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January 1st 2014 is a date now engraved in the history of legalising marijuana as the first state-licensed marijuana businesses opened their doors in the US state of Colorado to masses of customers. This historic reform to drug laws means any person over the age of 21 can walk into a licensed dispensary or store and legally purchase marijuana. Essentially, buying marijuana in Colorado is now just the same as buying alcohol in that you can go into a shop and buy it off the shelf. This massive shake-up to drug legislation is most definitely going to send shockwaves all over the world, forcing governments to rethink outdated laws surrounding marijuana and its use.
As it stands, cannabis is a class B drug in the UK and possessors of the drug can suffer a penalty of up to five years imprisonment, although such occurrences are scarce. However, this fact rarely, if ever, deters recreational users from the substance. Instead, it results in youths being buried into the English justice system, accumulating criminal records that follow them through the whole of their lives. The current illegal status creates social exclusion and injustice in many parts of the UK, especially in poorer areas where selling cannabis is often used as a source of income.
Many pro-cannabis activist groups in the UK, including the political group CLEAR, are fighting to end the prohibition of cannabis. The fact is, CLEAR isn’t advocating stereotypical weed smokers who just want to make it easier to smoke; they want to bring about real change to our society through the means of altering the public’s opinion on cannabis.
We should be looking towards places like Colorado and their approach to cannabis. All cannabis sales in Colorado are subject to a 25% tax, generating millions of dollars in tax revenue alone. Officials have already said that $27.5 million is being dedicated to building schools in the state. A study by the Institute for Social and Economic Research reported that legalising and taxing cannabis in the UK could be worth as much as £1.25 billion a year to the government with reduced enforcement costs saving over £300 million. Our government is essentially handing over money to criminals – money that could be bettering our society and stabilising our economy.
Cannabis is important from a medicinal angle as well. The term medical marijuana is more or less embedded in American culture with millions of Americans accessing it to treat a variety of ailments. The use of medicinal marijuana generally involves providing therapy to treat disease or alleviate symptoms through administering THC, the main active chemical in cannabis, to patients. Some of the most notable uses of this form of treatment have come from cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, as THC helps to combat nausea, sickness, loss of appetite and other side effects. In many cases it has even been noted how medicinal marijuana treatment has halted aggressive cancers and tumours.
It is known to most of us that thousands of people in the UK die from drinking alcohol each year with thousands more dying from smoking cigarettes. Despite this, most of us choose to partake in using these drugs whilst being well aware of the risks that come alongside them. Deaths from cannabis are much rarer. Cannabis is in actual fact a plant; it naturally grows in places all over the world. In the words of the late Bill Hicks: “doesn’t the idea of making nature against the law seem to you a bit unnatural?” Revoking people’s access to it, especially those who would benefit medically from it, is in many ways cruel and denying us from our freedom as human beings.
Keeping cannabis illegal in the UK will ultimately change nothing. People will continue to use it, grow it and buy it as they please. Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money will be wasted on enforcing its prohibition and the government will continue to miss out on being able to properly regulate and tax it. Perhaps the recent reforms being made by America will provide fuel for the British government to rethink its defunct approach to cannabis. It’s time for Britain to wake up and realise that cannabis has so much more to offer to society.