When Professor Roger Pertwee spoke at the British Festival of Science earlier this week he opened up one mighty big can of worms. What did he do? He dared to admit in public that he's in favour of legalising cannabis.
It's a debate that's been running for what seems like forever. On the one side there are the scientists who are increasingly coming out in favour of legalising the drug. While on the other stand the politicians who refuse point blank to even entertain the thought.
As someone who writes about how to lead a healthy lifestyle, you might think I'd be dead against the legalisation of any recreational drug. But you'd be wrong.
It's not that I'm a cannabis user myself (okay, I tried it, I did inhale and it made me nauseous - well you were dying to know, weren't you?) And I've examined the arguments on both sides. I could, for instance, rabbit on about the risk of schizophrenia versus the fact that many people use cannabis on a regular basis without any adverse effects whatsoever.
I could also mention that smoking cannabis leads some people to upgrade to harder drugs. Well it's true. Some cannabis users do progress to cocaine, heroin and even crack. I've seen it happen with my own eyes.
But Professor Pertwee suggests giving licences to over-21s that allow them to buy cannabis from official distributors could help put a stop to that. Why? Because you wouldn't have to buy from a dealer, which is where many people who otherwise wouldn't be interested in other drugs first come into contact with them.
Obviously there would be problems with any licence-for-pot scheme, but at least Professor Pertwee is trying to find a solution.
The government, meanwhile, says legalising cannabis isn't the right approach. But what is? The current approach isn't exactly a roaring success, is it? Cannabis is officially a Class B substance, so possession is punishable by up to five years in prison while dealing can get you 14 years inside. Despite that, according to the 2009/10 British Crime Survey, 2.2 million people say they use cannabis (though I suspect that figure is wildly under-representative).
Perhaps we should follow the example of Portugal, where the use and possession of drugs was decriminalised ten years ago? Or at least get a proper debate going, like California, where a referendum in November could see cannabis legalised.
But wait, there's still the problem of all those people who might develop mental health problems as a result of legalising cannabis. Well some would, there's no getting around it.
There again, alcohol is hardly a benign drug, is it? Every year it kills more and more people: 9,031 in 2008, to quote the latest figures. That's not counting the thousands of others whose lives have been ruined by alcoholism and the toll it takes on the mind and body.
And no doubt for every mother who has seen their teenager succumb to the dark side of cannabis, there must be hundreds, perhaps thousands more families affected by alcohol.
Yet alcohol is freely available. You can walk into any off-licence and buy enough booze to drink yourself to death with, if you so choose. Not that I'm against alcohol, far from it.
It's just the hypocrisy I find unpalatable.
What's your opinion? Are you in favour of legalising cannabis? Or not? Tell us why.
By: Christine Morgan
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