The Case For Legalising Cannabis
So we’re going to take a break from our usual antics here at Sick Chirpse and discuss the serious topic that is: cannabis legalisation. So before we begin, I think it’s necessary to outline the law as it currently stands regarding cannabis for those not in the know. Currently, in the UK, Cannabis is a class B drug; this means that if you are caught in possession you could, depending on the amount you possess and/or have been caught with in the past, be given up to 5 years in prison and an unlimited fine.
Either way, if you are found in possession of any amount of cannabis you can be arrested and carted off to a police station and treated like a common criminal. The law states that first time offenders will usually be given a caution (or a ‘cannabis warning’ as they like to call it), whilst your second offence will usually result in an on-the-spot fine of £80. Being caught in possession of cannabis for a third time will defo get you a night in the cells leading to criminal charges being brought against you with a large fine and/or more jail time. Just a few months ago, a home office minister said that cannabis will definitely not be legalised or decriminalized for the foreseeable future; so what then, are their arguments and reasons for keeping it as an illegal, class B drug?
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Cannabis Is More Harmful Than Ever
So this is probably the most common argument against legalisation. It is primarily based off relatively weak scientific and anecdotal evidence that regular cannabis use can lead to future mental health problems. According to a report released in December last year by the UK Drug Policy Commission (that is made up of Professors, Dame’s and other professionals who specialize in health and drug research), there is ‘strong evidence’ that cannabis can be associated with short-term psychotic symptoms, delusions, short-term memory loss and the ’munchies’ – well duur, you don’t need a degree in medicine to work that one that!
Now we all know that drugs have short-term effects, that’s pretty much the whole point of them; what the report does go on to say, however, is that there is no real solid evidence to suggest a relationship between cannabis and the development of serious mental health conditions such as schizophrenia. They describe this evidence as being ‘weak at best’, and go on to describe how studies have shown that there ‘might’ be a link between very heavy cannabis use from a very early age with the onset of an already pre-existing mental health condition.
There is a very strong genetic element here. Basically, they say that if you have a strong predisposition towards developing a certain mental illness, then being a regular, heavy cannabis user from a very early age could increase the onset of these mental health conditions. I’ve heard reports on the news (and the media loves to use stories like these) of individuals who developed schizophrenia in their early twenties blaming it on their history of cannabis use. Whilst the study shows that this is possible (however unlikely), we should not immediately assume that correlation implies causation. Most people who develop conditions such as schizophrenia will usually develop them in early adulthood anyway, regardless of whether or not they have a history of cannabis use. So we must not assume that there must be a causal relation between the two.
It’s also important to bear in mind that this is a slight increase in what was already a very low risk, as our genetics play a key part. The report suggests that the risk is only related to heavy users who start from their early-mid teens. Also, despite a large increase in cannabis use in the later part of last century, there has been no recorded similar increase in psychotic disorders. So is this really a good argument when we know for a fact that there are so many other legal drugs that definitely can cause major health problems? Is the extremely small percentage chance that genetically predisposed heavy cannabis users will develop a mental health condition really a strong argument for its criminalization?
The report does not go as far as recommending complete legalisation, but suggests that (within the scope of the UK’s current drug laws) it should be declassified to a class C drug and possession for small amounts should be decriminalized. I think it’s also important for me to state here that I’m not categorically saying that cannabis is safe or beneficial to mental health, I’m simply stating that at this current moment in time there is no real scientific evidence to back up the arguement that it is too dangerous to be decriminalized.
There is also evidence that whilst the heavy THC component of cannabis could increase the onset of these genetic psychotic disorders, the CBD element in cannabis has actually been shown to be beneficial in treating those psychotic symptoms. Although what complicates matters is that different strains of cannabis have different amounts of THC and CBD.
There is also the common argument that legal, regulated and taxed drugs like alcohol and tobacco can be so incredibly harmful to people that it’s silly that cannabis should remain illegal. To throw some stats out there and put things into perspective, depending on the source you use, there is between 8-40,000 deaths as a direct result of alcohol use in the UK every year. There are so many other health problems associated with its use that I wouldn’t have the time to list them in this article.
The same can be said for tobacco, which has a multitude of diseases and health problems associated with its use as well as contributing to around 100,000 deaths per year. So if we’re going to base what drugs are legal and illegal based on the harm they can cause, then it is complete hypocrisy to allow alcohol and tobacco to be legal and regulated yet keep cannabis use a criminal offence.
I’ve noticed that some journalists and commentators (who are against the legalisation of cannabis) when presented with this argument simply state that tobacco and alcohol were widely used way before any of our ‘modern’ drug laws came into effect. They say that a blanket ban won’t work, and usually argue the prohibition of alcohol in the U.S as an arguement against criminalizing a drug solely for its harmful effects. Essentially they’re saying that most people either drink or smoke so it can’t really be banned or compared in any way to cannabis.
