Cannabis: Time to hash out legalisation?

Photograph: 'Marijuana' by Pixabay / CC
Photograph: 'Marijuana' / chiefyc

In today’s modern Britain, many of us will happily discuss current affairs, topics of interest, and the political landscape which surrounds us and affects our daily lives. However, in many social circles, there are also topics which are deemed as ‘taboo’, or simply no-go areas of discussion. Cannabis legalisation is one of these areas.

But why are we afraid to discuss a drug which, in many cases, has significantly improved the health of those who have been prescribed it for medicinal purposes? Given the fact that throughout the duration of its existence, nobody has died as a result of cannabis consumption, is it time for us to have a serious discussion about legalisation in Britain? Is cannabis truly dangerous to the human body, as many believe? These are questions which I will explore in this article.

Cannabis is currently registered as a Class B illegal drug in Britain and was reclassified as a Class B drug from Class C in 2009. The decision to reclassify the drug by the British government was met with controversy by members of the public, and even Members of Parliament. In 2012, the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee called for this decision to be reversed but was unsuccessful in their pursuit. The decision to maintain this classification is one which baffles me, especially when taking into account the staggering statistics concerning cigarette consumption in Britain.

According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2015, around 79,000 deaths were attributable to smoking in England. Despite the substantial number of deaths linked to smoking cigarettes, we can legally purchase them in our supermarkets and other retail stores, as and when we desire. On the other hand, cannabis, a drug which has never directly caused death, is registered as a Class B illegal drug – Seem illogical? I believe so.

Furthermore, an OBR poll carried out in April 2016 showed that 47% of the public support legalising the sale of cannabis through licensed shops. Further research has also highlighted that 58% of MPs support the legalisation of cannabis for medical use.

Another poll, conducted by Populus, indicated that 60% of Labour MPs supported the use of cannabis for medical reasons, along with 55% of Conservative MPs also supporting this. Interestingly, 88% of SNP MPs backed the legalisation of cannabis for medical use, and none of those polled expressed any opposition to the drug. However, despite the strong support in favour of legalising cannabis for medical use, it appears that Britain has a long way to go before such laws are passed. The most recent change in cannabis law was the MHRA’s decision to register cannabis oil as a medical product. This means that licensed medicines containing it can be sold legally in the UK. CBD was first prescribed by the NHS in April 2017.

When discussing the prospective legalisation of cannabis, one of the main reservations expressed by many is the belief that cannabis is strongly linked to long term mental health issues, including memory loss, paranoia, and schizophrenia. However, many people fail to realise that such issues arise due to the lack of regulation surrounding cannabis. By leaving the drug in the hands of organised crime, this means that the potency of cannabis simply isn’t controlled, and can potentially be harmful to those who consume it. On the other hand, we can argue that there are clear benefits of regulated cannabis, as explained by Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb.

As emphasised above, the current laws surrounding cannabis are flawed for a number of reasons. Not only do criminals profit from selling a highly potent version of the drug, which often contains other dangerous chemicals, the current laws also criminalise those who suffer from a medical condition, and ultimately use cannabis as a form of treatment.

When it comes to cannabis regulation, perhaps Britain should take a leaf out of America’s book (no pun intended). Our friends across the pond have taken a far more relaxed stance on cannabis in recent years – Currently, selling and possessing recreational cannabis is legal in a total of 8 states, whereas the use of medical cannabis is legal in 29 states.

Although cannabis is not fully legalised across America, it has been decriminalised in 13 states including Maryland, Ohio, and Vermont. Despite currently remaining illegal in these states, those who are caught smoking it will not face a criminal record, or a jail sentence – Further demonstrating the relaxed regulations around the drug.

So far, whilst research on the effects of marijuana has been limited in Britain, there have been a number of studies carried out across the globe which investigate how marijuana affects the human body. One of the most notable names renowned for their research on cannabis is Dr Raphael Mechoulam, from University of Jerusalem. Raphael Mechoulam has dedicated his entire scientific career to researching the compounds within marijuana, specifically focusing on the role of cannabinoids such as Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD).

He discovered that one of the compounds within cannabis, THC, plays a profound role in regulating the flow of neurotransmitters within the brain’s nervous system. In simple terms, this means that THC has an impact on how the human body ultimately functions, depending on the strain and potency of the cannabis consumed. However, some of the strongest findings within cannabis research derive from tests concerning the impact of marijuana on epilepsy. After discovering Raphael Mechoulam’s work, Neuroscientist Catherine Jacobson took the decision to treat her son, a sufferer of epilepsy, with doses of CBD. The results were staggering – After providing her son with continuous doses of CBD, his seizures diminished by 40%.

Given the existing studies and findings on marijuana, I often wonder why the British government is reluctant to invest in funding further research. As a nation, we invest millions every year into funding cancer research, and despite some progress, we are yet to come considerably closer to finding a cure. In contrast, cannabis research has returned significant results over the years – Just imagine how much more we can learn about the drug with additional research funding, research that could potentially save millions of lives.

Final Thoughts

My final message on cannabis legalisation is clear – It is time to educate, not incriminate. Prohibition has failed in Britain for the government, but it has been a success for organised crime. Millions of Britons continue to use cannabis on a daily basis, but a lack of government regulation means we are exposed to dangerous chemicals added to the drug. It is these chemicals which give marijuana a bad name, fuelling the idea that the drug is bad for the human body. This is simply not the case. As explained above, the compounds within cannabis have been proven to combat severe health conditions, and in some cases, save lives. There is much more we can learn about cannabis and its benefits, however, we can only begin to discover these benefits once there has been a shift in public perception. My hope for those of you reading this is that you have gained a better understanding of cannabis, to what you may have previously learnt, and can use this knowledge to educate others around you.

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Matthew Cooper 3 Articles
Matthew Cooper is a University of Bath alumnus with a BSc in Politics and International Relations. He intends to take his love for writing further by actively pursuing a career in journalism or content writing.

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