Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Cannabis

The topic of cannabis, or rather, the legalisation or regulation of it, is one fraught with difficulty and misunderstanding. It makes it very difficult to work out what to actually think about it. Obviously I am not an expert on it, nor do I have any experience using the drug itself, but I think I can apply some common sense, and a bit of research, to this sticky topic.

In case you’re wondering, I’ll give you my idea now. Legalise cannabis.

It makes it safer.

You see, the problem is that as soon as a government make a substance a “controlled substance”, they lose all control over it. People still want the substance, but what they get is an impure version which is controlled not by a (hopefully) accountable government, but by criminals, gangs and “that strange looking guy who lives in the top flat”. They don’t know what’s in it, but the demand is still there. I’ve heard reports of crushed glass in cannabis. Not quite sure how that works, but I know if I were going to smoke something, I’d rather the ashes didn’t contain glass. Let alone if I were making tea out of it.   

And there’s no escaping the fact that people still smoke cannabis. It is the most used controlled substance in Britain. No amount of “controlling” has stopped that, so it’s better to make sure that what people are using is as safe as it can be. Better, then, to legalise it, and then impose regulations on the companies that produce it. Like how jam is only allowed a certain percentage of flies’ legs in it.

Now, astute reader, you have no doubt picked up two flaws in my argument, so far. 1) I’m implying that cannabis is safe other than the additives. 2) You may think that legalising cannabis would increase the usage of it. Therefore any negative effects it does have will affect a wider population. Let’s tackle these problems in the traditional way of starting at 1.

“Cannabis is safe.” Well, not really. I’m not saying it’s some wondrous substance that can make life better and won’t hurt you a bit. Chances are, it can. Most things can hurt you, after all. Just ask the Daily Mail. We have to put it into perspective. Cannabis has often been reported to be harmless (Indian Hemp Drugs Commission, 1893), and whilst I’d disagree with that, it is no more harmful than tobacco or alcohol. If you believe this article, it’s even less damaging than them. I suppose you can apply a bit of real life logic to this; how many people have you heard die of alcohol or tobacco related incidents? I can name a few myself. How many from cannabis? I’m willing to bet none, or maybe a couple. Of course there is the issue that cannabis use is a) less frequent and b) less advertised, so you would be unlikely to hear of it anyway.

“Legalising cannabis will increase its usage”. Sorry about this, but I’m going to bring in a very short bit of history. You can find it in the above article. Holland de-criminalised cannabis back in 1976, and yet the use of cannabis has not increased since then, nor has there been an increase of people moving on to hard drugs. I’d imagine there was probably a little bump up when people who had wanted to try cannabis but didn’t because it was illegal had a go, but there are no statistics for it, so it’s just pure conjecture. That’s not to say that legalising, or de-criminalising, cannabis in the UK wouldn’t lead to an increase, just that it’s not likely to.

A further point I’d like to make is an economical one. I’m not great at economics, so I won’t pretend to be. But if you legalise cannabis, you remove an aspect of organised crime. After all, who wants unsafe black market cannabis when there is perfectly safe cannabis for sale? This means fewer resources being used to detect and destroy it. Naturally, this applies to any illegal activity (if you legalise it, you don’t have to hunt down lawbreakers), but if cannabis isn’t that harmful, you can justify legalising it.

Okay, so there’s my argument for legalising cannabis. “Okay, Mr Filthy Liberal, why has it stayed illegal for over 80 years, if legalising it would not have a negative effect?” Well, hypothetical member of my tiny audience, I have some theories on that, too. I’d like you to consider the above argument concluded, and then move onto this one, as they deal with slightly different issues within the whole general topic of cannabis legalisation. Also, the following theories are much less well supported, and there’s no real conclusion, but bare with me.

The first reason is that I think the public is poorly educated on the topic, and quite frankly they probably don’t want to be educated on it. If you’re not going to do it, why bother? Here’s the general premise of most arguments.

“Cannabis is bad.”
“Why is it bad?”
“Because it’s banned.”
“Why is it banned?”
“Because it’s bad. They must have their reasons.”

“Cannabis is bad” is quite well ingrained into our thoughts. It’s the domain of delinquent teens, rock stars and outcasts. Might I just add that this stereotype is incorrect. Cannabis is used in all classes and walks of society, in the same way as alcohol is (unless you’re Amish or Muslim, I guess). More widely in some than others, granted, but still it is not limited to a single demographic. The people who break that mentality cannot express it, and we get nowhere.

The second reason is that it’s not just our government who makes the decision. Most drug laws have some kind of international basis, because drug control needs international action. To legalise cannabis would require more than just convincing the Great British public. In short, it’s hard to do.

The third reason is “the slippery slope” argument. You probably all know this one. “If the government legalise cannabis, what’s to stop them legalising harder drugs like cocaine, or heroin?”. It helps if you read that in a slightly hysterical voice. My blog today is focusing on cannabis, so I won’t discuss the merits or downsides of other drugs. However, I’d counter this by saying, one: look at how hard it has been to legalise cannabis. People have been fighting for 80 years to turn back the law (since it was made, basically) yet nothing has happened. Whilst certainly not the best counter, it does mean that any law to allow cocaine or ecstasy would be similarly contentious. So, hysterical parent, chances are it won’t happen in your lifetime, anyway. The other counter I’d propose is that cannabis legalisation is sought because controlling cannabis doesn’t make a lot of sense. There are a lot of arguments for legalising it, and I’ve only covered a few. Legalising heroin? Less so. It is an obvious danger, and therefore less likely ever to be legalised.

That concludes the second part. Sorry there’s not much more, I would love to hear all your views on the topic.

2 comments:

  1. Well worth a read. Thanks for putting this up, and I think you're right, and it's peculiar how 'cannabis (and other drugs) is bad' is indeed ingrained into our heads.

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  2. I think that it being ingrained can be useful. Alcohol and tobacco are also ingrained in our heads as bad, or that we should be careful around them. It's that no-one ever knows WHY that the problem arises. Cannabis is reported to be near harmless, so why do we still view it as bad?

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