There is something very odd about the fact that being caught with some cannabis for personal use can land you with anything from a warning, to a £90 fine to even five years in prison. Yet hop on a plane from the UK to the Netherlands and within 60 minutes you can legally partake in as much of the green stuff as you like. As a country we’re supposedly forward thinking. We have a female prime minister, we have legalised gay marriage, we are disgusted by racism, and we believe in the freedom of speech. However, when it comes to drug laws we are stuck in an era of conservative values, that do not reflect the reality of modern society. The reality is that people like getting high. People have been getting high in various ways for centuries. People in the UK love getting high from cannabis, and it is still the most widely used drug in this country.
Instead of observing these trends and looking at the possibility of legalisation, the government would rather allow for a dangerous drug trade to grow than take progressive steps to legalise. The strict drug laws classifying cannabis as a Class B drug have little impact on deterring those who wish to smoke. In fact all the laws do is make the purchase of cannabis for casual smokers a potentially dangerous activity. Many users view the restrictive laws as ridiculous and SJ, a casual smoker, shared his views: Government policy towards drugs in general, let alone cannabis, is unprogressive compared to other countries (Canada etc). The sacking of government advisor Professor Nutt a few years ago shows that the government isn’t keen to even acknowledge change, choosing to punish rather than reform. This topic of punishment is key, because rather than allowing for a legal trade to be established, one which could promote safer cannabis use, offer a wider selection to consumers, would be regulated and in turn provide tax revenue for the government, the UK prefers to turn a blind eye and refuses to discuss any notion of change. It is ironic that even the USA, a country which famously led the ‘war on drugs’ and had the wisdom to elect President Trump has relaxed its ways and started the process of legalising recreational cannabis use in certain states. Furthermore, in locations where cannabis has been legalised there have been reported drops in crime, indicating that hysteria around the link between cannabis and violence is purely a myth. The violence occurs when criminal organisations control the supply chain, but by tweaking it and allowing this plant (because essentially that is what it is) to be sold in an ethical manner it removes the crime element. Anyone who has visited Amsterdam in search of a recreational high will have definitely visited world famous coffeeshop Greenhouse, and manager Joa Helms, who is also Chairman of the Dutch Coffeeshop Association believes that the culture of legal recreational use of cannabis has had a positive impact on Dutch society: It helps people to avoid buying cannabis from an illegal street dealer, who mostly likely also has other drugs, like cocaine etc. People can instead go to the coffeeshop where they can get advice about the products and they offer a safe environment to smoke their purchase.
Cannabis has unfairly been often dubbed as a gateway drug, a drug that facilitates users to to chase a stronger high, and moves them into an uncontrollable downward trajectory of drug use. But Joa believes that this is not the case, and uses the Dutch example to explain further: From a health policy point of view, this system is much better than to keep it all illegal. In the end, there are much less hard drugs users. This report indicates that hard drug use in the Netherlands is decreasing, but the problem hasn’t gone away completely. The examples of the Netherlands and the USA clearly highlight that legalisation brings down violence, and results in a safer way to use drugs. An issue that many users have is the vilification of cannabis use, when there are drugs such as alcohol which have more of a detrimental effect on behaviour and society. Cannabis user Arun prefers to smoke rather than drink alcohol and shared his views on current restrictions: Government policy is outdated, over reactive and ultimately way too strict. I still can’t believe it hasn’t been made legal for medicinal purposes yet, and really I can’t see much justification to keep something like weed illegal, while alcohol is legal.
The bottom line is that while the rest of the world has slowly started to accept and embrace the benefits of a legalised cannabis trade, the UK is not prepared to do so. After all, it would be much safer to be able to enter a licensed store and purchase for recreational use and be educated on any potential risks associated with use, rather than call random drug dealers, meet them in shady spots, get in their cars and do a quick exchange of a product in which the source and chemical compounds cannot be guaranteed.