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We spoke to Paul Birch, founder and leader of Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol

Posted at 2:15 pm, May 6, 2015 in News

The Week_PAUL_FINAL

[Nathan James Page]

In the run-up to Thursday’s general election, we’ve been interviewing leading figures from the major parties. Ukip’s Nigel Farage, however, refused to talk to us. So we decided to speak to another single-issue party: Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol. Eddy Frankel meets its founder to talk about weed, herb and reefer madness.

Why is cannabis so important that you named your whole political party after it?

‘Well, it’s in our name because it’s the biggest illegal drug out there – but we’re actually looking at all of them. There are no real arguments against significant reform, it’s just that politicians are reluctant to get stuck in and make headway.’

So you’re using cannabis as a gateway to discuss the legalisation of all drugs?

‘Yes, cannabis is the one that people understand, and the one people support the most in terms of legalising. If you look at people under 35, there’s a significant majority in favour of legalising it. We’ve had a legalised, regulated alcohol market for many years, and cannabis is significantly safer. We can take the problem away from the police, out of the hands of criminals and normalise it as a business activity that’s regulated by the government.’

Is it really safer than alcohol?

‘Unequivocally, yes. There are no deaths from cannabis, but there are between 10,000 and 30,000 deaths a year from alcohol. Cannabis doesn’t incite violence in people, alcohol does.’

What about psychosis?

‘There is no causal link between cannabis and psychosis. There’s a correlation – but there’s also a very strong correlation between alcohol and nicotine consumption and psychosis.’

So what are the implications of legalising cannabis?

‘There will be a slight increase in the consumption of cannabis, and a slight decrease in the consumption of alcohol, short-term. The benefits are the increased taxes, the jobs created by the industry and the fact that there would be fewer people in prisons. Taxwise there could be up to a billion pounds and it would save the police huge amounts of time and money.’

You’ve got a staggering 32 candidates standing in the election. Why do you think you’ve you been so popular?

‘We formed just two months before the election. It’s popular because there’s a pent-up demand from people who want a platform to talk about the perverse nature of the current UK drug law. We’ve got a candidate in all the constituent parts of the UK, so we’re a national party, and we’ve got a decent number in London.’

Your candidate in Streatham is called ‘Artificial Beast’: won’t that put some people off?

‘That’s his DJ name. It’s an opportunity to draw more attention to himself on the ballot paper and hopefully get more votes. It’s a positive thing. It’s not for everyone, but I think it’s great.’

How do you combat the view that Cista is just a bunch of stoners?

‘It’s like saying the antiprohibitionists in the USA were all drunks. There are lots of reasons people get involved in this debate. It’s absolutely not just stoners, we’ve got some candidates who have never consumed cannabis in their lives, they just believe in the cause, the rationale, and they want to see positive change.’

How far do you want to go?

‘We will continue to exist for as long as we need to. We’re optimistic about disbanding in a reasonable time. If we’re still here in ten years, something has gone horribly wrong.’

What did you do before becoming the leader of Cista?

‘I was a tech entrepreneur, and now I’m a tech investor. I co-founded Bebo with my brother and sister-in-law and I’ve been doing internet start-ups since 1999. I’ve always just been interested in democracy, so part of founding Cista is looking at how things work.’

How did you get into smoking cannabis, then?

‘I’d never wanted to consume tobacco, which is why it took me until the age of 23 to try cannabis. But then I realised there was edible cannabis – chocolate in my case – and that got me into it. And now the whole vaping thing is the modern way of doing it. I’ve even stopped drinking alcohol. I feel healthier, I’ve lost weight. And now I don’t get any hangovers!’

What’s your favourite name for cannabis? Mine is ‘beef johnson’.

‘I like that. I used to call it ‘Bob Hope’. But I should find another name for political purposes. I’d steal yours but it doesn’t rhyme.’

Want more election chat? Read our interview with Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

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