Considerations for the sensible legalisation of Marijuana in the United Kingdom
I'm sure that there are many of us here in the UK that have been observing the legalisation of marijuana sweep across North America and other parts of the world with a mixture of excitement and jealousy. The legalisation of marijuana for medical and leisure purposes is spreading profusely; and in its wake leaving a thriving ecosystem of entrepreneurs, patients, horticulturalists, technologists and more, who together form a bustling ecosystem.
As legalisation gains more acceptance and utilisation throughout the world , one has to wonder what it would look like if we were to legalise marijuana use in the UK. There are many routes to legalisation, and considerations to be made. There would need to be rules and regulations governing the production and sale; similar to what we see within the alcohol and tobacco industries. But is it a good idea?
Benefits of Marijuana Legalisaton
Let us first look at the benefits, for there are many. Perhaps the most obvious is the devastating blow that would be dealt to the black market production and distribution of cannabis. With a regulated and legalised cannabis industry, consumers will no longer have to turn to drug dealers; from whom there is no guarantee of safety or product quality. Furthermore the money exchanged is often funding other illicit activities which serves no benefit to society.
Let's take a look at Colorado; the first state in the US to legalise marijuana in 2012. A few years on it is estimated that marijuana activities generated $2.39 billion in state output, and created 18,005 new Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) positions in 2015. Furthermore, marijuana tax revenues generated three times that of alcohol, and 14% larger than casino revenue. This is revenue that is transferred away from drug dealers and into legitimate channels flowing through the burgeoning cannabis industry that legalisation is the catalyst for. Colorado have used their tax revenues to increase spending in areas such as health, education, agriculture, public safety and even helping to tackle homelessness.
In addition to these substantial economic benefits, there could also be health benefits. Although, unfortunately, the illegality of marijuana in many countries has limited research into the medical potential of the plant, there's evidence to suggest there are health benefits to be gained. Those suffering from chronic pain, for example, are 'more likely to experience a significant reduction in pain symptoms'. Furthermore, preliminary studies have suggested that medical marijuana legalisation may be associated with decreased prescription opioid use and overdose deaths.
Further supporting evidence can be viewed in this TED talk, showing how particular strains of cannabis are being developed which are drastically reducing seizures for paediatric epilepsy patients:
This is a powerful story that demonstrates the hurdles needed to effect social change and maps a path toward helping those who desperately need revolutionary medicine.
What are the risks?
Certain studies suggest excessive marijuana use may increase the risk of depression, schizophrenia, unhealthy drug abuse, and anxiety. There is also moderate evidence to suggest that marijuana use from an early age can increase the likelihood of developing dependency, which can affect academic performance and social interactions. So what does this mean? In the same spirit of not advocating 12 year-olds knocking back shots of tequila, a sensible approach needs to be taken to ensure minors do not have easy access to cannabis. Legalisation and legislation preventing sales to minors is likely to make it harder for minors to access; therefore it could be argued that legalisation would reduce the amount of minors gaining access to marijuana (which according to Stacey Dooley seems quite prevalent).
Consumption of marijuana - or at least the psychoactive components such as THC - can affect reaction time and cause the user to be impaired, meaning driving or operating heavy machinery whilst under the effects of marijuana could increase risk of accidents.
The underlying theme here is that - like any substance - there is the potential for abuse. Where there is the potential for substance abuse, it's become clear that rehabilitation, not incarceration, is the answer.
Considerations of the Legalisation Process
There are several options available relating to the legalisation process, each with varying degrees of risk and reward.
Decriminalisation does not mean that people can use drugs with impunity. Instead, those caught in possession of small amounts would no longer land the perpetrator with a criminal conviction or jail sentence. Under Jamaica’s recent decriminalisation law, people caught with up to two ounces of cannabis can be fined, but not arrested or taken to court. Drug users in Portugal can be forced to attend classes aimed at getting them back on the straight and narrow.
This is a sensible first step to take and is already somewhat implemented in parts of the UK. This is a move in the right direction, however it means the flow of money still sits with gangs and drug dealers; and away from legitimate channels that would pump millions back into the economy.
Legalisation for Medicinal Purposes
This would mean legalising cannabis consumption for those with medical conditions. This would serve two primary benefits: first it would provide much needed relief from the thousands of people in the UK that could benefit from the substance but are unable to do so through the NHS. Secondly it would accelerate the amount of research being conducted by making it easier for researchers to carry out studies, as it would be easier to gain access to medical grade cannabis and gain the necessary approvals and funding to conduct studies on the growing list of health benefits being utilised.
In fact, there is a compound found in the hemp plant called Cannabidiol (commonly referred to as CBD) that has many medicinal qualities and is already legal in the UK. It's a non-psychoactive compound, which means unlike it's relative THC, it doesn't get you high. Check out our article on CBD for more information.
Legalisation for Medicinal & Leisure Purposes
Finally we have the 'all-in' approach, providing the same benefits noted above, with the huge additional benefit of bringing the entire industry above-board. The economic benefits are compelling, and the risks are not excessive when compared to legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco.
What are your thoughts on the matter, should cannabis be legalised in the UK? Let us know below.