With regards to cannabis use, despite decades of efforts, scientists have been unable to establish a lethal dose, unable to show evidence of physical dependency, unable to correlate regular use with long term health problems and unable to link it to any other serious problems in society – and one might argue we could do with a little more happiness and thoughtfulness in our world. It’s clear that when it comes to weed or hash, there is an irrational demonization process taking place when compared to the safety of a plethora of other goods freely available to purchase on our supermarket shelves.
Of course harder drugs such as alcohol, cocaine or heroin cause real harm if misused. It’s worth noting however, that still by far the most effective way to minimise such harm is regulation, education and rehabilitation. Criminalisation has not and cannot ever work. Cannabis is just a particularly ridiculous substance to ban because of how innocuous it is – especially when one considers the consequences of prohibition.
Everyone wants to get high. It seems to be part of the package of being human. Some people use alcohol, tobacco or caffeine – drugs that are legal. But many people discover there are other, illegal substances, that work better for them. The overwhelmingly most common experience people have on these illegal substances is euphoria, and other than a bad head in the morning, they find that the drawbacks are negligible. This is why they take them again. If these people were seeing their friend’s drop dead by the truck load or were having a bad time themselves, it’s highly unlikely they would continue to spend their money on such drugs. This is why scare tactics don’t work.
The law is no deterrent because suppliers know the risk and reward trade off swings massively in their favour. Compared to something like guns, drugs are small and easy to conceal and transport. The prize is simply too tempting. And let’s be clear – it’s the current law that creates this irresistible business opportunity. As for users, well they go to someone’s house to buy their drugs of choice and then they go back to their own house to take them. This is quite obviously impossible to police. There is hardly any risk of being caught as a user. Millions of people take illegal substances every day for decades on end without even a single brush with the authorities.
Therefore we can confidently say that the only consequences of our current laws are a creation of a black market, wasting police time, wasting tax revenue, preventing a lucrative tax income, criminalising people unnecessarily and further overcrowding of prisons. Our governments stubborn refusal to admit the war on drugs has been lost, and a continual denial of the facts presented to them by their own experts, also brings untold dangers to people’s health by resulting in a failure to educate, by aiding the proliferation of poisonous concoctions or dangerously strong strains, and by obstructing treatment. The best way to help people negotiate the road to euphoria without taking an unhappy diversion to misuse or abuse, is to educate them and regulate what’s available. Billions of us around the world unthinkingly feel the benefit of this every day with drugs like alcohol or paracetamol.
One might also wish to argue, as indeed I do, that every individual has the innate right to be the guardian of their own consciousness.
Cannabis implores us more than any other illegal drug to raise the question – why is it illegal? The answer lies in our society’s unhealthy obsession with the concept of sin and an antiquated desire to control what people do in the privacy of their own homes. These twisted definitions of morality undoubtedly have their roots in religion but our right-wing media has kept them alive and well in the 21st century by depicting anyone who smokes a joint as a robber of old ladies handbags, a violent gangster, a societal drop out, unclean, unsuccessful, disease riddled or curled up in a corner half way into a coma. Back on planet earth we know this is just a conservative fantasy.
I should dispose of the line that detractors cling to as their last bastion of hope – the gateway drug argument. When it comes to alcohol, everyone can see that the percentage of those that drink who also take heroin is so low as to exonerate booze from blame. But remarkably, when the conversation switches to cannabis, it is assumed by many, without any evidence, that it will lead to the abuse of other drugs. Of course no unbiased study has ever supported the gateway drug argument, and it is rejected by any serious expert on the subject of drug use. In short, the same logic that clears alcohol from blame as a gateway drug also exonerates cannabis.
As I was writing this essay, I read an article in The New York Times warning the Democrat Party in America not to become ‘The Party of Pot’. They make the following claims; marijuana is addictive and many studies by reputable organisations support this view – and those who say otherwise are lying. Marijuana lowers IQ by 1 or 2 points in adulthood if you start using it heavily at age 14. 14 year olds who use it heavily perform less well at school.
First notice they use the term ‘addictive’ as opposed to ‘physical dependency’. This is key. What they are talking about is psychological addiction. Doubtless, as with many other things, some people do struggle to discipline themselves where marijuana is concerned. However, if this kind of ill-discipline was a problem that governments normally considered when legislating, then every candy store and fast food restaurant would have to close down, to say nothing of Facebook or Twitter.
The other two points regarding heavy use by 14 year olds are deliberate and cynical uses of bait and switch. Clearly it is not being suggested that marijuana ought to be made legal for 14 year olds. But also, when we take a closer look, we can see that the bait is quite unappealing. The average adult IQ is 100. No one would notice if someone dropped from 100 to 99. As for performing badly at school, well here we need to note that the study in question categorised ‘heavy use’ as 20 times a week! If a 14 year old is using marijuana 20 times a week then they have many more problems than their grades to worry about. This kind of use must reflect a broken or uncaring family (and school). The behaviour exhibited as a result of this kind of usage would be so obvious that to fail to spot there might be a problem can only suggest neglect from all the adults in this young person’s life. Needless to say, almost every young teenager who is neglected in this way tends to perform badly at school, whether marijuana is involved or not.
If we applied the same kind of vigilance to our lives in general as seems to be recommended for drug policy by the anti-legalisation lobby, then we would all be terrified to take one foot out of bed in the morning. No one in history has ever died directly as a result of using cannabis. It really will be ok.