What does the legalisation of cannabis mean?
As you read this article, at this very moment, someone, somewhere is buying and/or consuming a legal cannabis product. All over the world, countries are relaxing laws around the cannabis plant and its many products. Some sources indicate that the UK could be the next jurisdiction to free the weed, but what does that really mean?
Broadly speaking cannabis is still illegal in the UK, unless you can afford a private prescription in which case you can have your fill of legal medical cannabis products. Assuming you don’t have thousands of pounds to spend on private medical care every month, you still have the option of using CBD food suppplements, the kinds of which we sell in our Hemp shop on Great Junction Street. Outwith these two options, any product with an appreciable THC content is still a controlled substance. What this really means is that the vast, vast majority of cannabis users in the UK are accessing their herbs through the black market. There may be little quality control, and you may not be able to guarantee the consistency of your supply week to week or month to month.
For some, the illegality of cannabis is a deterrent, many people would not consider breaking the law for something as trivial as a good nights sleep or pain relief. However, roughly 10% of the population are regular cannabis users, and the efforts of the home office to shut down supply of the drug do not effect our appetite or even our ability to “pick-up”. I have read that even a very successful bust by the police only sets back the supply chain by a couple of hours.
It is clear that the status quo is not sustainable. For decades the UK government has dug its heels in and refused to move neither with the times, nor with the evidence. Meanwhile millions suffer, or at the very least are put in harms way by not having a legal, regulated system in which to purchase cannabis.
Ahead of us lie many choices. One such choice is decriminalisation vs. legalisation. The former means that the individual user of a given drug will not face criminal charges, however the production and supply of said drug remains illegal. Decriminalisation is a great idea, and it has worked wonders in many countries, most notably Portugal which has seen plummeting rates of blood-borne diseases and overdoses associated with intra-venous drug use. Decriminalisation of drugs has the biggest effect on the most vulnerable drug users, and enables the state and social services to intervene in a positive way, offering the individual the support and resources they need to improve their circumstances.
The legalisation of drugs goes further. In a legal system, the entire supply chain is covered; it is permissable to produce, sell and consume the substance. Everything is taxed and regulated and treated much like coffee or alcohol with rules in place to protect the consumer, and assurances for investors and businesses interested in the market. Now of course there are many examples of legal cannabis markets around the world; some work better than others and some barely work at all. Rather than wax lyrical about the possibilities of a legal cannabis market here in Edinburgh, I would rather tell you what the legalisation of cannabis DOESN’T mean.
Legal Cannabis does NOT mean mandatory cannabis. I suspect some people may worry that if weed was legal we would be coerced by government mandate to consume it. This is not the case. Even in places with legal cannabis on offer, the number of users rarely exceeds 20-25% of the population. While not inconsiderable it is still a minority, and for reference 80% of people in Scotland consume alcohol, a drug which causes exponentially more harm to physical health, mental health, families and communities, not to mention the enormous burden on the NHS and Policing.
Legal Cannabis does NOT mean a free for all. If we are sensible, we can put together a set of rules which allows for large scale production, and home growing alike. We can have rules and regulations to ensure that products making it to market have an assured level of quality. In the same way as we issue licenses for people to produce and sell alcohol, we can have licenses for businesses who wish to purvey fine cannabis products. With a legal market, we can regulate the potency of our cannabis, and label them accordingly; no more grasping in the dark, guessing the effect of your medicine by trying to decipher the exotic names that many cultivars are given.
Finally, legal cannabis does NOT mean the end of western civilisation. People will still go to work, we will continue to function much the same as we do now. The economy will benefit to the tune of £BILLIONS in tax revenue, not to mention the investment and opportunities for people in our communities. Cannabis is already a part of daily life for many people, and for the most part you would never notice. Take a look around you. How many people do you see? How many of them have used cannabis in the last week? How many have used it today? Does it really matter?
If you don’t already consume cannabis, its legalisation will have very little direct impact on your life. It’s not for you that advocates like myself campaign for reform of our cannabis laws. It’s for the sick, sad and sore people who deserve so much better than the status quo.
Regardless of your opinion on how we legalise cannabis, it is clear that change is coming and I for one believe that the change is best facilitated by those who understand both the product and the people that use it. Crucially we must come to accept that cannabis is an inevitable fact of life on earth, and it must be held in an open hand if we want to reduce harm and increase positive outcomes.