Don’t be so Blunt, Legalise Cannabis

Cannabis is lighting up the world stage, raising interesting questions for many societies. It’s high time we legalised the stuff.


Freedom for cannabis users? We’re missing an opportunity to tax it, relieve overcrowded prisons and help those with unhealthy addictions. (Photo: High Times)

Freedom for cannabis users? We’re missing an opportunity to tax it, relieve overcrowded prisons and help those with unhealthy addictions. (Photo: High Times)

Tackling the drug of many names has proved a difficult task for governments and organisations across the world. Many countries or individual states have already made the move towards legalisation of the world’s most used recreational drug. Shouldn’t we consider doing the same?

Firstly, it’s important to stress the difference between decriminalisation and legalisation on this topic, however. Many have mistakenly used the words interchangeably, but there are differences. Decriminalisation is a term that defines the process by which an individual caught with small amounts of the drug in question will not be prosecuted unless they are found to be using it in a public place or driving under its influence. Conversely, legalisation refers to the total legal indemnification of users, producers and dealers from all prosecution if caught in the process of their respective enterprises.

(Source: The Economist)

(Source: The Economist)

Several countries across the world including Uruguay, Jamaica and Portugal and some US States including New York, Ohio and Nevada have opted to decriminalise cannabis. The argument by many pressure groups and lobbyists is in favour of decriminalisation as a step towards eventual legalisation, breaking people in slowly. Even without this final leap to legalisation, the decriminalising of cannabis could be very useful in its own right. The Prison Reform Trust reported that in December 2012, 15% of female prisoners and 14% of male prisoners had been prosecuted and sent down for “drug offences.”

The possession of cannabis (a class B drug) in the UK can land you with up to five years in prison and an unlimited fine; with this in mind it begs the question, how much money are we spending keeping people battling addictions in prison? Considering the £65,000 price tag of imprisoning an individual and the £40,000 annual price tag of keeping that person in place, each cannabis offender could cost up to £265,000 to incarcerate for their full five years. With all the numbers added, are looking at a hefty £3,199,088,000 hole that could’ve been better spent elsewhere (perhaps helping those already struggling to survive because of cannabis, without removing their chances of getting back on their feet).

Decriminalisation would allow for people, currently costing us (officially) £3.355 billion a year, to use drugs more freely without fear of prosecution and without the hefty cost to the government. Overcrowding (85,816 inmates nationwide, with up to three quarters of prisons overcrowded) in UK prisons would become less of a problem, small amounts of cannabis for personal use would also become legal, further reducing costs.

Prisons in the UK are straining to cope with high numbers of inmates. (Photo: International Business Times)

Prisons in the UK are straining to cope with high numbers of inmates. (Photo: International Business Times)

Aside from the financial gains of decriminalisation of cannabis, there are many more beneficial factors to total legalisation of the drug. Without harsh punishments for drug producers and dealers, the criminal aspect of their chosen business is removed. As a result, crime rates in general tend to drop. In Jamaica where cannabis has been decriminalised the rate of drug related murders has fallen by 20% on March of 2014. The argument by many pressure groups is that this ripple effect would extend further than just murder, but also to theft and rape. Gang culture, often fuelled by the production, selling and use of cannabis would be severely reduced and become less of a burden on straining police forces across the globe. This is particularly poignant in Mexico; for more insight on Mexico’s War on Drugs, read my colleague, Fiona Sullivan’s article here.

The revenue the US is missing out on, in the same way we are. (Source: Live Trading News)

The revenue the US is missing out on, in the same way we are. (Source: Live Trading News)

The War on Drugs across the world has led many to question the logic of governments with regard to what can be used and what can’t. Tobacco and Alcohol are both available to purchase legally in many countries, but are also both proven to more addictive and more dangerous than cannabis. Mental health issues associated with cannabis can be easily associated with alcohol and tobacco also, but the additional effects of alcohol in particular are much more risky than the use of cannabis. Various cancers, liver disease and a variety of other mental and physical diseases can be attributed to the use of already legal drugs. With cannabis ranking lower than both alcohol and tobacco in terms of its danger, the logic of this argument is inherently flawed.

Much like tobacco and alcohol, cannabis has many users, willing to pay sometimes extortionate prices to acquire their preferred drug. Without the barrier of illegality, companies and individuals wishing to sell the drug would be subject to tax laws and subsequently, boost the economy. If cannabis were to be sold in the same manner as alcohol and tobacco (perhaps not to the same extent), the extent to which people would buy the drug would be significantly reduced.

In addition to all of these factors, one of the big problems with drugs in general is many “manufacturers” don’t follow any form of regulation. With legalisation, official guidelines telling producers what they can and can’t put into their drugs would reduce the likelihood of awfully made “spliffs” containing dangerous chemicals being sold would drastically fall. It is for this reason, that it makes a great deal of sense for countries across the world to legalise cannabis; studies in the US show that countries and states that have legalised cannabis have seen a fall in crime rates of up to 12%.

Cannabis is the world’s most common recreational drug. Spend 10 minutes on Facebook and you’ll see how open people can be about its use. The law is behind the times, and though its intentions are to protect individuals from harm, in this case, restrictions to cannabis use is choking prisons, police, users and the general public, all of whom are out of pocket. So, the case is clear. Let’s lighten up and legalise cannabis.

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