At this time, marijuana is a class B drug in the UK, which according to Gov.uk means that merely for possession, you could receive “Up to 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both” while supply and production can get you “up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both”. However, we can see a glimmer of hope as there is currently a petition calling for the legalisation of cannabis which has reached 217,881 signatures (at the time of writing) that has forced MPs to have a debate on the topic. (See: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/104349). It is unlikely that anything will change due to this debate but we can all keep our fingers crossed. As a debate date has now been set (12th October 2015), I feel it is important to highlight some key facts and opinions on the matter. There are of course several areas to take into consideration when looking at such a topic: health, the economy, and human rights. There is also a God argument (i.e. God put these plants here for a reason) but as an atheist, I don’t feel it’s within my right to use that as a point of argument.
In the UK, there seems to be this rather obscure way of looking at drugs, both legal and illegal. For example, alcohol is seen as a perfectly normal drug to consume due to its legality. To the extent that when somebody mentions that they drank so much they were sick or drank so much that they have no memory of the previous evening, it is in fact not viewed with concern for one’s health (both physical and mental) but rather seen as normality. This is most true among young people, who arguably it harms the most. Considering the huge health risks related to alcohol, I find it surprising as well as rather hypocritical that such a drug could not only remain legal, but be heavily advertised and therefore encouraged across the country. The World Health Organisation found that in 2012, alcohol attributed towards the following deaths worldwide:
- 5% of cancer related deaths;
- 4% of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes;
- 1% of unintentional injuries;
- 2% of gastrointestinal diseases
This is just to name a few but it is quite clear that worldwide alcohol accounts for a huge attributor to certain illnesses/disease. (See: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/112736/1/9789240692763_eng.pdf). Of course many might view this as a personal choice i.e. if one wishes to drink excessively, then it is perfectly within one’s right to do so (although these same people seem to view the same argument (when applied to weed) as ridiculous and moronic). However, what about when alcohol consumption impacts the lives of others? For example, between 2011 and 2012, it was found that alcohol accounted for 40% of all violent crimes reported in England and Wales. During the same time period in Scotland, a staggering 63% of all violent crime reported to the police, were alcohol related. (See: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/ghs/opinions-and-lifestyle-survey/drinking-habits-amongst-adults–2012/sty-alcohol-consumption.html). Considering that alcohol is one of the UK’s main health concerns with tobacco also contributing to a huge array of illnesses including several types of cancer, it would seem that a wise solution would be to encourage or at the very least allow the people of the United Kingdom to consume a safer alternative? Luckily for us, recent studies have suggested that cannabis can be up to 114x safer that alcohol (See: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4311234/). I mean this alone is a reason for legalisation. If young adults choose to stay in and get high, they’ll not only be choosing the healthier alternative but actually be saving themselves a huge amount of money. If you visit any anti-drug website or speak to most members of the public, you will find that one of the biggest risks associated with the consumption of cannabis (as suggested by the UK government and media) is its effect on mental health. However, again looking at recent studies, it has been suggested that there is no connection between the consumption of cannabis during adolescence and mental or physical health problems in later life (See: http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/adb-adb0000103.pdf). I would like to point out that the two previously mentioned studies are in fact from this year unlike the slightly outdated studies mentioned by the UK government during their response to the cannabis legalisation petition, which were from no later than 2008.
Let us not forget that legalisation does not mean that young people will in any way be encouraged to consume cannabis. It would of course be appropriate for age restrictions to be put in place similar to alcohol, tobacco and gambling. The benefit of legalisation is that cannabis can be better regulated and controlled. A common misconception with cannabis is that it is a gateway drug to harder, more dangerous drugs. It has in fact been suggested that it is the social aspect of buying cannabis that causes this gateway-like effect, as individuals have to have contact with dealers in order to acquire their cannabis. If we remove the backstreet drug deals from the equation, those individuals wishing to consume cannabis would be able to purchase it within a safe environment.
Forgetting about recreational use for a moment, it is important to remember that medical marijuana is used in many parts of the world to help individuals cope with certain illnesses or ailments. There are in fact lists and lists of treatment uses for medical marijuana (none of which are currently used in the UK due to the fact that using it as a form of medicine is still illegal, along with recreational use). Rather than listing them all, I’ll simply highlight some of the more important aspects of medical marijuana:
- Alzheimer’s disease: There is strong evidence to suggest that consuming marijuana regularly can in fact delay the onset of this disease. Not only that but it can delay the progression of it as well. Similar results have been found in other neurodegenerative conditions.
- Chronic Pain: Chronic pain can arise from a number of issues and can impact many people in such a way that they can struggle with day-to-day activities. Clinical trials using cannabis (as well as placebo conditions) suggest that cannabis is both an efficient and safe way of treating individuals who suffer from chronic pain.
