by Thomas Locke
The Liberal Democrats have unveiled plans to legalise cannabis ahead of the General Election.
The Liberal Democrats have confirmed that they would legalise selling and growing cannabis if they were elected into parliament. The party would permit the growing of the Class-B drug at home and they would introduce licensed shops to sell the drug to those over the age of 18. It is already legal to consume small amounts of the drug in some countries including Portugal, the Netherlands and Norway. The legalisation of cannabis began in 2001 with Portugal being the first country in the world to decriminalise the use of all drugs.
Cannabis has been illegal in the UK since 1928 when legislation banned the drug for recreational use as an extension of the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1920. To this day, under the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971, producing or supplying cannabis is a criminal offence with a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. Possessing the drug also attracts a maximum prison sentence of five years, although many argue that this law is not enforced. With the General Election coming up on the 8th of June, this could all be changed if the Liberal Democrats are elected.
Julian Huppert, the party’s Cambridge candidate, confirmed that the policy would feature in its upcoming manifesto, telling BuzzFeed News: "The market is run by criminal gangs and they have no interest in public health - the system is causing huge amounts of harm."
"The current approach is a disaster for young people, whose mental and physical health is being harmed by an increasingly potent product. There are no age checks, and no controls on quality or strength. ‘Skunk’ is widespread and the only ID you need to buy it is a £20 note.”
A Lib Dem source suggested that the Tim Farron-led party would also introduce social clubs across the country for smoking cannabis.
During their election campaign back in 2015, the Lib Dems called for drug use to be treated as a health rather than a public policy issue. Labour’s 2015 manifesto suggested better drug treatment services whilst the Conservatives stated that they would introduce random drug-testing in jails.
In 2016, the Liberal Democrats backed the proposals for a “regulated market” to govern the cost, potency and packaging of sales to those over the age of 18. The proposal, co-written by chief drugs adviser Sir David Nutt, argued that cannabis should be taxed in order to generate up to £1bn per year for the government. This money would then be spent on public health, education and prevention. Speaking last year, Norman Lamb, the Lib Dems’ spokesperson stated that "the war on drugs has been a catastrophic failure" and that "When people buy cannabis from criminals, they have no idea what they are buying."
The Office for Budget Responsibility has said that the NHS requires an additional £88bn over the next 50 years to fund health care meaning that the government will either have to raise taxes or find other ways to fund the annual £1.76bn required. The taxation of legalised cannabis could raise up to £1bn of that figure each year meaning that £0.76bn will need to be raised per annum.
There would also be significant savings in the criminal justice costs, with 1,363 offenders currently serving a jail sentence for cannabis-related crimes. This costs Britain’s taxpayers £50m a year.
There is currently an epidemic sweeping cities across the UK with people being seen in a zombie-like state after taking cannabis alternatives.
Synthetic compounds such as Spice and Black Mamba which are used as an alternative to cannabis were banned last year under the Psychoactive Substances Act of 2016 which restricted the production, sale and supply of what were previously known as “legal highs”. Spice is a collection of substances called synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (SCRAs), originally designed to mimic cannabis, but found to be far more potent, with a raft of additional, unexpected effects not seen with cannabis, including seizures, numbing, near-catatonic trips lasting hours, significant harm to users’ physical and mental health, and potentially even death. The drug is wreaking havoc on the streets of Britain as well as in prisons. The compounds used in Spice don’t show up in blood tests for drugs, causing it to become popular in prisons.
Spice was invented accidentally by Jon Huffmann, a chemist at Clemson University in South Carolina. He was exploring new ways of developing anti-inflammatory medication which involved the creation of synthetic types of cannabis, one of which was named JWH-018. JWH-018 was banned in 2010 by British Government but manufacturers began altering the formula of Huffman’s drug to fit through loopholes. Surprisingly, the withdrawal effects of the cannabis substitute are allegedly worse than the effects of crack cocaine or heroin causing council officers to clampdown on the drug. Huffman has said that his intentions were never to turn people into zombies and that his work was only ever designed to do good.
In a recent interview, Huffman told abc News:
“I think it [marijuana] should be legalised, it should be sold only to people 21 and older, it should be heavily, heavily taxed”
The incidents are occurring every day in city centres across the UK and are shocking to witness and dangerous for the emergency staff, with over 200 people who are admitted to hospital each day after taking the deadly drug so far. The Daily Star reported that 75,227 people have been hospitalised after taking the drug. The so-called ‘epidemic’ is prevalent in Manchester, with 31 calls to the police regarding the drug every 24 hours. Homeless people taking the drug have been described by some as ‘zombies’ or ‘the walking dead’ due to the paralysation of the body after taking the drug.
The BBC's Jeremy Cooke visited the streets of Edinburgh and Manchester to see what has happened one year on after the ban on ‘Spice’. Grant, an unemployed builder on the streets of Edinburgh who has used New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), told Jeremy:
“Worse than heroin, worse than cocaine, worse than crack cocaine, worse than all of them put together...but better. It’s crazy . . . I mean like, it’s terrible, it’s ridiculous, it’s embarrassing...It’s ruined my life”
Would the legalisation of cannabis end the Spice epidemic?
