The legalisation of cannabis has been the subject of many debates in recent years. With some high-profile politicians such as Lib Dem Health Spokesperson, Norman Lamb, as well as a large percentage of the general public calling for the legalisation of the Class B substance; why has it not yet been legalised?
Why should cannabis be legalised?
Out of all the arguments for cannabis legalisation the biggest one has been the economic benefits.
According to a recent study, the sale of legalised cannabis could bring in around £500m – £800m annually in tax revenue. If true, this would greatly outweigh the £361 million spent by the government to police and treat cannabis users each year.
The results of the report have even been endorsed by the Liberal Democrats, who have called for the legalisation of the drug, as well as it being regulated to help control the pricing and potency.
Mr Lamb said earlier this year “The UK is spending billions fighting a losing battle on drug use,”. When asked whether he thought total prohibition would send the message that drugs were harmless, he disagreed by saying ” I believe we need to regulate drugs precisely because of the harm they pose. Nothing is made safer when it is left in the hands of criminals,”.
With so much public support for legalising cannabis (the smoking of which many people don’t even consider a crime anymore), why have the government not legalised it and made it available for sale with duty tax added, like with alcohol and tobacco products?
According to the Home Office, the main reason for keeping it illegal was the “clear scientific and medical evidence” that cannabis damaged peoples mental and physical health.
Is cannabis really that dangerous?
Research has shown that cannabis is 114 times LESS deadly than alcohol, with over 7000 alcohol-related deaths recorded in the UK in 2014 alone, whilst drugs-related deaths (including deaths by harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin) was only 3,300. You can easily over-dose and die from alcohol, but you can’t do that with cannabis, as the effects on your body are much more subtle.
In fact, a lot of the health risks of smoking cannabis are the same for alcohol and/or cigarettes;
- Damages your lungs
- Can affect your ability to drive
- Can harm mental health
- May affect fertility
So if cannabis has some of the same negative effects of two legal and well advertised drugs (alcohol and nicotine), why is cannabis illegal and they aren’t?
Does cannabis have any positive side-effects?
Whilst full testing has yet to be completed, there have been some medical benefits of smoking cannabis.
Herbal cannabis contains compounds called cannabinoids, two of these called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the active ingredients of the prescribed drug, Savitex, which is used to reduce the muscle spasms in people who suffer from multiple sclerosis.
Further medical tests are being carried out, but some common side effects are being tested for medical benefits. One such side effect commonly called ‘the munchies’ is being trialled out to see if it can reverse the loss of appetite of people living with HIV/AIDS.
While side-effects can have medical benefits, they can also have social benefits.
Though the effects of cannabis can vary from person-to-person, one side effect can be an increase of confidence and can make some people more talkative and social, as well as being calming and making people feel happy and relaxed.
As mentioned earlier, cannabis has the potential to make a lot of money in tax revenue, but that’s not just it.
Many other government departments would see a large saving if cannabis were to be legalised and treated like tobacco is.
According to research revealed from the study by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex, the NHS alone could save between £16m and £128m per annum, if the drug were to be legalised.
The Treasury itself admitted that there would be huge annual savings, especially in the criminal justice system – with between £55m and £147m saved each year.
A breakdown by the Treasury department concluded that if people weren’t charged for possession of cannabis it could lead to the following savings within the Department of Justice;
- £18m to the Police
- £24m the courts
- £9m in community sentences
- £3m to the probation services
- £2m to prisons
With cannabis legalised, users would switch to the legal market, which would also see savings in the costs of dealing with more serious drug offenders.
But its not just the taxation of herbal cannabis that would give a lift to the economy, it would also bring in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
When the US State of Colorado legalised marijuana back in 2014, it created over 10,000 new jobs in the marijuana industry – from growing and harvesting the crops, to packaging and selling equipment.
Crime rates will fall
If Colorado’s example is to be followed, then the legalisation of cannabis would also see a drop in crime rate across the UK.
Three months after cannabis was legalised in Denver, they saw a drop in crime rate of 14.6%. More specifically, violent crime was down by 2.4% and the number of assaults reduced by 3.7%. Whilst this doesn’t seem like much, it would enable police to better deal with other, non-cannabis related crimes.
When the subject of cannabis legalisation was debated in the House of Commons, former Tory cabinet minister, Peter Lilley agreed that cannabis should be legalised and made available for medical use.
“Even Queen Victoria allegedly used cannabis to relieve menstrual pain and if it’s a Victorian value then surely it can be made more widely available” he said to MPs. “Prohibition of cannabis drives soft drug users into the arms of hard drug pushers. Only by providing some legal outlets for cannabis can we break the contact between cannabis users and those pushing cocaine, crack and heroin”.
With all the economic and social benefits (as well as the potential to be medically beneficial), why shouldn’t cannabis be made legal? Especially when alcohol and tobacco have similar negative effects – and yet they are legal, whilst cannabis is not.
To me, the taxation, regulation, education and legalisation of cannabis is a no-brainer. Surely?