Position Papers: Cannabis legalisation

Cannabis is about as mainstream as illegal drugs can get, and even though huge numbers of the British public have used, or regularly use, the drug – it still remains outlawed in a way that is harmful to health and society.

I believe that we should legalise cannabis and give people the freedom to make their own decisions with the drug, which would bring benefits in so many ways.

The truth is that there is no real justification for maintaining draconian restrictions on the use and sale of cannabis any more than there is for alcohol and tobacco.

Scientific research has time and again shown than cannabis is a safer drug than tobacco and alcohol, and therefore in public health terms there is no credible argument for maintaining the ban on cannabis whilst allowing alcohol and tobacco to be sold freely.  A study from last year found that while alcohol and tobacco were both classed as “high risk” in terms of toxicological danger, cannabis was only a “low risk”.  Therefore if we insist on banning cannabis then we should either be banning and classifying alcohol and tobacco more strongly, or let people make their own decisions by legalising cannabis.

Indeed, the same study found that cannabis had a “very large” therapeutic index – which means that rather than being a danger to public health it could well be a benefit.  Medicinal use of cannabis is allowed in areas across the world and has proven particularly effective in treating chronic pain.  Legalising the drug opens up the possibility of using it on the NHS, and if it is proven to be cost-effective and provide a better standard of treatment to long-term patients then it should definitely be considered as vital part of the NHS’ care regimen.

Public opinion also suggests that the public are aware of the reduced risk of cannabis compared with other drugs, with it coming 12th out of 12 drugs in a survey asking which drugs are most dangerous.

With sensible Government regulation, as already exists for the likes of alcohol and tobacco, adults in Britain can safely use cannabis how they please and free from coercion of the black market.  Having to go through back channels to get hold of cannabis exposes the public to dangerous people and is more likely to lead to them engaging in crime or potentially buying more harmful substances.

By putting cannabis in line with other drugs in the way we police their use, we would be creating a safe precedent that could be in place for generations.  For instance, the legal age for purchase should be set at 18 and there should be a zero-tolerance approach to driving under the influence.  Use of the drug may only be permitted in private places or in licensed public establishments, as defined by local licensing boards in the same way as is done for alcohol.  We can also create effective licensing systems for those looking to produce cannabis for either personal or commercial use to ensure that the Government maintains control over the market and that people are using the drug responsibly.  Instead of having a lawless system we can create a safer way for people to have access to cannabis, creating benefits for users and the public alike.

Legalising cannabis can also lighten the burden that is currently placed on the justice system.  Rather than tying up the judicial system with cases for a victimless crime, we can allow people to exercise their own judgement and help refocus the courts and police on more serious offences.

Cannabis can also be another taxation stream for the Government which could bring in as much as £6.3 billion across the UK each year if taxed in the same way as other drugs.  If cannabis was subject to VAT at the standard rate of 17.5% and a further tax on its’ THC content, which is the active ingredient of the drug, then we could benefit financially from its’ sale which is surely a good thing.

In times of economic austerity, the extra funding would prove useful and could be used to supplement NHS budgets that are feeling the strain of Government cuts.

For consumers, cannabis being legalised would likely drive down prices – as despite taxation it would be subject to normal market demands rather than the price gouging of criminals who can charge what they like.

Therefore, the case for legalising cannabis is a public health, safety and economic one – which should suggest that it is a policy that could have a very positive impact here in Britain.

Only 16% of Brits in a 2014 survey said that they would try illegal drugs should it be decriminalised, which places the likes of cannabis at a far lower usage rate than alcohol or tobacco are at the moment.

Public opinion isn’t conclusively in favour of legalisation of cannabis as of yet, with Britain being split 40% to 46% on the legalisation and taxation of the drug at the start of 2015.  However, after recent decriminalisation efforts in Colorado and Washington in the US, Britons do seem to be softening to the idea.  Considering the issue has been limited in public discussion in the UK thus far, it is reasonable to assume that political campaigning on the issue could shift the balance in its’ favour.

Recently though, political parties have begun to take up the cause of cannabis.  The vast majority of the proposals in this article are backed by the Liberal Democrats’ recent report on cannabis and will hopefully become party policy.  There is also long-standing support from the Green Party and the very minor Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol party (CISTA).  While still minimal in its’ political importance, the addition of the Lib Dems to the coalition for cannabis is a major step that will bring the issue to the attention of the public at-large more than it ever has before.  With the evidence in favour of legalisation, the more that the public are allowed to engage with it the more likely they are to back it.

The economic, societal and health benefits of legalising cannabis far outweigh the costs and risks, and therefore the Government should seriously consider it.

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