This, of course, is a ridiculous argument. I understand that alcohol and tobacco were widely used way before any of the current drug laws came into existence, and I understand that these two drugs are not legal because they are considered ‘safe’, but we simply cannot have one rule for one drug, and another rule for another. The law has to be equal; you either legalise cannabis or ban all drugs, including alcohol and cigarettes.
It can also be argued that cannabis use has been around for much longer than alcohol and tobacco. There is evidence that it was used recreationally in the UK as far back as the Anglo-Saxon times; although officially in the middle ages it was grown for fibre that had a multitude of uses which included ropes, fishing equipment, nets and canvases. Nonetheless, the medical properties of cannabis have been recorded since the dawn of man – although in this article I’m not going to go into any details of its apparent medical benefits.
Cannabis was such an important plant to the UK economy (as well as its military) that King Henry 8th actually made it law that landlords had to set aside a small percentage of their land to grow the plant. This, of course, does not show that a large percentage of the population had been using the drug recreationally (as it was difficult to grow and get hold of as it’s not a native plant), but it does show that cannabis had a multitude of uses and that people were using it for recreational use for probably well over a thousand years before our current drug laws were brought into effect.
Indeed, even today, Hemp, a strain of cannabis that contains less THC, has over 5000 practical uses, but due to its production being tightly controlled by the British government these cannot be used. What complicates things even more is that companies often shy away from doing research into the medicinal properties of cannabis solely because of the illegality and negative stigma attached to the drug. Although saying that, some strains of hemp are legal and even used in the NHS, but the truth is that its current position as a banned substance often forces companies to look elsewhere during their medical research.
Now, back to alcohol. During the prohibition in America (where they banned its use), illegal alcohol usage actually rose dramatically. What happened when the prohibition ended? That’s right folks, alcohol usage dropped. There is no solid evidence that decriminalizing cannabis would actually lead to a surge in its use and a legion of stoners taking over the country like that hate rag the Daily Mail fears. So it seems to me that comparing the effects of alcohol and tobacco use to cannabis is perfectly justified, and in comparison, the evidence shows that the latter is much less harmful than tobacco and alcohol. It is only stupid people with an agenda who state that we cannot compare legal drugs to illegal ones.
Even if we take the Government’s own Office of National Statistics (ONS) data, we can see that in England and Wales from 1993 – 2009 there are between 0 and 2 deaths per year for cannabis where the death is related to drug poisoning and the death certificate mentions only one drug. To be honest I’m a bit sceptical of this data, as I haven’t seen any other sources anywhere that show that the primary cause of any death was cannabis, but for the sake of my point I’m going to just roll with it (yes, I guess that was an accidental pun).
Let’s take a look at the death stats for some legal drugs from the same ONS study based on drug poisoning where only one drug is mentioned: an average of around 300 deaths per year caused by anti-depressants, around 130 a year caused by paracetamol, around 50 per year for anxiety/insomnia medication and around 20 a year caused by aspirin. In fact, out of all the drug deaths mentioned, cannabis has the lowest number of recorded deaths by poisoning per year. I have not even mentioned any of the numerous harmful side-effects that most legal drugs can have.
Now I know it could be argued that more people take paracetamol and aspirin than cannabis, but the overall point I’m trying to make here is that the government’s argument that it is a very dangerous drug is quite obviously flawed; even if we use their own official statistics we can see that other legal drugs – including alcohol and tobacco – have much more harmful and even fatal results. So in light of the lack of solid evidence that cannabis is seriously harmful compared with other drugs that the government deems ‘legal’, it is quite frankly absurd and hypocritical to suggest that its harmful effects are a good reason to keep it as an illegal class B drug.
David Cameron, who used to be a serial blazer and was involved in Eton college’s worst ever drugs scandal, has repeatedly said that cannabis will not be downgraded back to a class C drug or be decriminalized because it is a seriously harmful drug. This, again, is pretty ironic, as ten years ago the Home Affairs Committee called for a major review and liberalization of drug use, including downgrading cannabis to a class C. Guess who was a member of that committee that came to that conclusion? Yeah you guessed it, David Cameron. Hypocrite much?
The War On Drugs Is Money Well Spent
The report from the UK Drug Policy Commission estimates that in the UK there are around 160,000 cannabis offences each year, which amounts to a huge amount of time and money for the police, prosecution and courts; not to mention the cost to the individual who is left to fork out a fine or spend time in jail, which also harms not only their finances, but their social status and future employability.
