Of all the arguments swirling around the landscape of legalization, whether for medicinal or recreational use, one of the most prolific is the ideal that a shift in the law will lead to an increase in the number of users. Those who stand against marijuana cry from the rooftops that our youth will become more susceptible to consumption if it is perceived to be ‘allowed’ and therefore less dangerous, but is this really the case?
Most recreational users will first come into contact with cannabis in their mid-teens and for many it is a classic act of defiance and rebellion. I know that many of my friends and I were quite happy to partake in our first attempts to smoke at a relatively young age and I got high before I ever got truly drunk, but it was the fact that we knew that we were doing something ‘bad’ that made it seem glamorous and exciting. By no means did I become a regular smoker at this age, most of us were probably more likely to share a cigarette, but I was definitely intrigued. Although I didn’t become a fully fledged toker until I was 18 (thanks to moving out of my parents’ home), I always knew someone who knew someone-who-knew-someone that could ‘sort something out’ given a bit of time and the promise of some free smoke. As time progressed, and I became older, I came to realize that we are never too far from one person or another who can supply what we demand without any need for identification, proof of our age or any limitations whatsoever. That’s prohibition for you.
In recent years, we have seen a huge clampdown on the sale of alcohol and tobacco leading to the UK taking numerous steps to combat the rising culture of underage ‘binge’ drinking and to further protect the health of the younger generation: the age at which you are permitted to buy alcohol remains at 18, but identification is required for anyone who appears to be under 25; retailers are encouraged to refuse sale if they believe that the alcohol may be for someone else or there is someone underage with the purchaser (a friend of mine, aged 56, was refused alcohol because his 11 year old granddaughter was with him whilst he carried out his weekly shop); tobacco products can no longer be displayed in larger premises and their packaging is now adorned with graphic images of the results of prolonged smoking; retailers or customers who break the law face tough legal action including large fines and prison sentences. These steps towards more stringent controls do appear to have a positive effect which suggests that education and regulation are the most feasible method of combating the issues which arise from the use of any substance. So why can’t they admit that there is no way to win their war if they refuse to change?
The government’s stance is the usual case of ping-pong as they say one thing but mean another and only really say what we want to hear when it comes to election time. Both David Cameron and Barack Obama spoke the good fight when they were trying to swing voters and then proceeded to do the opposite once they didn’t need us anymore. Anyone who dares to speak out in favor of cannabis is usually shunned or, should they provide any kind of actual research or factual evidence to support their claims, dismissed from the discussion and even made redundant from any position of power they may have once held. Case in point would be one Professor David Nutt, who was tasked with carrying out a study on the harmful effects of cannabis in comparison to legal substances – much to the surprise of his superiors (but nobody with any common sense), he concluded that tobacco and alcohol were far more harmful to our health than cannabis. In recognition of his sterling work, he was promptly removed from his position as chair of the Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and then probably taken out back like Old Yeller.
So, what would happen if they did a full u-turn and gave us what we know is right? Would we suddenly find ourselves plagued by an excess of stoned children in schools? Would our workplaces disintegrate and our economies fail (not that they need much help)? Would the skies tear apart and the ground open up as we all plummeted into our purple-hazed Hell? Maybe…but probably not. We are legally allowed to drink but turning up for work drunk would be frowned upon to say the least.
In my opinion, which is all I have left in this crazy mixed up world, we need to embrace regulation as it is the only realistic way to ensure long-term ‘success’.). I know of teenagers who can get weed delivered to their front door in less time than it would take them to walk to the shop and glue a fake moustache to their face in an ingenious attempt to buy some alco-pops, so what have we got to lose? Figures show that the number of people who admit to using cannabis is falling, yet we can never take this statistic at face value as it only really tells us that people are less likely to admit to it (for fear of data-based persecution). Most petty dealers would struggle to stay afloat amidst licensed retailers and I would hope to see much harsher penalties for those who sell to minors or without permission – the same as you would find for alcohol and tobacco. To suggest that legalization leads to a massive increase in user numbers is a flawed statement which would only be a proven hypothesis through the use of skewed statistical data; if it is legal then people are more likely to admit to its use and therefore the ‘number of users’ would grow exponentially. In reality, stricter controls and better programs of education and support would lead to a fall in users whilst simultaneously reducing the number of people imprisoned for minor offences and helping to reduce drug-related crime. What have we got to lose?
Originally published in Weed World magazine Issue 113
Image – Pixabay