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Dublin: 11 °C Sunday 21 December, 2014

Column: If we care about our society, we should legalise cannabis

Legislating cannabis use in Ireland would bring in revenue for the government and help control the market, argues this writer.

Image: Shutterstock/mycola

VOTERS IN THE states of Washington and Colorado recently voted to legalise cannabis for recreational use for people who are over 21-years-old. Along with these two states, another fifteen as well as the District of Columbia approve and regulate its medical use.

In the aftermath of the Washington and Colorado ballot, The Journal.ie ran a poll. Eighty-two percent said they were in favour of cannabis legalisation in Ireland for either recreational or medicinal use. This of course is in no way scientific – but is it now time for our government to take a closer look at our cannabis prohibition laws, and ask whether they are benefiting our society or causing more harm than good?

We need to ask: does cannabis prohibition work? The simple answer is no. We only have to look back in history to the era of Prohibition in the 1920s to understand why. Al Capone and his violent mob made millions of dollars from the illegal sale of alcohol. Today we are witnessing a similar trend in Ireland, with ruthless criminal gangs making a fortune (tax-free of course) from the sale of cannabis. Sadly, the monies raised often go on to fuel much more serious crimes such as gun crime, hard drugs and prostitution.

Legalising cannabis would automatically cut off this valuable revenue stream. Instead we could generate an unthinkable amount of tax revenue, which could be spent on much needed public services such as health, education and drug rehabilitation.

Prohibition

Cannabis prohibition also leaves market regulation in the hands of criminals – and unfortunately the health and wellbeing of the end user is the least of their concerns. It’s a serious issue that in Ireland today a 14-year-old can obtain cannabis more easily than they can alcohol. If cannabis was legalised the market could be regulated properly with an age restriction of 18 or 21 applied to it, making it safer than it currently is today.

Prohibition causes a major drain on our criminal justice system: how much valuable time and money is spent on chasing down and convicting cannabis growers and distributors in this country? If cannabis was legalised it would free up time and money which could then be used to target more serious crimes.

We also need to factor in the medicinal benefits of cannabis. The first recorded medicinal use of cannabis by Chinese emperor Shen Nung dates back as far as 2737 BC. In more modern times, it’s been put forward as a treatment or symptom reliever for a huge range of medical conditions including multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, cancer, arthritis, asthma, epilepsy, digestive diseases, depression and many more.  It’s hard to believe that we have a plant which has so many apparent benefits, yet we deny those who are suffering from these illnesses the opportunity of relief.

In my mind, prohibiting this substance whilst allowing people to suffer is the biggest crime of all. Now, let’s take a look at the reasons people give for why they oppose cannabis legalisation and the misconceptions people have about the prohibition laws they favour.

Regulation

People say it’s harmful to your health. This seems to be the number one reason given for opposing legalisation. Yet if cannabis is already freely available and commonly used within our society, shouldn’t we be striving to limit its harmful effects?

As already mentioned above, a regulated market place is much safer than one controlled by the criminal underworld. Curbing underage use should be seen as a top priority, as studies have shown a link between persistent adolescent cannabis use and mental health problems in later life – yet they’ve found that people who didn’t take up cannabis until they were adults did not show similar negative effects as those who began at an earlier age.

Secondly, people say that legalising it will cause a huge uptake in the number of people who choose to smoke it. This isn’t necessarily true. A friend of mine recently said to me “cannabis just wouldn’t be as much fun if it was legalised” and there’s some truth in that. Experts will tell you that more teenagers try cannabis because of the glamour of the ‘forbidden fruit’ than are deterred by any other factor. Cannabis use is actually more prevalent in Ireland than it is in either Portugal or the Netherlands, two European countries who have decriminalised its use. In fact, contrary to common belief the Dutch are among the lowest users of cannabis in Europe; despite the Netherlands’ well known tolerance of the drug.

Others state that it is a gateway drug that will lead users onto harder drugs. But there’s nothing in cannabis that makes the user want to try harder drugs. The fact that it’s illegal and often sourced from dealers who also sell other drugs could be seen as a problem, but again if it was legalised we wouldn’t have this problem.

With so many benefits to be gained by legalising cannabis and so many obvious disadvantages to prohibition, why are our government choosing to ignore this issue? It’s time to ask questions and demand answers.

The author of this article wished to remain anonymous to avoid being identified in their workplace.

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