As you can probably imagine, cannabis is by far the most commonly used drug in England and Wales. In 2011/12, 31% of adults said they had used cannabis (although in likelihood the figure is much higher as it’s possible some people lied), 7% had used it in the past year and 4% in the past month. This equates to some 4.2 million people who have admitted to using cannabis in the past year. Cannabis itself accounts for 70% of all drug offences in the UK. In 2011/12 there were 77,914 ‘cannabis warnings’ issued and 15,930 penalty notices. As you can probably imagine, this takes a huge toll on the police and court system, as time and money is spent punishing people for possessing relatively small amounts of cannabis for personal use.
If cannabis possession was decriminalized (as the UK Drugs Policy Commission report recommended) then police time, resources and energy can be focused on tackling proper criminals rather than chasing and hounding individuals involved in the almost victimless ‘crime’ of simply getting blazed in their own comfort zone. Prison spaces currently occupied by cannabis users can be freed up to make room for proper criminals. Decriminalization would also have a positive effect on police-community relations.
If it was legalised, the black market would give rise to a safer, more regulated system that would allow legitimate companies to produce ‘safe’ cannabis for sale in the UK that would then be taxed and invested back in the system. The distribution and advertising would be heavily regulated to prevent companies taking advantage – just like the regulation that currently exists on advertising and promoting alcohol and tobacco.
Despite the declassification to a class C in 2004 then re-classification to Class B in 2007, there has been no real change to its level of use- in fact, cannabis use has actually been dropping year on year since 2001. The government claims this fact is proof that their tough policy on cannabis is working, although they always ignore the fact that its use was declining quicker when it was a class C drug than when it was class B. The changes in classification seemingly did little to alter the decline in its usage. So the moral of the story is that the cost of keeping cannabis illegal is too high, and people are always going to do it so it would make financial sense to legalise, regulate and then tax it.
Government regulated cannabis would allow them to control the amount of THC – which, according to that earlier study could increase the risks of the onset of an already genetically predisposed mental health condition. So if cannabis was legalised the government could tax and control its distribution whilst ensuring that the THC amount stays at a level that will almost completely reduce any chance of developing a mental health condition.
With our economy going down the shitter, it would make financial sense to regulate and tax cannabis in exactly the same way as we regulate cigarettes and alcohol; this would seemingly be a better solution than penalising people for possession of small amounts of the drug. In 2011 the sale of cigarettes raised over £11 billion in taxes, which is more than the total amount of current spending cuts this government is inflicting upon the populace.
Now I’m not suggesting cannabis would raise that amount, but if we take into account the amount of money that will be saved from putting those caught in possession of cannabis through the legal system I wouldn’t be surprised if legalisation could collectively raise something near that £11 billion figure.
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Cannabis Is A Gateway Drug
This is an argument I hear all the time. The idea is that people who start smoking cannabis are more likely to go onto harder, more dangerous drugs such as heroin and cocaine, therefore it would be a bad idea to legalise it, even if cannabis itself isn’t particularly harmful. At first glance, the argument seems plausible. Pretty much every single harder drug addict I’ve known of smoked cannabis long before they moved onto harder drugs. You’d be hard pressed to find a heroin addict who has never used cannabis.
However, as I mentioned before, correlation does not imply causation. If it has been observed that people with bigger feet tend to have higher IQ’s, it does not logically follow that having big feet causes you to have a higher IQ, or that having big feet is some form of gateway to developing a high IQ. There could be a million different reasons for the correlation. For example, most professional footballers played football as children, but that doesn’t mean that playing football as children causes or is a gateway to becoming a professional footballer; indeed, most children who play football will not go on to become professionals. All this shows is that those who don’t play football as children are highly unlikely to go on to become professional footballers. So the fact that most hard drug addicts have probably used cannabis does not show a causal connection between the two.
There is absolutely no scientific evidence of a causal link between the effects of using cannabis and the subsequent use of harder drugs. Studies have consistently failed to support the ‘gateway drug’ theory. The correlation between heroin users who have used cannabis is probably down to a matter of taste. I challenge anybody to show us a heroin addict who has never used alcohol, tobacco or cannabis. If someone has a disposition towards getting high or altering their consciousness, then they will naturally seek out drugs and other ways of satisfying that desire, in exactly the same way as a music lover will constantly seek out new types of music. Naturally, not everyone who uses cannabis wants to go exploring all the different genres, but for those that do, it cannot be argued that cannabis was the cause or ‘gateway’.
My second point is that, if anything, cannabis being illegal is more of a ‘gateway’ than if it was legal. If you can’t find a cannabis dealer then the chances are you won’t be able to find a heroin dealer either. In actual fact, heroin dealers are much more likely to be less trusting of people they don’t know because the punishments for being caught dealing heroin is so severe. The only realistic chance one has of scoring some heroin is if you either know the dealer through previous purchases of other drugs, or he has been ‘recommended’ to you from another dealer or somebody that you know. Think of it as a form of networking; you’re only really likely to get the opportunity to score some heroin if you have been purchasing other drugs from other dealers.
