Legalising cannabis: its possible impact and consequences
Support for the legalisation of cannabis in the UK has been increasing, with a spate of celebrities and politicians adding their voice to campaigns calling for the manufacture, sale and use of the drug to be decriminalised.
The Guardian reports that a new single-issue political party dedicated to repealing cannabis laws will field candidates in this May’s general election. Cista (Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol), partly funded by Bebo co-founder Paul Birch, hopes to draw attention to a commissioned YouGov poll which found that 44 per cent of voters supported cannabis legalisation.
Supporters argue that the war on drugs has failed, as prosecuting people for possessing cannabis incriminates and punishes non-violent drug users. This pushes them further into criminality and wastes valuable police time and resources.
They argue that Britain should follow the example of the US where marijuana is legal in certain states for medicinal and recreational use.
Many also believe that a system which ensures marijuana is taxed, regulated and controlled by the authorities would also benefit the economy. The Institute for Social and Economic Research has suggested that tax revenue from licensing cannabis could generate up to £900 million for the exchequer.
Nevertheless, endorsing cannabis legalisation is seen as fatuous and immoral by protesters. Mail on Sunday journalist Peter Hitchens suggests that the British penal system is already too lenient when it comes to prosecuting cannabis-related offences. Further decriminalisation, he argues, will do nothing but encourage people to use marijuana which has been consistently linked with severe mental health problems.
Certainly, legalising the drug in the UK could have a damaging impact on young people. Cannabis usage in the UK amongst 16 to 18-year-olds has been falling recently according to the European Drug Agency’s annual survey, but full legalisation may reverse this trend as cannabis becomes more widely available.
Moreover, there are concerns regarding the drug’s capability to bring about negative behavioural change, often in the form of lethargy or lack of motivation; a sudden increase in young people using the drug could prove disastrous for their future prospects, especially given that teenage cannabis users do significantly poorer in exams, according to the World Health Organisation.
Despite such fears, in the state of Colorado, where marijuana has been legal for recreational purposes since 2014, the Independent reports that the police have not noticed any massive increases in criminal activity.
But opponents have rightly argued that one year is insufficient to properly gauge the effects of legalisation and that more time is needed before Colorado can be held up as an exemplary case of cannabis decriminalisation, able to set a precedent for countries such as the UK.
There are also financial advantages which have spurred on pro-cannabis campaigners. The economic benefit of a taxed and regulated cannabis market seems tempting in these times of austerity and its lucrative business potential is likely to be the reason why a great deal of support for decriminalisation comes from wealthy business figures such as Sir Richard Branson.
Full cannabis legalisation also seems a logical solution for easing the burden on the UK’s police force which is currently being pushed to the brink by budget cuts.
Additionally, underdeveloped countries which produce cannabis will also receive much-needed investment as legal demand for the drug from wealthy western nations will increase dramatically if laws are changed.
But those who describe cannabis as a “soft drug” and call for its complete legalisation are ignoring the wealth of evidence that suggests the extremely detrimental long-term effect the drug can have on physical and mental health.
Countries where marijuana remains illegal need to decide very carefully about the damage it can have on individuals and communities. Putting a nation’s wealth before its health may prove catastrophic, and governments should proceed with extreme caution where this issue is concerned.