The Great Debate: Should Weed be Legal?

For: Jack Bentley

Last July following several high-profile campaigns, the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid announced that medical cannabis would be legalised across the UK, but maintained that it would only be available on prescription from specialist doctors for conditions such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. The United Patients Alliance states that this could give 6.7 million people access to cannabis, but is this enough? Many experts agree that the legalisation of both medical and recreational cannabis would be beneficial for the UK.

We all know somebody who knows a dealer and we could probably get that dealers number if we really wanted to. The point I’m trying to make is that despite cannabis being illegal, it is still very easy to get hold of. This is illustrated by the figures in the Home Office’s 2017/18 report on drug misuse, that states that 7.2% of adults aged 16 to 59 and 16.7% of adults aged 16 to 24 had used cannabis in the last year. If legalised, yes, these numbers will increase, but data collected from areas such as California, where cannabis has been made legal, show that although the number of smokers grows, the number of drinkers drops significantly in tandem with it. It can be argued that drinking can be more dangerous than smoking cannabis as it is actually possible to overdose on alcohol. So as trying to discourage people from using it only works so well, surely the best option is to make it safer to use.

One of the main fears associated with cannabis use is that it is considered a “gateway drug”, meaning once somebody has made contact with a drug dealer to buy cannabis, it becomes a lot easier for them to contact that same dealer to move onto more dangerous drugs such as cocaine or even heroin. This can become a slippery slope. By selling cannabis through licenced dispensaries, the risk of people getting in touch with a dealer in the first place would be reduced and they would not be able to be pushed onto the harder, more addictive substances that the dealer would make more money from. This would in turn lead to fewer drug dependency issues and take strain off both the NHS and the justice system.

Another issue associated with buying cannabis illegally is that there is no transparency in regards to its contents. Reports say that criminal producers are driving up the toxicity and potency of their products through genetic modification and adding impurities. Data collected from confiscated DEA samples showed THC (the psychoactive ingredient) levels in cannabis have risen from 4% to 12% between 1995 and 2014. If regulated, the potency and toxicity levels could be controlled and made transparent so the consumer knows exactly what they’re buying and products dangerous to health don’t make the shelves.

Finally, legalising cannabis could massively reduce the strain on the UK’s resources. It would reduce prison overcrowding and could be taxed heavily. Factoring in justice and tax factors, the Institute for Social and Economic Research predict that the legalisation of cannabis would raise at least £1 billion per year.

Against: Ezra James West

The libertarian, laissez-faire philosophy is hugely attractive to those who value freedoms and who are concerned about the enlargement of government. But, we should be equally aware that libertarianism is only an army away from anarchism. Recklessly granting freedoms out of principle may be as dangerous to civilization as grossly restricting them. Some freedoms aren’t exactly freedoms at all. The legalisation of mind-altering drugs can hardly be called a freedom when it is simply the freedom to destroy your mental health. When it comes to law, beware of all creation of it which directly poisons your relationship with government, and all removal of it which only increases your capacity for self-destruction.

There is of course an argument to be made for freedoms which grant only the possibility of self-destruction. They are opportunities to test your resistance to temptation. In principal, this point is sound in its appreciation of the importance of self-discipline, but there is a wealth of alternative opportunities in which personal resolve can be tested. And since drug legalisation and/or the absence of drug enforcement demonstrably produces a populace – and more specifically a youth – peppered with drug-induced mental illness, I fail to respect any attempts to legitimise and increase the availability of drug use, even in the name of liberty.

We are often told that the war on drugs is lost, and that we should now regulate marijuana legally and reap the tax benefits, when in fact, marijuana has been de facto decriminalised since 1973 by order of Lord Hailsham. Since then, it is common wisdom that the police should focus their attention not on the average drug user, but on the drug lords who tyrannise their buyers. Drug suppliers are like a hydra though: intercept one and you only ensure another takes its place. Economics tells us that it is the consumer, not the supplier that drives the market. Rather than confronting the beast head on, drain the oasis from which it drinks. If we still enforced our marijuana possession laws, as in Japan, we would not hear the foolish notion that the war on drugs is lost. As far as marijuana tax is concerned, this is merely a cynical justification for the exploitation of youth mental health to afford the government more money to fritter away. And much of that money would be spent on the mental health services required to alleviate the damage caused by the resultant increase in marijuana use.

The purpose and inspiration for using marijuana in the first instance is nothing other than a pursuit of pleasure. Drug use is the epitome of self-indulgence. Rather than sacrificing pleasure in the present for future reward, the drug user sacrifices their potential for instant gratification. It is well established that the amount of meaning you experience in life is correlated with the progress you observe yourself making. To use drugs is to intentionally hamper your development and distract yourself from your own existential meaninglessness with the very thing which deprives you of meaning. Should we be so eager to legally endorse a behaviour which will emotionally destroy us?

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