A Guardian report that three American states plan to legalise cannabis revives an old debate which has historically been polarised between Left and Right, the religious and the libertarian. What is clear is that prohibition clearly doesn’t work. I believe the arguments for keeping marijuana illegal are much weaker than those in favour of decriminalising or legalising it. And what damage the herb does to the citizen is almost entirely the result of it being illegal in the first place.
First published on this blog: 11th November
The fact that Washington, Oregon and Colorado are holding votes on legalisation is a reflection of a growing consensus that America’s “war on drugs” is counter-productive, expensive and, ultimately, an unmitigated failure. Last year the Global Commission on Drug Policy reported that opiates, cocaine and cannabis had all increased during a decade-long war on drugs. The only winners in the war are the drug lords.
Even if you believe such substances should remain illegal it is clear that the current strategy is nowhere near achieving its’ aims. It is much more likely to imprison ordinary people using for recreational drugs than catch the traffickers at the top of the chain.
If we want otherwise law-abiding citizens to associate with hardened criminals then keeping cannabis illegal is the way to go. It’s like outlawing coffee and forcing people to seek their caffeine fix from a guy who also tries to get them hooked on heroin and cocaine.
That is exactly what is happening with weed. This is a drug that, in its’ natural form, does not induce the user to violence and murder yet is classified in par with ecstasy and speed as a Class B drug.
Meanwhile the ‘drugs’ that cause tens of thousands of painful deaths each year (cigarettes) is perfectly legal, and the drug that fills up our hospital casualty units every weekend fuels domestic violence in the home and choas on the evening’s streets (alcohol) is legal.
Even several UK police chiefs have agree it is simply nonsensical to target huge police, court and prison resources onto everyday recreational users because that diverts resources away from tackling real criminals who inflict pain on real victims.
The answer is simple; take the ‘soft’ drugs like cannabis out of the hands of the criminal gangs by legalising it, and instead shift resources on tackling the suppliers of harder drugs.
Cannabis has its’ risks, albiet quite minor and not adversely affecting the majority of users. I’m not in favour of any of the negative effects substances produce but, as a liberal, I’m against criminalising people for using them, especially at the lower end of the spectrum.
If the purpose of outlawing drugs is to deal with the danger they pose to the public then marijuana clearly does not qualify. Quite simply the reasons for prohibition do not add up. Besides, even though cannabis can have some side-effects for a minority of users we cannot, and should not, legislate against every risk in life. The fact that it remains illegal is the starkest example of the ‘nanny state’ that I can think of.
Whether one approves or disapproves of the taking of mind-altering substances it is undeniably part of human behaviour throughout the ages. Alcohol certainly falls into this category. I take issue with 4×4 drivers – they damage the environment and annoy other road users – but I believe in regulation by way of environmental road taxes not in handing 4×4 drivers criminal records and blighting their lives.
Cannabis users deserve to know they are not consuming a cocktail of dangerous chemicals mixed into their spliff by unscrupulous dealers to make the product more potent or addictive, regardless of the medical effects. All manner of substances have been found in cannabis, including Class A drugs. And then there is the constant strengthening of the ‘high’ by modifying the plant and its’ cultivation, which makes it less ‘natural’ and its’ effects more unpredictable.
At present the only way to take responsibility over the quality of what consume is to grow your own with kits freely available on the internet. But growing your own turns the user from a consumer (maximum jail term: four years) into a supplier (maximum jail term: 14 years). In other words people who just want a likkle tok for relaxation after a hard day, or stave of depression or just to feel good – and who don’t want to play Russian Roulette with their smoke – are turned into even worse criminals in the eyes of the law.
In Britain we caution and convict in the courts 90,000 people for cannabis each year. The failure of the political class to get to grips with solutions have allowed gangs to push Skunk onto our streets, which induces effects quite different, and substantially more hardful, than traditional cannabis. It is mostly the youngest smokers who suffer most.
There is a strong argument that Skunk is a distinct drug and should be separated from the debate over decriminalising or legalising of cannabis.
There is no credible scientific evidence to suggest there is anything medically about cannabis that makes it a ‘gateway’ drug in itself. But rather when dealers handle soft and hard drugs together it makes drug ‘progression’ more likely. Indeed gangs arm dealers with a range of harder drugs with the intention of peddling this to cannabis users.
Legalising cannabis not only provides quality assurance to users, eliminating the risk of inhaling any number of dangerous and unknown substances, but also clears the way for an honest public education debate which can get to grips with issues like drug-driving in addition to removing the average smoker from associating with the criminal underworld.
There is another aspect to this debate; the way cannabis can enhance increased consciousness. It’s a heavily disputed subject – as most aspects of faith are – but one that is nevertheless part of the equasion.
Many cultures have a tradition of consuming drugs, such as Khat in Somalia and east Africa. Buddhists, Sufi Muslims and some Hindus take cannabis, and Rastafarians value the drug as a central part of their faith. Indeed they point to Revelations (22:2) which says “the herb is the healing of the world” to back up their beliefs.
Rastafarians also bless the pipe they smoke with, dedicating it to Haile Selassie. Similarly in Nepal, where they have used cannabis since 2 B.C., they believe that smoking without first undertaking rites is a sin. The further back in history you look the more cannabis is associated with the act of communicating with the divine reaching a place of peace and enlightenment and trans-meditation, or even opening the ‘third eye’.
Today the vast majority of smokers in our modern world just want to get high or have the rough edges of their working day smoothed out. Apart from true Rastas and dedicated ‘hippies’ most users don’t care much for the spiritual aspects of weed. I guess it is inevitable that in this concrete jungle that we live in that life hardly goes any better with weed than it goes better with coke.
I haven’t tok’ed regularly for some 14 years. After years of enjoying hashish, in roll-ups and occasionally baked in cookies, it sudden gave me a feeling of mild nausea so I stopped. And with my life at the moment, filled with politics and campaigns, I have no intention of returning to it.
However if there is ever a day in the future when I’m living a peaceful life close to nature, feeling relaxed and at peace with the world, I may be in a mental place to blaze up again. It’s nothing to do with being an old hippie – I’m not – it’s more a recognition of the origins and purpose of the herb; an appreciation that it delivers more than a cheap high.
In the right ‘space’ and with the right heart it can open up a part of ourselves, not by hallucination, but in a more subtle way. Some may not care for such talk but I, for one, regret that marijuana is no longer respected. Perhaps the normalisation of it that legalisation would bring could prompt such debates. Perhaps in an atmosphere where it is no longer a forbidden fruit people can be free to promote cannabis in a new way.
By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway