A police boss has called for prisons to trial free cannabis for inmates to see if it reduces drug deaths.
North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones, of Plaid Cymru, believes it could also help drug-dependent prisoners overcome opioid addiction and bring down levels of violence.
According to Mr Jones, if justice authorities were serious about reducing harms and violence in prisons, “they should be addressing the causes” such as the cheap synthetic cannabinoid Spice that is rife and can be deadly, as opposed to cannabis.
Use of illegal drugs is widespread in prisons and many prisoners lawfully receive heroin substitutes such as methadone and buprenorphine. Others that are commonly prescribed include strong analgesics such as pregabalin and gabapentinoids – all of which are addictive and potentially dangerous drugs.
Mr Jones told the Guardian: “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.
“If they’re on opioids, why can’t they be prescribed cannabis?”
It was revealed last month that more than 300 prison officers and outside staff have been dismissed or convicted for bringing prohibited items – which can include drugs, tobacco and mobile phones – into jails in England and Wales over the past five years.
The commissioner, a former police inspector and long-time advocate of drug reform, is calling for cannabis trials to be held at a number of prisons, including HMP Berwyn in Wrexham where in 2018 a prisoner called Luke Morris Jones, 22, from Blaenau Ffestiniog, died after taking Spice.
Using recreational cannabis is illegal in the UK but the plant has been legalised for medical purposes. However, Mr Jones says getting access to full extract oil through the NHS is virtually impossible.
He said: “Let’s supply cannabis in controlled conditions and see if offences reduce.
“The aim of the game is to make prisons safer. If they’re serious about reducing violence in prisons they should be addressing the causes and that’s psychoactive substances. Plus there’s a whole range of issues that cannabis would be geared to reduce the risk of.”
The idea of trialling free cannabis in prisons was floated in 2018 by the pharmacologist Dr Stephanie Sharp.
She said that leaving prisoners to smoke spice was “condemning them to death” and that allowing then to smoke cannabis would be “much safer.”
Overall in the UK, the number of recorded drug finds in prisons increased by 18% in 2019-20, to 21,575, with psychoactive substances fuelling the growth.