Legalising cannabis makes sense – just look at America

Prohibition doesn’t work

The Liberal Democrats announced this week that they are backing a report calling for the legalisation of cannabis. The report suggests the sale of weed in licensed and regulated stores, and “cannabis social clubs”.

The Lib Dems want a regulated market, meaning tight control of pricing, strength and packaging, and sale permitted only to those over 18. The report also calls for making cannabis available over the counter, and permitting home cultivation for personal use.

And sure, the Lib Dems don’t have any clout any more. But for the record, on this one, they’re right.

In this day and age, we are ready for legalisation and regulation. In fact, it seems idiotic that we haven’t implemented it already – for a start, the government is missing out on the high tax revenues of the potential market.

Picture: Ashton Doyle

Picture: Ashton Doyle

In October last year, revenues from the sale of cannabis in Colorado, both medicinal and recreational, surpassed the $100 million mark. In fact, the state of Colorado has been making so much from tax revenues that, due to state law which limits the amount of tax the state can collect, it might have to return some of it.

Similarly Washington state has done the same – and again, seen huge benefits. Low level offences are down 98 per cent in adults 21 and older, while all categories of cannabis law violations are down 63 per cent, and related convictions are down 81 per cent. Violent crime has dropped and youth use has not increased.

Washington state now makes nearly $83 million in tax revenues from cannabis: revenue which is going into funding substance abuse prevention and treatment programmes, youth and adult drug education, community health care services, and academic research and evaluation on the effects of legalisation in the state. More than three quarters of voters believe the new law has had a positive or no effect on their lives.

Colorado and Washington aren’t the only examples of how drug reform can have benefits: Portugal, for example, has decriminalised all drugs. It has freed up police time: forces are no longer preoccupied with pursuing those in possession of small amounts of substances.

And dealing with addiction as a medical health issue empowers addicts to seek help, and removes a huge source of revenue from criminals. Portugal’s reforms have helped hugely – it now has the second lowest rate of drug-induced deaths in Europe. It had one of the highest under previous laws.

The logic behind prohibition is baffling. It’s expensive, it wastes police time, it lines the pockets of organised crime and gives people a criminal record for what is – relatively speaking – a minor misdemeanour.

You might say well ,what about the health risks? What about the health risks of alcohol, which can be routinely linked to the deaths of hundreds of people?

Regarding oft-cited links to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, the use of cannabis is unlikely to be a sole cause. In fact, there are many external and internal factors that cause schizophrenia.

And what of the medicinal benefits of cannabis? It has been shown to help alleviate the pain of cancer, chemotherapy, and multiple sclerosis‎. In one study, a chemical in cannabis was found to actually help stop some cancers from aggressively spreading. But you could be here all day talking about the medical uses – the list goes on and on.

With the right legislation and regulation put in place, the UK could hugely benefit from the sale and taxation of cannabis – and this report goes some way in outlining how this can be done. The current approach is hypocritical, ill-founded and plain stupid.

Prohibition doesn’t work – so it’s time to end it.