Imagine this. What if there was a natural plant in plentiful supply that contributed to the financial livelihoods of millions of people worldwide? This plant could aid in the treatment of myriad diseases and illnesses, including, but not limited to: epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, inflammation, PTSD, arthritis, metabolic conditions, Crohn's disease, alcoholism, nausea, anxiety, HIV, Alzheimer's and even cancer. Indeed, this magic plant could also spur creativity and could even increase lung capacity. However, possessing this plant could land you a criminal record, incarceration and social stigmatisation. This plant exists. This plant is called cannabis.
The gradual liberalisation of cannabis laws is beginning to take hold, with the legalisation of recreational marijuana in Colorado, Washington, and as of last week, Alaska. This is expected to catalyse a domino effect, with many other US states, including California, forecast to liberalise state law in the future.
Yet in the UK, misinformation and deliberate sensationalist disinformation has ensured the public's blinkers have been kept firmly on, and that our approach to drugs continues to be medieval at best. The arguments of Professor David Nutt, infamously sacked by the Labour government from his lead role at the British Medical Council for his evidence-based approach, ring true to this day, with countless amounts of academic papers showing that the public have been misled on cannabis. In only the last few days, Professor Lachenmeier showed in the acclaimed Scientific Reports journal that cannabis is 114 times less deadly than alcohol, whilst Nick Clegg joined Richard Branson in calling for cannabis users to be immune from criminal sanctions given the evidence that suggests criminalisation leads to more harm than good.
From a medicinal standpoint, the benefits of cannabis are unlikely to be gained from smoking recreationally. However UK drug policies are such that medical marijuana is still the taboo rather than the norm given our approach to recreational marijuana, and this has implications for the wellbeing of a vast number of patients. That is to say, keeping recreational marijuana consumption illegal has a severe impact in terms of its ease of medicinal distribution and consumption. Recreationally speaking, the almost-too-obvious-to-note arguments still hold true, including decreased violence and a reduction in alcohol intake through a substitution effect.
The biggest crime of all in our country's 'war' on drugs (note our tendency to neurolinguistically program the public through life or death rhetoric) is the conservative media's approach to the 'problem.' A headline in a mainstream tabloid paper last week (headlines, by the way, are what the majority of people read, not the content) stated that "cannabis triples risk of psychosis," when in actual fact, the paper cited showed that regular cannabis did not lead to ANY increased risk of mental health disorders (only 'skunk', the modified form that raises THC ratios, has a correlate, but this was only mentioned in the last paragraph of the article). Yet most will read the headline, make the assumption, and thus continue to be content with the status quo. This is downright Stalinist propaganda. It is utterly senseless, highly damaging and has absolutely zero place in a democracy that values truth and transparency.
Prohibition simply does not work. Look at alcohol bans in the US in 1920 - they were disastrous, and led to a prohibition repeal a decade later. The outgoing President of Uruguay, the first country to legalise the supply of marijuana, argued that given that 150,000 people in the country smoke cannabis, it is better that the source of that supply is controlled and regulated so as to ensure products like "skunk" do not filter their way onto the streets. Given that cannabis is less addictive than many prescription drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, it is simply not rational to ignore arguments for some substances and use those very same arguments to condemn others.
The arguments are infinite. Shame on David Cameron for endorsing a thorough look at drug policy before he came to power and not following through on his promises. We need to act now to stop lives being ruined by prohibition. Yes, there are risks to recreational consumption, but moderation, as in every walk of life, is what is key. Indeed, according to Professor Nutt, the majority of studies that suggest cannabis harm utilise dosages that are far in excess of the standard user. It's time to do what should have always been done. Use evidence to evaluate legislation, and not conform to the hypocrisy of a society that actively encourages the consumption of two of the world's biggest killers - alcohol and tobacco - and condemn a substance that has innumerable medicinal benefits and, taken in moderate doses, shown to have absolutely zero mortality implications.