High Time: Legalisation of Marijuana in the UK?

Canada recently legalised recreational cannabis. Should the UK be next?

Parmveer Singh
26th November 2018
Photo by Wesley Gibbs on Unsplash

Jazz cigarettes, the devil’s lettuce, the holistic bud, or simply, marijuana: no matter the name, you have likely encountered the hotly baked topic of cannabis legalisation. With major countries like Canada and certain states in the USA decriminalising recreational marijuana use, it’s worth pondering whether the drug should be legalised here in the UK.

At the moment, possession, growth, or distribution of cannabis in Britain can lead to major fines and/or jail time. Even with these consequences, the UK Home Office found that marijuana was the most commonly used illicit drug with 2.1 million people using it in 2015.

It was only recently that the UK government approved the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. While many proponents of marijuana legalisation believe consumption of the plant can lead to ill effects, the scientific support is a bit hazy.

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana. However, there are many other compounds present that affect the central nervous system. The concentrations of these different chemicals will vary in uncontrolled environments, making it difficult to determine adverse effects outside of the laboratory. Additionally, large changes in THC concentrations in marijuana from the 1980s and 2008 have been measured, meaning older research on the drug may be unreliable.

Some recent research does point to long term impaired cognitive abilities in chronic marijuana smokers that began using marijuana during adolescence. Daily users of cannabis have also experienced long term psychosis-like effects and schizophrenic states, though the link is weak.

Other adverse effects that have been reported include respiratory tract damage, cancer, cardiovascular issues, and reproductive abnormalities, but again, the scientific research behind these claims is inconclusive. It is also important to note that most of the research showing these adverse effects was conducted on daily marijuana smokers. Less frequent consumption of cannabis or consumption of cannabis in other forms, such as oil or using a vaporiser, can eliminate some of the detrimental effects associated with marijuana.

Conversely, research has indicated that marijuana can have positive effects on those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, cachexia, anorexia, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, nausea/vomiting, pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and spasticity. This has led to the UK government relaxing laws on medical marijuana prescriptions.

From a social standpoint, recreational marijuana legalisation would likely have an overall positive impact on society. It is estimated that the tax revenues from marijuana sales would be £690m annually, which could be spent on improving public services such as the NHS. Legalisation would also lead to new jobs and businesses in the UK. Moreover, with marijuana legal, there will be less burden on the judicial system, allowing law enforcement agencies to focus on more serious crimes. Importantly, marijuana production would be more controlled and standardised, leading to safer and untainted cannabis and a decreased burden on the NHS.

Luckily, the UK can look to Colorado and Washington to determine the actual impacts of marijuana legalisation. Recreational marijuana has been legal in these US states for six years now. Briefly, there was an overall decrease in crime, including a 10% and 13% drop in violent crime and murder rates, respectively. There was a 2.7% increase in traffic incidents attributed to cannabis legalisation, but drunk driving has gone down 50%, resulting in a decrease in fatal traffic accidents. Slight decreases were observed in the use of cannabis by minors, but there was an increase in children accidentally eating cannabis edibles.

In the past year alone, Colorado and Washington states received roughly $250m and $300m USD from marijuana sales tax and license fees, which has been reinvested into the community. The use and overdose of some harder drugs, such as opioids, has also decreased. Lastly, there has been an increase in homelessness, thought to be due to migration of cannabis addicts moving to the states.

All things considered, there seem to be more benefits in legalising recreational marijuana than having it remain as an illicit drug. If legalised, imposing restrictions on sales and use of marijuana, similar to alcohol or tobacco restrictions, would eliminate most of the adverse social and health issues that may come with consumption of the plant. After all, both alcohol and tobacco have been shown to be more addictive and more damaging to an individual and society compared to cannabis, so why is marijuana illegal? The UK should take a leaf out of Canada’s book and legalise marijuana to improve the health and social wellbeing of Britain.


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