If cannabis was legalised and available from regulated establishments then this networking would not exist. Think of it another way, if you have to purchase cannabis illegally from a street dealer, chances are, he’s going to have other drugs too (or at least know someone who does). All it would take is for them to offer you a ‘try before you buy’ on a line of coke and then there you have it, a direct gateway (of sorts) to harder drugs. Even if you have heard about coke from a friend and fancy giving it a try, all you’d have to do is ask your cannabis dealer if he knows anyone who sells coke – which he probably will.
The point I’m making here is that the opportunity to get onto harder drugs is massively increased when you have to purchase cannabis from an illegal street dealer. Imagine if cannabis was legal and regulated; when you walk into your local chemist or Tesco’s and purchase some cannabis, they’re not likely to say ‘would sir be interested in a complimentary line of coke? Or how about 2 for 1 on ecstasy pills?.’ That just won’t happen.
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For the record, I do not use cannabis; I’m not on some vendetta to get it legalised for personal reasons. I just feel that the UK’s current drug laws are out of date and need to be more in line with modern science and common sense. The first step would be decriminalization; that is, to remove any punishments or fines for those caught with small amounts of the drug. This, in itself, would free up a huge amount of resources that can be better used elsewhere. Soft drug users should not be treated like criminals. This type of approach has been successfully adopted in Amsterdam and Portugal with great success, and several states in America have gone one further by legalising its use at the state level. Currently, cannabis is illegal in most parts of the world. Perhaps rather ironically, it is completely legal in North Korea; perhaps they’ve gotten something right after all.
Amending the drug laws in relation to growing cannabis for personal use will undermine criminal commercial mass production, along with its relation to organized crime in society. Decriminalizing possession will go a long way to lessen the demand on police time and resources. It is my belief that at the end of the day, cannabis use isn’t going to go away; there will always be people who want to use the drug. So instead of forcing them to get it tax-free from a dodgy criminal down a back alley late at night, they should be able to acquire regulated, quality tested and taxed cannabis from a local pharmacy or approved store.
This is not the same as me saying that cannabis is good and that everyone should start toking; the same rules should apply as to legal drugs. For example, there should be penalties for people who drive under the influence of cannabis, and they should realize that if they want to use the drug, it’s probably best to do it recreationally during a time when they don’t have to work or do anything that requires concentration- like looking after children. As a society, we should be more educated on the drug and treat it in exactly the same way we treat alcohol.
Some people might decide to go to their local a few evenings a week and enjoy a few pints with friends, where as some people might decide to go round to a friend’s house and enjoy a few joints. If used sensibly (and this is where education comes into it), I really don’t see what the problem could be. With the drug regulated, it means the public can be safe in the knowledge that the drug they are purchasing contains a ‘safer’ amount of THC, thus reducing the potentially harmful effects that some studies have identified.
The tax on cannabis will raise some much needed money for our economy (and the cost would be much cheaper than it is now). This would undermine criminal black market activity, whilst at the same time reducing costs to the police and court system. At the same time, I feel it would be necessary to spend some of the income raised through taxation on programmes to help those who are addicted, in exactly the same ways in which we spend money helping those addicted to cigarettes and alcohol. People who have a genuine problem require help and assistance rather than simply being locked up and deemed criminals. The vast majority of people who drink alcohol do not have an addiction or problem, but some do; I feel this is the same for recreational cannabis users and so they too should be provided with opportunities for help rather than simply being deemed as criminals to society.
Finally, I can’t help but think that governments have some ulterior motive by keeping cannabis illegal. They use weak, illogical and scientifically unsupported arguments and scare tactics to try to convince the population that cannabis is an evil drug. Do they know something we don’t? if so, why aren’t they willing to share it?
The media also plays it’s part in the scaremongering. I remember towards the end of last year the top news story on the news at ten was a study claiming that smoking cannabis from a young age can reduce IQ by 5 points. I mean, seriously? Talk about scare tactics. This was their top news story and ‘more evidence’ of just how harmful cannabis is.
However, a few months later I read an article on the BBC news website saying how, with further study, they realized that their ‘5 IQ points’ claim was actually wrong. Another case of ‘correlation not causation,’ as it turns out social factors played a part in the drop in IQ; but by this time the damage had already been done as the news had spouted it’s anti-cannabis propaganda. Did the news programme retract its claim and report the findings of the new study? Of course not.
So that’s it, that’s all I have for now. I do think that one day cannabis will be, at the very least, decriminalized. For the sake of our country’s economy and our collective sanity, this should happen sooner rather than later.
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