The idea that cannabis should be legalised for recreational use is rapidly growing in popularity across the UK. Cannabis is indeed the most used illegal drug in the country – in 2017 7.2% of 16 to 59-year-olds reported that they had used it in the last year. Seeing as that is only self-reported data, the real figure is likely more.
Products containing CBD, which are cited as relieving the symptoms of many patients with a variety of ailments, are available to buy online or in high street shops. However, there is no way you can legally buy any cannabis products containing THC – the chemical in cannabis that gets you high. Cannabis is a Class B drug and using it can potentially get you five years in prison.
The main argument for legalising cannabis is that the market could be regulated and taxed. Some experts say that by regulating cannabis it will be safer as the potency can be capped, and the finished product will have fewer impurities, meaning there would be a much lower chance of psychosis. With mandatory labelling, people using cannabis will know exactly what they are taking.
The trade-off is that making the drug legal makes it accessible to all that need and/or want it. It is not currently difficult to buy cannabis in the UK, so it seems unlikely that legalising cannabis would increase consumption by a significant amount.
From a moral standpoint, one case for legalising cannabis use now, is that addicts should be helped and not punished; many argue that giving addicts a criminal record won’t be a viable deterrent from drugs. In the past, Portugal has experienced an epidemic of drug addiction. In 2001, 1% of their population was addicted to heroin. To combat this, the Portuguese government decided to decriminalise all drug use. The money that would have been spent on policing drug users was redistributed to instead fund rehabilitation centres and employment schemes. These government changes saw a large-scale reduction in drug use: injecting drug use went down by 50%. Although this example is focused on harder drugs in a different cultural climate, its results can still be applied to cannabis use in the UK – focusing on its aims to work with addicts, rather than standing against them.
Canada is the first country in the G20 to legalise cannabis, on 17th October 2017. You can buy it as the bud, as a pre-rolled joint, in oil form and capsules. Currently 47% of the cannabis consumed in Canada is purchased legally. Bill Blair, the Minister for Border Control and Organised Crime Reduction, argued that Canada is in a transition stage and that this figure will only increase.
Countries like the UK can observe and copy Canada’s policies, and learn from the mistakes they have made. David Lammy, a Labour politician who was initially against legalisation, changed his mind after visiting Canada. Proclaiming that “prohibition is not working” and that having purer cannabis available will be a safer alternative to the “skunk that is in circulation on the streets”.
The use of cannabis for medical uses, when prescribed by a doctor was made legal on 1st November 2018 after it was shown that it could help people with epilepsy.
At the time, UK law stated that cannabis could not be used in any medical treatment, leading to their medication being confiscated. This was followed by Billy Caldwell being hospitalised after experiencing life-threatening seizures. Public uproar followed, supporting the use of cannabis in medical treatment, evidence of changes in public attitudes towards cannabis.
After legalisation for medical uses, I’d argue that the next logical step is to legalise it for recreational use. The most compelling argument against legalisation is the resultant negative health effects of smoking. However, the risks of throat and lung cancer do not exist when ingested. Also, the risk of psychosis is reduced greatly when potency and impurity is reduced.
Furthermore, we must not forget that alcohol is an extremely unhealthy staple of British society. From my experience, the health effects of alcohol are often much more visible as it is strongly linked with liver cancer and heart disease whilst the long term effects of cannabis are much less established with Ruben Baler, a scientist for America’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, describing this unknown as a “tough epidemiological nut to break”.
Overall, I believe Britain is ready to legalise cannabis for recreational use. It will be beneficial for the government in terms of tax revenue, for the police as there will be a reduction in criminal activity and for those using cannabis as it can be taken more safely.
Cannabis, Weed, Marijuana, Cro. Whatever you call it, we all know what it is. Whether you have smoked it or not, cannabis will have shared the air you breathe. I mean, you’re in Brighton, right?
But seriously, legalisation of cannabis in all its various forms seems inevitable—not something that can be said about all third rail topics. Despite its inevitability, there is no clear path or route for progress.
When will be the right time to launch a legalisation campaign; this year, next, in five, in ten? I suspect it’ll occur when the government and the UK markets can make the most money out of it.
This debate is not about yes or no to legalisation, in my opinion. It has become about when, and how we can best achieve legalisation in the most profitable and sustainable way.
So, the big question—is Britain ready for legalisation? Or rather, do we need legalisation?
Most recent surveys by drug policy think tank VolteFace says that “the general public is almost twice as likely to support the legalisation of cannabis in the UK than they are to oppose. 59% strongly support or tend to support the legalisation of cannabis, compared to 31% who strongly oppose or tend to oppose”.
Meaning, if it was dependent on popular consensus then the UK would have likely already legalised it.Yet, the government remains firmly against changing drug regulations. It will not support any campaign to legalise cannabis.
So, who needs it now? Cannabis already provides relief for millions around the world. It appears to have medicinal properties that scientists cannot yet fully comprehend with patients often reporting that it relieves them of various ailments, although the extent of its efficacy remains mostly unproven by scientists and doctors. If you suffer from multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, anxiety, sleep disorders, to name a few… then cannabis will be an option for daily treatment and in some cases a miracle.
If you want it, chances are you can get it, either from your doctor or your dealer — sometimes the line is blurred. Prescriptions are possible, albeit usually quite difficult despite a slight relaxation of the law, and the fact that the UK is the biggest exporter of medicinal cannabis products in the world, one would assume that it is already legal. And of course, skunk is just as available for anyone to buy on street level. Here lies a separation of interest, as those who demand THC cannabis operate in a different market altogether.
The difference in markets is in the source. British pharma company GW Pharmaceuticals were given the first government contract to legally grow and test medicinal cannabis on a mass scale way back in 1998 as granted by the Home Office.
Other cannabis related products that have neutralised psycho-active ingredients, such as CBD oils and hemp infused materials have also begun to flood the UK marketplace, with products being particularly popular in vape stores and head shops.
There seems to be a running theme here. Big government does not want you to get high, but it cannot stop you. Like a patron with a heavy hand, possession and distribution laws carry disproportionate prison sentences. This applies for all drug law. We cannot simply legalise cannabis and not address the deeper issues surrounding drug policy.
Right now, I don’t think we are ready for the outcome of legalisation, which I believe would be underwhelming and poorly implemented. Our current government is ill-equipped and massively unprepared to change drug laws, let alone to deal with the humongous elephant that is cannabis legalisation.
Recently the world has seen some of its largest nations legalise the drug for recreational use. Canada was the first G7 country, and now many people are leaning on the UK to relax its stringent and rigid regulations on medicinal cannabis which UK firms like GW Pharmaceuticals produce in abundance.
Speaking to The Guardian, Cam Battley, CCO of Aurora Cannabis, Canada’s leading cannabis firm, stated that the “UK was failing patients who might benefit from medicinal cannabis, as well as forfeiting economic gain”.
The next step is to allow the market to operate. SWIM (Someone Who Isn’t Me) will be able to source it if they need it. For the regular and recreational consumer, cannabis like you know it will only be more expensive and harder to get hold of if the government legalises it now.
So, relax, kick back, spark up and enjoy the ride. Legalisation is coming but Britain just ain’t ready yet. Maybe after Brexit.
Image credit: Pixabay