Will the UK legalise recreational cannabis?

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In October 2018, Canada became the first G7 country to legalise cannabis for recreational use. In the USA, recreational marijuana is now legal in 10 states and in several European countries including Portugal, Belgium and Spain, recreational cannabis use has been decriminalised. In November 2018, the UK Home Office relaxed the law on the prescription of medicinal cannabis by specialist doctors in England, Wales and Scotland. This gave rise to renewed debate on the possibility of cannabis legalisation for recreational use.

Politics gone to pot

Following the legalisation of medicinal cannabis for treating severe epilepsy, and vomiting and nausea caused by chemotherapy, Home Secretary Sajid Javid was quick to state: ‘I have no intention of legalising the recreational use of cannabis’.

Both the Conservative and Labour parties are currently against the legalisation of recreational cannabis.  In July 2018, however, Jeremy Corbyn said: ‘criminalising people for possession of small amounts of cannabis is not a particularly good idea’.  This led to suggestions that Labour were making a U-turn on their drugs policies although neither Corbyn nor the Labour party have advocated the drug’s legalisation.

In UK politics, it is only the Liberal Democrats and the Green party who have called for a fully regulated cannabis market.  With their current political standing, however, their influence in parliamentary decisions is not strong enough to initiate reform. Despite the seemingly resolute stance of the UK’s political elite being staunchly against recreational cannabis legalisation, Paul North, Director of External Affairs at drug policy think tank Volteface, believes that the UK are closer than ever to following Canada’s legislatorial reforms.

The pros and cons of legalising recreational cannabis

The cannabis debate has strong supporters on both sides.  With such an unknown market, however, it is difficult to accurately predict the potential consequences of blanket regulation.  According to various research, theories, and expert opinion, here are some of the pros and cons of legalising recreational cannabis use:

Pros

  • Remove the criminal element – Home Office statistics suggest that cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in the UK. Data from 2016 showed that 6.5% (approximately 2.1 million) people aged between 16 and 59 had used cannabis in the preceding year.  The illegal cannabis market has resulted in huge profits being made by drug lords and criminal gangs.  The current legal status of the drug also means that users are never certain of the quality and potential dangers of purchasing and using an unregulated substance.   Cannabis’ illegal status also places it in a similar category to other more dangerous drugs.
  • Boost tax revenue – With so many marijuana users, the potential tax income from recreational legalisation is truly staggering. Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau has predicted that cannabis legalisation will raise $400m in tax revenue in the first year alone.  A fully regulated cannabis market would also create thousands of jobs from production, cultivation and distribution through to marketing, sales and customer service.

Cons

  • Risks to mental health – Medical research has continually made links between cannabis use and the development of mental health problems. Research suggests that cannabis use, particularly in teenage years when the brain is still developing, makes the user 37% more likely to suffer from depression in later life.  Marijuana usage has also been linked to the increased likelihood of developing schizophrenia in people with a hereditary disposition to the condition.
  • Increase in lung disease – Some studies suggest that smoking cannabis is 20 times more carcinogenic than tobacco smoke. Although this statistic has been highly contested, the inhalation of any smoke can be damaging to the lungs.  This could lead to much more lung related illness and potentially place more pressure on the NHS.

Why is marijuana illegal?

In 1928, cannabis was made illegal by the Dangerous Drugs Act 1920.  Throughout the early 20th century, cannabis use in the UK was viewed as a marginal issue which had little impact on mainstream society.  During the 1960s, cannabis use in the UK increased exponentially.  This increased use led to a marked increase in arrests for cannabis related offences.  From only 230 arrests in 1960, by 1973, convictions for the possession of marijuana had risen to over 11,000 per year.

In 1971, cannabis was listed as a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.  In 2004, the Labour government under Tony Blair, downgraded cannabis to a Class C drug leading to speculation as to its imminent decriminalisation and legalisation.  The downgrading was short lived, however, and under Gordon Brown, cannabis was reclassified as a Class B drug due to its association with schizophrenia and suicide.  Despite continual call for decriminalisation, cannabis has remained Class B ever since.

The debate around cannabis legalisation is a complex one.  We constantly hear in the media that the war on drugs is failing and the UK’s drugs policies are in need of a radical overhaul.  Prohibition, as we saw in 1930s America, is destined to fail.  We could, however, learn from our mistakes.  If the UK is to legalise recreational cannabis, it must be done carefully and alongside a detailed programme of education.  In the UK, we are in an enviable position and can hopefully learn from Canada’s experience and make a fully informed decision after observing Canada’s cannabis market for several years.

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9 Comments

  1. If the risk of mental health in younger people are higher why not set a law with age regulations I don’t use cannabis myself but I don’t see any impact on society from people using it recreationaly . There’s a massive market for cannabis and with the UK leaving the eu it would bring jobs and huge profits for the government to use rebuilding the infastructure of our country .

  2. “Some studies suggest that smoking cannabis is 20 times more carcinogenic than tobacco smoke. ” Sorry, that isn’t “highly contested”, it’s utter garbage.

