Legalising cannabis use in the UK

Cannabis is a drug that is widely used throughout the UK and the world. In the UK, cannabis is illegal and being found in possession of it can bring on a prison sentence and a hefty fine. The title of this essay is about the economic arguments for and against legalising cannabis in the UK. I will look into the advantages and disadvantages of whether legalising cannabis will benefit the UK, or worsen the UK.

So far the argument has been that the government has now had a change of heart on their opinion of cannabis. They feel that cannabis is a drug that has its positive aspects, and should be distinguished between the more hardcore drugs, e.g. Heroin, Cocaine. However, there are arguments to not legalising it, one being it can influence younger children. Cannabis is an illegal substance. It comes from the cannabis sativa plant. It can come in various forms, which include a dark, solid lump known as resin, or crushed flower heads & leaves (sometimes with stalks and seeds) called grass, or occasionally, as an oil. Cannabis plants can grow up to 1.8 m (6ft) tall. It can be rolled with tobacco – called a spliff or joint – or smoked on its own in a pipe. It can also be eaten, sometimes in a cake. There are many slang names for cannabis, some of which are marijuana, weed, hash, spliff, and ganja.

Cannabis can be used for medical reasons, as it can relieve nausea and allow patients to eat and live normally. Cannabis has many effects on the human body. It’s mildly sedative effect can lead to relaxation, decreased blood pressure, increased appetite, and increased sociability. Cannabis is high in carcinogens, and regular use may damage lungs. The official medical view of cannabis has also undergone a revolution. Although no one believes cannabis is a harmless drug, it is now widely seen to be less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco, although in the long term could cause lung cancer.

As the British Medical Association puts it: “The acute toxicity of cannabinoids is extremely low. No deaths have been directly attributed to their recreational or therapeutic use.” Cannabis is to be downgraded from a class B drug to a class C drug. It will still remain illegal but will have maximum penalties of 2 years for possession and 5 years for possession with intent to supply, compared to the current sentences of 5 years and 14 years respectively. The main reason for the reclassification is that cannabis does have its benefits and advantages. There are many cannabis organisations in favour of legalising cannabis

There has not been a reported death for which cannabis is directly responsible, whereas, there is always news and stories linking tobacco with cancer and high blood pressure. Yet cigarettes are available to buy to anyone in Britain over 16-years-old, while cannabis is a banned substance. The opportunity cost of not legalising cannabis is alcohol and cigarettes, which are consumed anyway. Alcohol is socially approved, even though people know the consequences of alcohol. Cannabis is not packed as tightly as a tobacco cigarette, and so the substances smoked is about half that in a tobacco cigarette. Also, tobacco smokers generally smoke considerably more cigarettes per day than do cannabis smokers.

A main argument for legalising cannabis is that it can be used for medical purposes. Cannabis can contribute valuably to the treatment of nausea, chronic pain, asthma, multiple sclerosis and various other illnesses. Another argument is that a lot of police time will be saved from dealing with cannabis related issues, when there are more serious crimes to deal with.

Cannabis usage has increased dramatically over the years, with the number of drug offences that police dealt with which involved cannabis doubling from 40,194 in 1990 to 86,034 in 1997. In a recent poll put together by the Guardian newspaper, 65% of its readers agreed that “Prosecution for cannabis should be the lowest priority for the police”.

Police time will increase if cannabis is legalised, as the majority of police time is spent on handling cannabis offences. Police will no longer have the power to arrest anyone in the street for cannabis possession and prosecutions will be carried out by court summons. Police will lose power to arrest the 90,000 people a year who are currently charged with possession offences. (Figures provided by UKCIA)

The diagram above shows the number of arrests made in Britain over a 10-year period related to all drugs and cannabis. As you can see, a lot of arrests were made for cannabis usage, or possession. This is a huge amount of arrests, considering it is classified as a drug not any different to cigarettes. Since labour came to power, arrests for possession have stayed near the same level; with more than 81,000 a year arrested for possession in the 12 months to march 2001. Police looking for drugs, search more than 300,000 people in the street each year.

The government is also pressed to legalise cannabis because it can be used for medical purposes. It has the potential to treat patients with different types of illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis, aids or patients who are undergoing chemotherapy and who suffer from severe pain, nausea, and appetite loss and other illnesses. It can also be used for its healing properties and as a way of dulling pain, such as headaches.

Cannabis has been used as an herbal cure for medical purposes for thousands of years by different cultures, but since it became illegal in Britain under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, it has done little to stop it still being used. The Act sets upon which “People in the UK can be prosecuted for possession, cultivation, supply, and possession with intent to supply, production, importation or exportation of the plant, which many people find sacred”. Home Secretary David Blunkett said “Britain’s 30 year old cannabis laws, the most stringent in Europe, are to be relaxed by next spring”.

According to the law, until 1971 cannabis was a substance of potential healing value: it could be prescribed medically. During that year however, with The Misuse of Drugs Act, it became illegal. This was largely due to British agreement with the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotics of 1961, in which cannabis was classified as a dangerous drug of no beneficial value. The British Government claimed that cannabis was being misused as a recreational drug.