You don’t have to smoke weed to know its a big day for people who smoke weed today. 4/20, it’s basically Christmas for stoners across the world. A day of festivities and celebrations where teenagers congregate in parks being onlooked by hoards of suspicious policemen and ineffective sniffer dogs. Unless of course, it’s legal where you live. But whilst the rest of the world has been realising what an utter failure the war on drugs has been, in the UK no progress has been made whatsoever. There is support for ending the prohibition, in fact most of the opposition parties have expressed at least some degree of support for ending the draconian weed laws. The Liberal Democrats and Greens are for full blown legalisation. Labour and the SNP would start with medicinal marijuana. Even UKIP have considered the idea with Farage coming out in favour of decriminalisation. But there’s one beast that’s too stubborn to shift, and unfortunately its the same one calling all the shots for the foreseeable future. You guessed it, it’s the Tories.
So why should we legalise marijuana? I mean, it’s a drug isn’t it? And drugs are bad, aren’t they? By now you’ve probably heard all the arguments for and against. If you aren’t won over already, it might just be worth cutting down on your Daily Mail intake a tad. Because it’s not just hippies advocating for change nowadays, it’s become common sense that legalisation and regulation is the way forward. This is a lesson that should have been learnt and engrained in the minds of everyone after the prohibition of alcohol was lifted in the 1920s. But for those who aren’t clear on the reasons why, it goes something like this…
At the moment, since cannabis is illegal it stays in the hands of criminal gangs. These gangs don’t care who they sell it to, meaning kids can get their hands on it with ease, on top of the harder drugs these gangs sell. Now, cannabis isn’t a particularly harmful substance, in fact scientists point out it’s much safer than alcohol and tobacco. However it is the most widely used illegal drug in the UK, so taking it out of the hands of criminals would cut into their profit margins quite significantly, meaning many would go out of business. On top of this, police devote a lot of time and resources to chasing down cannabis sellers which could be spent on more pressing dangers, especially in these times of cuts and austerity. So whether you think weed is a medicine or a harmful substance, there is a plethora of reasons why it should be regulated by the government instead of left to the criminals.
To those wondering what the fruits of prohibition have been in the UK? Well, we’ve seen a spike in the use of synthetic drugs like Spice, that are much more harmful than the the drugs they try to emulate and which were until recently sold in shops across the UK. Synthetic drugs have wreaked havoc in some communities especially in places like Manchester, causing seizures, heart attacks and many other dangers.
How many deaths has marijuana caused? None. Ever. It is virtually impossible to overdose on marijuana. It would require smoking 1,500 pounds of weed in 15 minutes to die, and even then it would be from the carbon monoxide in the smoke, not from marijuana’s active component, THC.
While the UK Government refuses to alter its archaic marijuana laws, other countries are taking the initiative. Canada’s Trudeau beau has unveiled a bill (following from his 2015 campaign promise) that would see recreational marijuana legalized across the whole nation. Israel continues to be a chief champion for cannabis, with the highest percentage of financial resources devoted to research on the plant. In fact, marijuana reform receives bipartisan support and especially the support of Netanyahu’s right-wing government. That endorsement has enabled Israel’s cannabis industry to become the most innovative and successful in the world, with Israel holding the annual CannaTech conference that brings together the various elements of research, business and technology. Its leadership has in large part been aided by forward-thinking universities, with Hebrew University set to open a new Cannabis Centre to lead global biological and commercial research that is to be staffed with pre-eminent figures in the industry. As the brightest green light, Israel’s progression and engagement with cannabis makes it a beacon of promise, showing what the future of cannabis around the world may look like.
Israel’s cannabis industry is expected to reach $20 billion per annum by 2020. But it’s not just Israel reaping the huge economic benefits of legalisation. In the US, currently 26 states (and growing) have legalised medical marijuana and 7 states have legalised it recreationally, too. By 2020, the cannabis industry will be creating more jobs than manufacturing, and is projected to be worth $50 billion nationwide by 2026. Australia, Spain, Germany, Poland, Netherlands, Turkey, Uruguay, Chile, Portugal and Jamaica are additional examples where weed has been legalised in some form (or all forms), or where governments have decided not to prosecute people for personal use. And they’re not doing half bad. Cuts to social care, broken NHS promises, overcrowded prisons and failing public services- such areas in which a legal, regulated and taxed marijuana industry in the UK could make waves if the money is reinvested.
To expect that young people won’t smoke cannabis if the laws are strict is plain wrong. Rules have little bearing on those who value personal liberty, and attempts to restrict cannabis use carry little favour with those aware of the benefits for various illnesses, be it mental health related, epilepsy, arthritis or eating disorders to name but a few. The greatest risk of cannabis however, is from the tobacco usually mixed with it. This is commonplace for UK pot smokers, but not in the US where legalisation has led to greater awareness of the best ways to smoke. Such an education in the UK is crucial for lowering tobacco dependency amongst cannabis smokers, with potentially transformative health benefits for those unaware of the severely damaging effects of unfiltered tobacco.
UK primitive laws render us global laughing stocks, at a time where so many other nations are moving towards liberalisation. The War on Drugs has failed. Where there is people, there is cannabis.
Sadly in the UK, we have Theresa May. The person who according to the deputy PM at the time, tampered with the results of a Home Office drugs report because she “didn’t like the conclusions”. The same person who apparently just simply cannot understand how there can be medicinal benefits to marijuana. Peter Reynolds, leader of CLEAR, was told by the Liberal Democrat Norman Baker who worked in the Home Office under May that “she simply does not comprehend that cannabis can be a legitimate medicine. The very idea is anathema to her. It is beyond her comprehension.”
Theresa May isn’t the only Tory to blame however. Her predecessor, David Cameron, could have easily made progress on reforming the drug laws. In fact before he became leader of the party he was very sympathetic to change. In 2002 within a Home Affairs Committee and whilst in opposition, David Cameron pleaded with the Labour Government: “I ask the Labour government not to return to retribution and war on drugs, that has been tried and we all know that it does not work…” Cameron actually then voted to consider ‘the possibility of legalisation and regulation’. What happened to change his views? Did he get trampled on at a Ziggy Marley concert leading to a bitter hatred of anything green? No, he just faced the realities of becoming Tory leader where any steps toward drug reform are deeply unpopular with the voting base. Who votes Tory? A lot of mums. What do a lot of these mums read? The Daily Mail. And so you can see why he decided to abandon this spout of common sense.
But at least David Cameron saw the light at some point. He’s not the only unsuspecting person who’s come out in favour of legalisation. Police Commissioners across the country, from Durham to Dorset have said they’ll stop targeting cannabis smokers and growers because they have bigger fish to fry.
Its not just the UK who has draconian drug laws. The Philippines has a much worse leader in Rodrigo Duterte who wants to slaughter all drug users. He said last year: “Hitler massacred three million Jews… there’s three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them”. So it’s no great wonder that when Liam Fox made a visit to Duterte earlier this month he talked about “shared values”.