Potentially. Cannabis is considered to be much safer than Spice as it is grown so the user is aware of what's in it, with spice, the formula is constantly changing and there is no requirement for Spice manufacturers to list their ingredients. The strength of Spice in comparison with cannabis is much, much stronger. Many argue that having a regulated supply of cannabis would prevent individuals from trying the often deadly alternatives such as the unregulated Spice or Black Mamba.
I spoke to the Conservative Leader of Portsmouth City Council Donna Jones about whether she thinks that legalising cannabis would put an end to the Spice epidemic. She told The Portsmouth Point:
“I’m not convinced it would. The problem with legalising drugs is that the consumer moves onto other drugs, would this encourage that?”
The Green Party, who recently hit the headlines with their proposal to decriminalise prostitution offered me a press statement summarising their views on the issue. The document stated that The Green Party does not want to legalise marijuana but would rather take a ‘new approach’ that is evidence-based and free from political interference. They also feel the need to emphasise the health and social consequences of legal drugs, principally alcohol, tobacco and inappropriately prescribed tranquilisers. The document also stated that:
“The Green Party would provide an additional health service budget to fund an increase in the range and number of facilities, both residential and non-residential, for people with drug-related problems. Such facilities would be available on the NHS to all who needed them.”
The Liberal Democrats’ Parliamentary Candidate for Portsmouth South Gerald Vernon-Jackson, previously told The Portsmouth Point that:
“It would be heavily taxed and the government would make a lot of money from legalising marijuana. At the moment the police just don't have the resources to tackle marijuana, and people who use it are often scared of the police. Legalising the drug would prevent people being scared of the police and would free up the resources that are currently being spent on trying to prevent people using it.”
Why cannabis should be legal
- Cannabis could be the safest drug available. A study by Scientific Reports found that cannabis is actually 114 times less deadly than alcohol.
- The legalisation of cannabis doesn’t cause a crime epidemic. Since Colorado legalised recreational use of marijuana, there has been no epidemic of crime with numbers of reported crime dropping by 15% and cases of murder dropping by 50%.
- The US government has confirmed that marijuana can kill cancer cells. The research carried out by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, funded by federal government also states that marijuana can also shrink some of the most serious types of brain tumours.
- Marijuana is less addictive than coffee. Matthew Lazenka, a researcher at Virginia Commonwealth University argued that caffeine ticks off just as many boxes as for drug abuse as THC, the active ingredient in cannabis.
- It can generate jobs. In Colorado, where marijuana has been legalised, thousands of jobs have been created in the cannabis industry.
Why cannabis should be illegal
- It is considered extremely addictive, Dr Drew, an American celebrity and media personality has said that: "It affects the white matter of the brain, and for kids who start using marijuana when they are 12, or even younger, those bad consequences tend not to reverse.”
- It has a negative impact on children. According to the Mail Online, Amsterdam has had to ban smoking marijuana with city spokeswoman Iris Reshef saying that schools have always forbidden pot, but found it difficult to enforce the policy when students smoked on or near campus and challenged administrators to do anything about it.
- Marijuana affects your mental health. A recent Northwestern University study found that marijuana users have abnormal brain structure and poor memory and that chronic marijuana abuse may lead to brain changes resembling schizophrenia.
- Marijuana also affects your physical health with ScienceDaily reporting that marijuana smoke contains higher levels of toxins than tobacco smoke.
- It affects student’s critical skills relating to attention, memory and learning. A study of 129 college students found that the previously mentioned skills were seriously diminished.
The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron told The Mirror last year: “I tried cannabis when I was younger, as did many other politicians.” continuing to say that “It’s time that we had the courage to look at the evidence and make a decision that will help us to tackle the real criminals instead of the current failed approach.”
When asked when he had last smoked a joint, Julian Hopper, the Liberal Democrats’ Cambridge candidate told BuzzFeed News:
“I’m really boring. I’ve never had one. You can believe that or not. I am that dull. For me it’s a public health issue.”
Last year Jeremy Corbyn said that he would legalise cannabis for medical use, however, this did not feature in Labour’s draft manifesto. A petition signed by 250,000 people to make the production, sale and use of cannabis legal was dismissed by the government last year.
Edith Critchley, a fellow Editor of The Portsmouth Point offered her stance on legalising cannabis, she told me:
“If the drug was made legal and regulated it would prevent unregulated doses being sold to under-age teens in back allys. However, I am sceptical that if it were legal it would send a message to young children that it is acceptable to take other drugs, not just cannabis, therefore if it were to be made legal an education program would need to be put in place.”
What do you think?
Well, with the General Election on June 8th, we will soon know whether cannabis will be legalised and what implications that this move will have for the British public. The deadline to register for the 2017 General Election was on Monday 22nd May at 23:59 so, unfortunately, you can no longer register to vote. According to Ipsos Mori, the world's second largest market research organisation, just 43% of 18-24-year-olds went to the polls, compared with 78% of people aged 65 or over. And overall, only 66.1% of registered voters actually went to vote in 2015. This is the time for the 33.9% of registered voters and in particular the young generation to change Britain’s future and voice their opinions on matters that affect us all.
For more information on how to vote on June 8th, follow this link.