Should the UK Change its Cannabis Laws?
In late November 2016, a cross-party group of MPs appealed for the British government to legalise marijuana. This was just after the Adam Smith Institute, a liberal think-tank, published a report concluding that the UK’s policies on cannabis were an “embarrassment” and that it should legalise and regulate the consumption of the drug, claiming that in this way the national treasury could gain up to one billion pounds in taxes. However, this is not the first time that British politicians have called for repealing the country’s harsh anti-cannabis laws. In March 2016, the Liberal Democrats became the first British mainstream political party to advocate the full legalisation of marijuana. Later in July, a survey revealed that 58% of MPs from across the political spectrum were in favour of authorising the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. The Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn even admitted that he agreed with this position too.
At the moment marijuana is the most widely used illegal narcotic in the United Kingdom and 6.7% of people between the ages of 16 and 59 have declared that they have consumed it within the past year, as specified by the Home Office. Current legislation regards cannabis as a Class B drug, meaning that any person caught possessing it could end up in prison for five years and pay an unlimited fine. Nonetheless, since 2010 only a quarter of citizens seen with the drug were charged by the police in England and Wales and arrests have decreased by almost 50%. One reason for this is the fact that the police budget suffered spending cuts during the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government and the situation has not changed. What is significant though is that a Sky Data poll in November last year displayed that 72% of its respondents concurred with the idea of legalising cannabis for therapeutic purposes.
Personally, I believe it is both a necessity and an inevitability that the UK and other countries will permit the use of cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes. The increasing number of states passing lax legislation with regard to the drug is one of the biggest proofs that the war on drugs, which began in the 1970s or even earlier, is failing. It has only led to the imprisonment and death of many innocent people, not only in Western countries but also in the rest of the world.
USA treats PTSD with Cannabis, Irelands laws just relaxed to treat three types of illness with #Cannabis, where’s the UK government? MOD?
— neiallski bulgarski (@neiallswheel) February 12, 2017
In addition, the work of drug traffickers and dealers has not ceased at all. In fact, they still continue to thrive despite existing drug prohibition laws. Moreover, it has been proven over and over again that cannabis has numerous health benefits. For example, a 2015 study demonstrated that THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) can reduce tumour growth. Surely this is a valid reason to decriminalise the drug? Furthermore, at the end of the day, if an individual decides to use cannabis for whatever reason, it is their own personal choice and a true liberal democracy should respect this.
The evidence presented by nation-states that have decriminalised or legalised the use of cannabis illustrate that so far it has been productive and has brought positive outcomes. In 2001 Portugal decriminalised every single drug (including marijuana) and so far drug abuse has decreased by a half.
Research has shown that in the U.S states where cannabis was legalised there was no increase in consumption by adolescents and car accidents on highways in Colorado are lower than ever before. In the Netherlands, where since 1976 the recreational use of marijuana has been allowed in coffee shops, there have been fewer arrests for minor drug offences and users have become less likely to purchase harder drugs. One can only hope that our government considers the benefits over the drawbacks of cannabis sooner rather than later and legislates accordingly.