- Crohn’s Disease: This is another amazing way of using cannabis. Clinical trials showed interesting results in Crohn’s patients with 50% achieving complete remission and over 90% achieving substantial improvement.
- Multiple Sclerosis: While promising research is still underway, there does appear to be a clear consensus among many scientists and doctors that cannabis can be as safe an effect as a palliative treatment for multiple sclerosis.
- (See: http://clear-uk.org/static/media/PDFs/medicinal_cannabis_the_evidence2.pdf).
A staggering 500 million people within first world countries have access to medical cannabis (legally of course). There are various risks associated with using cannabis as a treatment method but when we compare it to currently legal forms of medicine, is it really any worse? There are many cases were medicine being used as treatment actually has worse side effects than the illness itself. For example, some antipsychotics used to treat schizophrenia can in fact cause very severe side effects, to the point where the patient would have to be switched to an alternative. Even if we ignore the above mentioned positive effects of marijuana when used for medicinal purpose, what about individuals suffering from a terminal illness? There are many instances of people using marijuana as a coping mechanism for pain between treatments such as chemotherapy. Are we really within our right, or more importantly is the government within its right to deny these individuals their coping mechanism? I’ll briefly discuss the human rights side of this debate later on, but for now I think we have covered the basis of the health argument and since it’s been made clear that politicians are really not concerned with the health of their people (despite what they may claim), let’s look at what really matters to them the most…money.
The economy of the world appears to be in a fairly dark place but what better way to cure it than by supplying it with some marijuana. For a moment, let’s ignore the effect that weed has on health. Sure it could be good, it could be bad, it could be a bit of both or it could be neither…but for now, let us just pretend that it has no health effects whatsoever. Focussing on a solely economic argument, do you think that is would be a positive or negative thing?
Some might argue that it would have a negative effect, believing that weed legalisation will lead to stoners across the country getting high and lazing around on their sofa, watching children’s cartoons and eating 3x their usual intake of food all instead of turning up to work. Is this really a realistic view of what would happen though? Most people who would smoke weed post-legalisation would be the people who already do so we can rule out the UK coming to an immediate stand-still due to the entire country being baked. Anyone who makes this argument forgets that we actually have a good insight into the effect of legalisation on the economy.
Colorado is now famous for its legalisation of marijuana, not just for medical purposes but also for recreational use. Analysis of Colorado’s economy are of course still on going and it is definitely still too early to tell what the long term effects of legalisation may be, but let’s look at what we know so far. Washington Post carried out analysis on the tax data from the state’s Department of Revenue and found that in 2014, Colorado sold slightly short of $700 million worth of marijuana: $386 million of this was medical marijuana while $313 million was purely recreational. Of course sales alone don’t mean much, as money has to make its way back to the people in order for this to be a beneficial venture for all. Luckily $63 million worth of tax revenue was collected and an extra $13 million was collected for licenses and fees, keeping in mind that this is looking at purely the money from marijuana directly and doesn’t even take into account other areas of purchase such as bongs, food, drinks etc. Plus, now that Colorado is doing so well, the whole industry is acting as a tourist magnet. Many people travel far and wide in order to visit distilleries of famous alcohol and Colorado is jumping on that idea but with a much more interesting drug. The tours are to be called “High Tours” and will act as a tourist attraction as well as a form of transparency for what goes on behind the closed doors of weed growing. With people making the journey to Colorado, one can only imagine the domino effect this will have on its economy with hotels, bars, restaurants, souvenir shops etc. On top of this, figures referenced by drugpolicy.org (see: https://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/Colorado_Marijuana_Legalization_One_Year_Status_Report.pdf) suggest that Colorado currently has the fastest growing economy in the entirety of the United States. As well as this, unemployment rates are at a six year low. Now obviously I’m not going to try and argue that all of that is a result of legalising weed but at the same time, legalisation clearly hasn’t had the horrific impact that the UK government claims it will. Colorado has actually claimed so much money through the taxation of marijuana that they are struggling to decide where to put it. A lot of it has gone into their healthcare and education systems, including many youth prevention schemes. While many support legalisation, it would without a doubt be ridiculously irresponsible to encourage or even allow minors to consume any drug. Similarly to alcohol, there needs to be a level of education that allows children the opportunity to learn the side effects and dangers of all drugs. $2 million of marijuana tax money has been used to help fund community-based youth service programs that offer guidance and information in relation to marijuana.
