River Wissey Lovell Fuller

De-Criminilisation Of Cannabis

December 2001

Pot or not?

The recent proposal to re-classify cannabis as a class C drug and the decision that possession will no longer lead to prosecution might be the first step towards complete decriminilisation, although it is an odd decision that those selling risk prosecution whilst those buying will not. Certainly the bandwagon for the legalisation of cannabis is really rolling now. On the face of it, the fact that alcohol and tobacco are legal whilst cannabis is not is something of an anomaly, although, of course, alcohol and tobacco have been legal for centuries. If they had just been introduced would we want to make their use legal?

They do say "If you haven't tried it don't knock it". On that basis I did try tobacco and for many years before I finally kicked the habit I wished I'd never heard of it. No doubt it is possible for some to use cannabis with no ill effects but it appears that there are limits, which can be quite low, beyond which it can generate serious problems, and, at the time they are under the influence of the drug, nobody can be regarded as their normal self.

Dr Susan Greenfield, Professor of pharmacology at Oxford, states that, whereas 7,000milligrams of alcohol are required to achieve the mind altering effect of relaxation, only 0.3milligrams of cannabis is sufficient. Furthermore the effects are longer lasting. Just one joint, she claims, could impair one's driving skills for a full 24hours and maintaining a rate of one joint per day for just a few weeks can lead to shrinkage and even death of brain cells. Cannabis can generate lethargy and de-motivate people, it can also produce panic, disorientation and confusion. According to Stewart Stubbs, an Australian working in the field of alcohol and drug abuse, cannabis can precipitate a psychotic episode in some. In larger amounts it can cause paranoid thoughts, mood swings, irritability and impair memory. It can lead to loss of employment, relationship difficulties, anxiety and other problems of a social nature.

It is claimed that cannabis smoking is less harmful to health than tobacco but Professor Greenfield disputes that and points out that the concentrations of tar, carbon monoxide and carcinogenic compounds in cannabis smoke is at least double those in tobacco smoke, although nobody is likely to be smoking 20 or 30 joints a day. It is odd though, that at a time when the Government is concerned about the effects of alcohol on the behaviour of young people and is endeavouring to dissuade youngsters from smoking tobacco, we could be contemplating giving the green light to the smoking of cannabis which is potentially more dangerous.

Peter Lillie's idea that legalising cannabis would enable the Treasury to benefit from its sale, rather than the criminal fraternity is dubious. Since the supply of illicit cannabis is well established it would be relatively simple to undercut the government's tax and continue to supply it illegally. Furthermore, cannabis is relatively easy to grow and, once it is legalised I am sure that there will be a massive increase in the production of the home grown variety.

There seems to be some dispute as to whether or not the smoking of cannabis does lead some people on to the more addictive hard drugs but the example of the Netherlands may shed some light. They decriminalised cannabis is 1976, since then the number of heroin addicts there has trebled and the Netherlands has become known as the drugs centre of Europe.

I accept that some of the dangerous aspects of cannabis outlined above represents extremes and I recognise that we have a major problem in fighting the war against soft drugs but I do not think that de-criminalising them is a sensible way forward. We are concerned about the risks of passive smoking of tobacco smoke but, in view of the relatively small amount of cannabis smoke required to have a significant effect on the brain, what would be the consequence of widespread cannabis smoking in public?

Finally, using the words of Professor Greenfield "I do not want to live in a society full of people sitting around glass-eyed and giggling, especially if they are behind the wheel of a car or, heaven forbid, running the country. And that is exactly what would happen if we move to the brave new world of a drugs free-for-all."

Ron Watts

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