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The Scottish doctor fighting for legalisation

Updated: Jul 19, 2022

Dr Brian Walker discusses Cannabis legalisation and the global “Green Wave”

By Mireia Jimenez

"TGA Genetics Chernobyl Medical Cannabis Sativa (Dominant)" by Jordan Greentree is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

It is currently impossible to ignore the great changes happening on an international scale regarding the decriminalisation and legalisation of Cannabis. Around 50 countries currently allow the medical use of the plant in 2022, and another 16 allow some components originating from it. The complete legalisation of the drug in the past 5 years in Canada, Mexico and Malta is now only a prelude to what is coming. By the end of 2022, the United States and Germany plan to legalise it at a federal level, a fact that has brought the world’s attention to the benefits of this plant on both medical and recreational grounds.

Not long ago, I was contacted by Dr Craig Buchanan, Chief of Staff to Western Australian MP Dr Brian Walker of the Cannabis Legalisation Party. Dr Buchanan is a former student at the University of Aberdeen and former warden of Hillhead Student Village in the early 2000s, a job that he deemed “impossible” while he was doing his PhD. Dr Walker, also Scottish, completed his medical training in Dundee’s Ninewells Hospital & Medical Centre and became a medical practitioner in over five different countries before getting into politics. A medical practitioner advocating for Cannabis legalisation in the realm of politics is not something you see every day, so I decided to pursue an interview.

Dr Walker, you are a medical practitioner who has worked in several countries such as Scotland, Russia, Germany, Hong Kong, and now Australia. What led you to join the Legalisation Party?

“I am the doctor who came into politics because he was angry. Angry at my patients not getting access to the treatments they need. Angry at the idiocy of a health service which allows people to slowly die in pain. (...) This drug here is way safer than alcohol.”

You have said in your campaign that Cannabis is the safest drug you can ever prescribe, even more than Paracetamol. Why is that?

“First of all, get the idea that Cannabis is a dangerous drug out of the way. Cannabis is a plant. (...) The drugs we allow generally go through the LD50 (Lethal Dose 50) pharmacological test. In the United States, a great cause of death is properly prescribed medication, which has been properly administered. (...) The total deaths every year is 120.000. We are killing people on a regular basis, as doctors. The number of deaths you get from Cannabis on an annual basis is zero. They tried to get the Lethal Dose for Cannabis, but they haven’t found it yet.

Is Cannabis all beneficial to you?

“Not at all. You can do bad things with Cannabis. In particular, the THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) component can do nasty things to you, if you don’t use it properly. (...) Some people use it to get “stoned”, I think that is a stupid way of leading your life. But if you want to do that, you should be free to do so. (...) Personally, I think smoking is the worst way of taking Cannabis. There are better ways such as vaping, and new products coming up such as inhalers, or through oral or topic (skin) use. We are getting more pharmacological advances every day. It is not addictive like cocaine or heroin. Only ten per cent of the people who use THC might become dependent on it. It’s the safest drug I can give. It should be recognised as a safe and healthy healing herb, but it also should be used properly.”

Knowing this, why has Cannabis been criminalised for so long in most countries?

“First we have to recognise where these (stereotypes) come from. (...) The real horror began when America started to politicise it, turning it into fear and the “reefer madness”, saying, “if you take this, you will go mad”. Fear is a wonderful tool for getting people to do what you want. Even now this can be seen in society.

“The police in Australia speak of Cannabis as very dangerous because it has been given into the hands of criminals who may want to mix Cannabis with, say, methamphetamine, to make people addicted. (...) If you put people into the criminal realm, criminal things will happen. They [the police] find Cannabis a very useful tool to make the reason for their job evident. (...) Because we have criminalised illicit drugs we have also increased criminality. We should also be aware that the definition of “illicit drug” depends on the law given. In Saudi Arabia, for example, alcohol is an illicit drug. The drug itself is not the problem, but how we treat it. In Portugal, they decriminalised all drugs in 2001. What happened? Criminality, deaths and alcoholism have gone down, and people have returned to the workforce. We need to medicalise the access to these drugs.”

Why do the decriminalisation and legalisation processes take so long if we know that it increases criminality and endangers those who buy them?

“The answer is simple: stupid politicians. This logic is overwhelmed by one essential fact. If I (as a politician) am perceived as “soft” on drugs, I may lose votes. Therefore, I am going to be perceived to be “hard” on drugs instead.

All facts and figures do not matter, the votes do. Helping the people does not matter as long as I get voted for again. It is all about perception.”

Despite this, there is certainly a “green wave” sweeping most Western countries, and non-Western too. This has been the case for Malta, Georgia and Uruguay, and now Germany and the US. Where is Australia in all this?

“I’m of the firm opinion that Cannabis will become legalised in most countries of the world, it is only a matter of time. Australia is slow. I think we can push here and make a good political case for legalising Cannabis quicker than if we let things go organically. But I also think that psychedelics will get access quicker than Cannabis since there is a bigger medical approach to them regarding PTSD or depression. Once that happens Cannabis will be easier to achieve. (...) The Endocannabinoid System in our bodies affects so many organs, we have only begun to scrape the surface of what we can do.”

Dr Craig Buchanan added his own comment regarding drug regulations at the State level:

“The states here [in Australia] retained the power over everything politically, which is opposite to what happened with the Act of Union where everything went to Westminster. So in one sense, we are fortunate in that our states still retain power over health and law, but as a result, it will be a long process for us to change things.”

What are the benefits of decriminalising Cannabis at a State level?

“When you look at the hemp industry, Cannabis is only 5% of the total. It is a multi-billion dollar industry that we are depriving ourselves of because we are frightened of THC. (...) We are also creating models from America, Canada and Europe regarding the taxation of Cannabis and the revenue potential is immense. We could fund plenty of hospitals, rehabilitation units, etc. (...) The environmental impact of this is huge. In Australia hemp can help improve our topsoil and aid with reforestation. The carbon capture from hemp is massively greater than from trees.

How can we fight the stereotypes and prejudices towards Cannabis consumption and use, both medical and recreational?

“All we can do is educate and believe in the science related to it. Explaining terms such as Cannabinoid, Terpenes or the Endocannabinoid System; how it works, what it does, etc. Bit by bit people will realise with more of an open mind and less critical thinking. But, for many people, it will still be perceived as a dangerous drug due to this propaganda.”


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