I’ve already mentioned the level of hypocrisy for the UK government to deny weed smokers their high, yet encourage alcohol consumption. But what about weed compared to much more ordinary aspects of life: Food for example. You can’t walk ten steps in most cities without seeing the iconic golden arches of McDonalds or its competitors such as Burger King, despite the fact that obesity is becoming more and more of an issue throughout Western society. Yet if someone told you that you couldn’t eat that greasy, artery clogging Big Mac that you’ve been craving all week you would be outraged. Imagine the protests if the government denied people the right to fast food or alcohol or even just cigarettes, anarchy would tear this country apart. Our government of course can act like they have a clean conscience by putting the dangers of these products where you can see them. For anybody who smokes, you will be aware of the disturbing images and warning printed on the packets of cigarettes while fast food instead comes with your GDA (Guideline Daily Amount) showing that you’re getting x% of your GDA from a portion of French Fries. Of course McDonalds isn’t solely to blame for obesity the same way Strongbow isn’t to blame for alcohol related illness, yet they still play a vital role: Despite this, McDonald’s sponsor sporting events such as the Olympics even though most of these athletes never touch a McDonald’s. Similarly, Strongbow can sponsor events such as Tough Mudder, an event that has the single focus of being about physical and mental fitness. I mean it is beyond ridiculous but the strange thing is that people barely even question it. So if an individual can eat a McDonalds for every meal until their heart stops or drink until they are diagnosed with one of the many alcohol related illnesses, shouldn’t stoners be allowed to smoke weed? I mean studies I mentioned earlier show strong evidence for how safe weed is in comparison to alcohol (in case you forgot, it’s 114x safer).
Will there be accidents because of weed? Quite possibly. Will some people abuse it? Probably. Would that really be a valid reason for denying people access to it? Since when do we base our laws on what a very small proportion of the population might be capable of, I mean knives are used for stabbings yet we don’t make everybody fill their kitchen drawers with sporks or plastic knives in order to avoid this problem. Not to mention extreme sports that result in injury and death all the time. Rugby for example is currently being studied due to the high level of concussions and other head injuries that are leading to long term health effects. Yet it is ridiculous to think that rugby would be made illegal because there are a few negatives effects for a small minority of those taking part.
In the US, you don’t have to venture much further than Fox News to hear a reporter claim that people who smoke weed are menaces to society, either by committing crime or lazing around all day not working. You could also follow what the Fox News medical correspondent had to say “It actually causes heart attacks. It increases your heart rate. And on and on. We’re seeing in Colorado that we had 13 kids that came to the emergency [room] and ended up in the ICU as a result of overdose from marijuana. Now we have crack babies coming in because pregnant women are smoking this whole marijuana business”. Not to mention the ludicrous and contradictory statements made by HLN host Nancy Grace. The Young Turks highlight this on an episode of their show (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYiej4Qp5Jo). These things aren’t hugely relevant but they are fairly entertaining to see.
Why is weed legalisation a human rights issue? It’s quite simple. By making weed illegal, the government are basically saying that you can’t grow a plant in your garden and if you do grow this plant in your garden or home or greenhouse, you could be arrested. Why would you want to grow this plant? Maybe because you have pain that it helps or perhaps it’s a solely recreational purpose but none the less, this plant is illegal and how dare you try and enjoy free drugs when there are overpriced drugs you can buy from your local shop. This plant that can’t even be used for evil deeds or to create weapons with, could potentially lead to heavier consequences than assaulting someone on the street. What does it tell you when your government and a large percentage of your country ignore recent evidence and instead stick to what in their opinion is the right choice. Western society likes to deem itself “top of the world” and “free” yet adults in this country are actually denied the right to do what they want with their own consciousness (although let’s not forget that the UK also has a system called MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) which is essentially a way of firing nuclear missiles back at a country that fires them at us so that we all melt from radiation and the world is essentially ruined for everybody not involved in whatever insignificant squabble caused the attack in the first place. So perhaps we’re not as evolved as we like to think).
A typical conclusion might round up the mentioned arguments and try to fit them into a final statement that highlights the essay as a whole, making it clear to the reader which main points are the most important but also which side of the argument the individual is in favour of. I don’t see that as being necessary here as it’s very clear that legalisation is in my opinion, the smarter and sane option. The topic will be debated in a few days in parliament and I can only see it being shot down and forgotten about for another decade or so. One of the biggest issues that weed has is climbing the obstacle of public opinion. Misinformation through the propaganda machine that is mainstream media has led people to follow this misguided belief that weed is on the same level as heroin or meth. We are raised hearing only the negatives of drugs and all the damage they can do. Our schools teach us wrong information in an attempt to scare us out of even trying these sinister substances that are supposed to cause our lives to spiral down into misery, poverty and despair. The famous comedian Bill Hicks mentions the legality of drugs in many, many of his routines but this one in particular I feel related to the UK (even though in the quote he refers to America):
“If you want to understand a society, take a good look at the drugs it uses. And what can this tell you about American culture? Well, look at the drugs we use. Except for pharmaceutical poison, there are essentially only two drugs that Western civilization tolerates: Caffeine from Monday to Friday to energize you enough to make you a productive member of society, and alcohol from Friday to Monday to keep you too stupid to figure out the prison that you are living in.”