A campaigning police boss is calling for jails to trial giving free cannabis to prisoners to help them overcome their drug problems and reduce prison violence.
North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones, a former police inspector, says the radical idea could also prevent overdose deaths in prisons.
In 2018 a prisoner called Luke Morris Jones, 22, from Blaenau Ffestiniog, died at HMP Berwyn after taking Spice.
Speaking during an interview for the Guardian newspaper, Mr Jones said 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 to manage their dependence.
Others that are commonly prescribed include strong analgesics such as pregabalin and gabapentinoids – all of which are addictive and potentially dangerous drugs.
It was revealed by the Guardian 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.
In the UK the use of cannabis recreationally is against the law but it has been legalised to be used for medical purposes.
But, says Mr Jones, access to full extract oil through the NHS is virtually impossible.
Mr Jones said: “Opioids are a damn sight more dangerous than cannabis. If they’re on opioids, why can’t they be prescribed cannabis?
“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.”
Using recreational cannabis remains illegal in the UK but the plant has been legalised for medical use, though with significant restrictions.
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”.
More generally, Mr Jones has also called for cannabis to be regulated to cut out organised crime and allow people to grow a limited amount of it for their own personal use.
He believes that prohibition is counter-productive and it should be legally controlled just like alcohol and tobacco which caused more harm to individuals and society in general.
He added: “It is a nonsense to criminalise people who take cannabis for recreational use and cause no harm to anybody else.
“The best way to reduce the role of organised crime in the supply of drugs is to put it in commercial hands and to price it appropriately so people don't need to go to the illegal market.
“Commercial organisations have taken over the medicinal cannabis market and are selling prescriptions at a vast cost even though it is cheap to grow. That’s just “exploitation in my book.
“My view is that people should be allowed to grow a limited number of cannabis plants for their own use.”