The Liberal Democrats have recently announced plans for a “regulated market” for the production, sale and consumption of cannabis in the UK. Whilst there is little prospect of this policy becoming reality, due to the likely Conservative victory at the election, it will nevertheless reignite the drugs debate in this country.
I don’t profess to have an in-depth knowledge of the drugs debate. I have never tried cannabis because it doesn’t appeal to me and it never will, but this is entirely irrelevant. Despite its illegality, if I wanted cannabis, I could get it; because of its availability anyone can get it with ease. Public offers to buy drugs are made with impunity on a night out. Given this, isn’t trying to tackle the cannabis trade a futile effort? For every head of the snake the authorities cut off, another will inevitably grow back sooner or later. With cannabis criminalised, its purchase often causes individuals who innocently enjoy it to fund and sustain a network of criminal gangs. A regulated and controlled cannabis market would put the entire existing system out of business and take it out of the hands of criminals. Our thinly stretched police forces commit vast amounts of time, personnel and money cracking down on the illicit drugs trade. Instead of trying to enforce the unenforceable, wouldn’t they be far better tasked fighting battles they can actually win? The parallels with the Prohibition Era in 1920’s America are easy to draw; no matter how harshly laws were enforced, the government could not stop people drinking alcohol and many ended up supporting criminals, drinking bootlegged alcohol and causing a serious health risk to themselves.
The United Kingdom would only be following a global pattern of legalising cannabis, times are changing and acceptance is rising. Many countries have now legalised consumption of cannabis to varying degrees including many European countries and parts of the United States. As there are yet to be any catastrophic consequences from this move, is it not time that UK has a drugs policy that is fit for the modern day? How long will it be before a blanket ban on cannabis is the exception rather than the rule? There are additional benefits to regulated cannabis too; such a market would be healthily taxed, which could provide up to £1 billion pounds in extra revenue – by no means a small injection of cash. By removing production from the hands of the gangs who are far more concerned with profit than the health of their customers, the safety of users could be improved. Producing cannabis safely will eliminate the risk caused by the tactics of criminals, such as lacing it with potentially dangerous substances to cut costs.
It is important, however, that we do not get ahead of ourselves; legalising cannabis would not be without consequence. Whilst the health risks of cannabis will continue to be debated until the end of time, legalising cannabis would almost certainly open the debate about decriminalising other drugs, including those with known health dangers like cocaine and heroin. It may seem to be an indirect consequence, but could legalising cannabis be the start of a dangerous downward spiral in concern for public health? What’s more, any “regulated cannabis market” must be considerate of how “regulated” the market is. Too many regulations or restrictions may drive users back to the gangs the market is trying to defeat; a fine balance must be struck to be successful. Finally – and this may be a trivial and petty point – but many, myself included, are not exactly keen on the smell of the stuff. The less it’s smelled the better. Legalising cannabis would undoubtedly make its use in public far more prevalent; should broad daylight cannabis consumption be socially acceptable in public areas? Some find cigarettes bad enough, cannabis may be a step too far.
This will remain a contentious issue, but I do not believe that decriminalising cannabis will yield any disastrous results. As stated earlier, I don’t know every particularity of this debate – there could be crucial arguments I am missing on both sides – but ultimately I find myself broadly in support. It isn’t for me, but the important distinction to make is that unlike the gangs who grow and distribute it, many cannabis users are ordinary people, not criminals. Is it not right that the state stopped criminalising and interfering in the lives of those ordinary people looking to enjoy themselves in the same way one would enjoy cigarettes or alcohol?