Should Cannabis be legalised?

Most of the information gathered in this report is from the Internet. I appreciate that a number of the sites may not be reliable with respect to statistics or information provided, and that there is the potential for bias or manipulation of any studies performed. Many of the reports/ articles are political or social arguments rather than a legal argument. Subject to the above this report will outline the general positions of the cannabis legalisation debate.

Currently the possession, cultivation, supply, possession within intent to supply, production, importation, or exportation, of cannabis is classed as a Class C drug offence (since October 2001). This classification is detailed in the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001. The preamble to this Act states that the Act is to “control the sudden growth in the misuse of drugs”, and to deal quickly with the new trends in drug misuse. However, the Act does not differentiate between the small time personal user who supplies to friends, from the large scale, profiteering dealer.

The Drugs Task Force Report stated the Act was to establish drug controls because of “their harmfulness and adverse social consequences”. That decriminalisation would inevitably encourage much wider use of harsher drugs and would expose large members of people….. to their harmful effects1″. Possession of a class C drug carries a maximum penalty of 2 years, but the penalty is rarely invoked. Why have a penalty that is not invoked?? Cannabis has been considered by many in British society as a drug that severely alters the brain chemistry (and other organ chemistry) to the detriment of the individual user.

For a drug to be considered legal, the effects of that drug must be beneficial or not dangerous to society. The question is – is cannabis dangerous, and if not, why is it illegal to use? Susan Greenfield, an expert in Neuroscience, has stated that a “severe impairment in attention span and cognitive performance in regular cannabis users, even after the habit has been relinquished” does occur. Based on these findings and others like it, the drug has been determined to be detrimental to society.

Yet researchers in Canada have showed that although heavy cannabis smokers did experience a dip in their intelligence quotient (IQ) they did recover to their normal standard after a reasonable period of time. This argument opens the debate of why cannabis is deemed to be legally different to many legal drugs e. g. cigarettes, alcohol also cause temporary IQ loss? Human Rights In a truly democratic society a person has the right to expose their body to anything, even if it is dangerous to their health, as long as the person is fully aware of the consequences/ impact.

In the UK, the group “liberty” is supporting Jerry Ham in challenging the laws of possession. His defence will argue that possession of a small amount of cannabis for personal use is not illegal and current laws breach the Human Rights Act. A similar case was successful in Germany in 1994. A number of European countries have either decriminalised possession e. g. Netherlands, Belgium or are considering doing so e. g. Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. All the countries have introduced administrative rather than criminal sanctions for possession. Medical

It has been proven in science that cannabis has many medicinal benefits. The most well known being pain relief. A 1988 a court case in the US, Young J accepted that marijuana has medicinal use, and that “in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. 2” In California patients are exempt from criminal charges, and are allowed to cultivate cannabis for private medicinal purposes.

Cost Drug traffickers can earn approximately  500,000 for 8-12 kilos on the street. The Economist in 1999 reported that it cost the British taxpayers 500M a year to police the drug policy. The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) estimates it at $300M a year. This excludes the legal court costs and time. In 1997, Stephen Daly was taken to court (Aberdeen) for possessing 0. 02 grams of cannabis at a street value of 10p. It is a relief that the Sheriff only cautioned Daly due to its ridiculous nature. Other similar cases have occurred in Scotland. It must be said that such resources and money spent on similar cases could have been spent more effectively.

Although legislation and courts are slowly reducing the penalties for cannabis use, there still appears to be a large discrepancy between the benefits of cannabis and it’s negative impacts on society. The debate in science and government circles over whether cannabis is a dangerous drug must continue, especially considering that alcohol and cigarettes are legal and have historically caused more deaths. Society’s opinion of what is detrimental to itself is changing, and with this the law need to move, with caution, to reflect the scientific knowledge and evidence of today, not of the past.