    Smoking anything isn’t good for the lungs, granted, but cannabis is not associated with serious lung conditions such as cancer or COPD. The biggest harms comes from tobacco which cannabis is still often mixed with. A government campaign to encourage safer use of cannabis would be a valuable harm reduction measure. Also of course, cannabis can be vaped or eaten.

    The concerns over schizophrenia, if there is any truth in them at all, are in fact an argument for a properly regulated commercial supply to control the potency of cannabis on sale. The issue s the ratio of THC to CBD, something that is easy to control in a legal regime, impossible under the current one of prohibition.

  3. It’s easier for kids to buy weed nowadays than alcohol because dealers don’t care who they sell to. If you legalise it, you can regulate it like alcohol, make money from it and stop developing minds being subjected to the chemical.

    Makes sense to me?

  4. But alcohol is completely safe of course. Yes it can cause mental health related issues in teens, their brains are still developing. The exact same reason teens shouldn’t abuse alcohol. Regulate the market, license the product, reap the tax, create revenue, save the NHS, give people a choice on how they medicate rather than using the age old opiodes as a first point of call. Cannabis has proven that it has the same therapeutic effects of most mainstream medicinal forms of pain relief. The middle East have been using it as medicine for thousands of years. Have we not learnt anything? Maybe, just maybe this natural plant that requires absolutely no processing could be beneficial to our lives in countless ways. Don’t even get me started on the multiple uses of hemp, including bio fuels. Well I’ve had my say. Peace x

  5. The sooner its legalised the better. I am a regular user of cannabis who does not drink alcohol at all. I hate giving money to drug gangs who purchase guns and motorbikes terrorising citys all over the country. Knife crime is also directly related to this. This prohibition must be pumping billions into the drug lords pockets.

    People should be able to grow their own using the tag system to register their plants online or obtain medical cards to purchase from a dispensary. The economy would benefit massively and drug gangs would be hit very hard overnight. Less money wasted on Policing and an overall happier society (based on the many people I know personally who all use cannabis on a regular basis). We are not criminals. Alcohol is far far worse for people and society.

    I am not gloating or trying to say that I am special but the fact that I have never been in trouble with police and my mental state is perfect after 16 years of daily use has to count for something.

    Tobacco taxes basically pay for the NHS so why would a tax on cannabis not help with any NHS bill? The whole argument that it scrambles your brain is nonsense.

    Sort it out or miss a MASSIVE opportunity. Jobs, taxes, investment and a sudden decline in drug cartel cash flow are but some of the reasons for looking into this further.

    Much love. Peace.

  6. As to the last comment I totally agree but at the same time there’s is the problem it is nothing to do with mental health issues related to cannabis it is all down to money yes the money brought in from cannabis legalization would be massive but it’s many uses would take money out of pharmaceutical companies pockets who in turn fund the forty party and labour party and make sure they have their millions for campaigns why would they legalize a substance that can cure most ailments even cancer there is proof out there when they can spoon feed you chemical crap and profit from it till you die it’s all to do with power and population control cannabis is a gift from God and is about time i t is available for all that need or want it Britain needs to fight for this to happen now

  7. I was 12 years old when I first started smoking cannabis and now I am 43 so I know a bit about this subject , their excuses for decriminalisation is not valid for one canabis as been sold on the streets of the UK for over a decade , they say they are protecting children , its always available if someone what’s they can get it , also they are saying its leading to mental health issues , of course it is , and why is this , as a smoker for over 20 years I personally know why this the case , the plants that are being sold in the UK are being grown with chemicals to boost yields and profits and this also in my opinion why some people are suffering from mental illness , the same will happen in the USA it’s all about making loads of money , and growing as mutch as they can , if it’s legal to but in the USA any one with a bit of common sense would just grow their own organically grown plants ! Does this make sense ?

  8. So I’m a regular smoker of cannabis, who not only has gained qualifications but won apprentice of the year 2018 in my field of work.

    Recently I’ve been tested and failed a urine test, so I have been told I can’t go back to work until my urine is clear (possibly 80+ days being clean)…. Why are we urine testing people for a substance which remains in your system for longer than hard drugs like heroine and cocaine?

    Weed is sociably acceptable, I even spoke about this around the table of chair(peoples) at the awards ceremony and I would say out of the 12 of us at the table at least half agreed this substance should be allowed.

    Wake up UK we pump ourselves full of antibiotics, antidepressants and all manor of harmful substances because powers that be can earn and get fat from.

    My simple change for my specific situation is why are we not saliva testing for cannabis which would show if a subject has consumed weed within 4 hours and is still under the influence??

    Instead I think I’ll go and get a prescription for antidepressants, then start smoking opiates (crack/heroine) and keep my job down to the fact the opiates in my system I can just claim are my prescribed antidepressants!!!

    WAKEY WAKEY UK!!!!

  9. People like to debate the pros and cons of legalization like it matters; there is only one reason the current law should be scrapped and that is liberty. The government have no right to restrict what we, as adults and citizens, put into our bodies. By supporting the current drug laws you are handing your liberty to the government and then trying to justify your self-castration.

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