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Cannabis: a misunderstood drug

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Cannabis has been regarded as illegal in most countries worldwide since the Indian Hemp Agreement at the 1925 International Opium Convention.

Yet in recent years attitudes towards its usage are beginning to change. Is cannabis a misunderstood drug?

Within the UK it has been restricted since 1928 and following the 1971 misuse of drugs act it has been classed as a Class B drug. The one exception to this is when there was a brief relaxation in classification between 2004 and 2009, which saw it reclassified as a Class C Drug.

The various restrictions in place have not prevented the wide usage of the drug in the UK, with it being the most commonly used drug within the country. Researchers found that 6.6% of adults aged 16 to 59 admitting using it in the past year, and 29% of all adults admitted they have used it at least once in their lifetime. Restrictions in the law have also not prevented the development of a booming illicit market, which according to the National Crime Agency is worth upwards of £1 billion a year.

In the UK on the whole, the drug is associated with crime and anti-social behaviour, disregarding not only the medical benefits certain characteristics of the drug has, but also the potential economic benefits legalisation has for the nation as a whole. Not to mention that if the drug was legalised it could be regulated, thus lowering crime rates.

Admittedly crime is heavily entwined with Cannabis, as the trafficking and production of the drug are highly reliant on criminal organisations. In fact, these organisations are responsible for importing 270 tonnes of Cannabis a year to satisfy UK demand. As a result of this reliance on crime, Cannabis has widely been accepted as the “gateway drug”, as the only way to purchase it is through the illicit market where harder illegal drugs are sold. Yet there is no real evidence to suggest that users of Cannabis are more likely to commit a crime or are more likely to develop addictions to harder, more dangerous drugs, whereas studies into the relationship between alcohol and crime provide an interesting read.

In 2015 there were 600,000 Violent crimes where the offender was under the influence of Alcohol according to the Office for National Statistics. This figure accounts for nearly 50% of all violent crimes within the UK. Yet there are no such figures documented for Cannabis. That is not to say no crime is committed due to it. In recent years studies have tended to suggest that levels of crime decrease following the legalisation of cannabis. According to the Economic Journal, crime including robberies, murders, and aggravated assaults have fallen by 12.5% within the Border states within the USA where marijuana reform has occurred.

Is it time for change?

Around the world attitudes towards the drug are changing. Canada has recently become the first G7 nation to support legalisation of Cannabis nationwide, and in the United States, nine states have legalised the drug. In today's society, there are changing attitudes towards Cannabis as a drug. A poll run by the Independent in 2016 showed 47% of people supported the legalisation of the sale of cannabis through licensed shops. Political parties such as the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have adopted policies in support of legalisation.

The economic benefits behind legalisation

In recent days former Conservative party leader William Hague came out in support for legalisation of Cannabis, stating in a letter to the Telegraph that the UK’s drug policy is “inappropriate, ineffective and utterly out of date”. According to him, the “battle is effectively over". In his letter, Hague argues that criminal gangs would lose power, while greater power would be in the hands of the authorities.

The UK based think Tank Volte Face estimates that the Cannabis market is worth £6.8 billion, thus potentially raising between £750 million and £1.05 billion in tax revenues for the UK. In the age of Brexit, this could provide extra economic stability to our increasingly fragile economy. It also estimates that Taxpayers would save £50 million a year, which is now spent on keeping cannabis related offenders in prison. In the UK, 67% of all drug offences documented by the Police are related to cannabis, while legalisation funding within the already stretched police force could be more adequately spent.

Are the health consequences really that bad?

The effects of cannabis on the human body are still heavily debated as they are particularly difficult to evaluate. The U.S National Institute of Drug Abuse reports that the short-term effects of smoking marijuana include euphoria, distorted perceptions, memory impairment, difficulty thinking and solving problems, whereas long-term effects of smoking cannabis have yielded inconsistent results as the effects noted are too subtle. The National Institute also states there is no evidence to suggest that smoking cannabis is addictive at this time.

This provides an interesting contrast to Alcohol, which is regarded as a psychoactive drug, with the ability to change Brain chemistry and can become lethal in high doses.

Excessive use of alcohol consumption or even moderate consumption over long periods of time can lead to an increased risk of health problems such as liver disease, cancer, cardiovascular problems and psychiatric problems. Yet Alcohol is part and parcel of society, widely accepted on the whole, and most importantly legal. Despite the lack of evidence showing detrimental effects of Cannabis, caution still should be taken if you wish to use the drug.

Echoing the sentiments of Lord Hague, British drug policy does appear to be outdated. While advancements towards the usage of cannabis in a medical vicinity have progressed in the past week, these reforms could go further with wide benefits for society as a whole. Legalisation in the US and other areas of the globe such as the Netherlands have provided economic benefits which the UK themselves could appreciate. Wide-scale reform may not be the answer, nor the immediate legalisation of Cannabis, but it is certainly something the government should consider or at least entertain while they gain a greater understanding. For many, it is coming to the point where the possible benefits are outweighing the negatives of the drug.

That said,  like any drug, there are consequences to taking it. Even if it is one day legalised, it could have an impact on your health. Since the drug is currently illegal in the UK, students should be aware of the laws and follow them. 

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