loads of great people, but it's sort of one of Europe's premier cannabis conferences. So I was honored to be given some time in the booth.

Like I said, it's been a really big week and if we go back to that CMC, which is the Center for Medicinal Cannabis report on CBD that they released last Thursday, that's the most comprehensive study we've had in the UK and it already indicated that the market estimate at the moment is 300 million pounds for the CBD market, which is already bigger than the vitamin C and vitamin D supplement industries together, which is huge. And there's plenty of other stuff about the quality of CBD products out there and various other great bits of information. So I would highly recommend reading that.

The other thing I mentioned was the front page of The Evening Standard, which revealed that 63% of Londoners are pro-legalization. But more than that, it's a huge sign of the times when a major newspaper is A, putting that on its front cover, and B, asking such direct questions. I hope you're finding it really interesting and it clearly shows it's a very exciting time to be involved. I'm feeling more and more vindicated by jumping in with two feet. As I mentioned, I quit the day job last week, so yeah, this is the brave new world for me. But I hope you're finding this series interesting as well. And some of what Paul said hopefully is enticing you to have a look at maybe a career change into cannabis.

Anyway, there's certainly plenty of things to get involved in if you're up for it, and I would suggest start by coming to First Wednesdays. Anyway, as always, please like, subscribe, share, send me any bits of information you want to, any feedback, any good topics you want to get covered, any good guest you want to put forward, any of that stuff and I'll leave you be and catch you next week.

 

Show Notes:

In this episode, we speak to Paul North, Director of External Affairs at Volteface - a drugs think tank. We discuss drug policy reform, how far we've come and the challenges ahead.
Find out more about Volteface - https://volteface.me/