The decriminalisation/legalisation of the sale and use of cannabis has been a topic of national and international debate for some considerable time. Some governments have claimed that their experiments with the softening of laws surrounding the sale and use of the drug have been successful. Discuss the pros and cons of a possible decriminalisation of cannabis, stating whether or not you believe it would lead to a breakthrough in the United Kingdom government’s “war on drugs”. Drug abuse is a serious social problem in western countries.
According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, by 1998, approximately half of all young adults in England and Wales had used illicit drug at some point in their lives and a quarter to a third were current users (1999). Among various kinds of drugs, Cannabis, also known as Marijuana or Weed, is the most prevalent choice due to the relatively small risk perceived by drug users. Recently, the widespread use of Cannabis has led many people to doubt the deterring effect of the traditional stringent law. Nadelmann (1992; cited in Evans and Berent, 1992, pp. 66) observed that the effects of law enforcement in countries that advocate a total ban on the personal use of cannabis has had an insignificant impact, if any at all on levels of its use. Shiner (2003) also concluded that although Britain has one of the strictest drugs policies in Europe, it also has one of the highest levels of youthful drug use. Those researches have led many countries to reconsider such laws and some countries have successfully experimented with the legalisation of Marijuana. Is legalisation the right path to win the “war on drugs”?
In this essay, the potential advantages and disadvantages of legalising Cannabis will be examined and a conclusion will be reached as whether legalisation should be the answer of the Cannabis dilemma faced by the UK government. The most significant negative consequence of criminalisation is that it creates a huge black market which causes substantial damage to society. In an unregulated black market, it is impossible for buyers to know the quality of the substance they are given: the purity of cannabis, its ingredients or even whether it is authentic.
Sometimes all three are unknown. Worse still, profit-driven dealers will try their best to sell harder and more addictive drugs to buyers in order to maximise profits. Given the fact that most Cannabis users are young people who experience psychological pressures from peers and society, they are likely to be very susceptible to the influences of illegal dealers. Once youngsters take up the habit of smoking harder drugs, they are likely to pass the habit on to their friends. From there, more and more people can be affected by more harmful drugs like Cocaine and Heroin.
The consequence of this to society is frightening and far greater than legalisation of Marijuana where the content of the product can be controlled and regulated. Better yet, like the selling of tobacco, it will be imperative for suppliers to clearly print the harmful effects of the drug on the package. This would ensure that everyone buying this kind of drug is aware of its harm whereas in the black market no dealer will tell potential buyers the negative effects of the drug.
Aside from social costs, the black market is also associated with substantial economic costs. Many western governments lose large amounts of revenue each year to drug syndicates. For example, consumers in the United States were estimated to have spent $8. 3 billion on cannabis during 1990 while the equivalent Australian expenditure is thought to have been around Australia dollar 1. 9 billion (Vallance, 1993 ; Sarre, 1994). The similar situation is likely to present in any country having a drug problem, including the UK.
However, if Marijuana is legalised, the government can put many of the illegal dealers out of business and collect considerable taxes on sales of the drug which could be used by the government to fight the war on drugs. Among the numerous possible initiatives of utilizing the money, launching a campaign educating the public about the harm done by Marijuana and rehabilitating users are only two examples. Legalising Marijuana has another major benefit, which is increased efficiency of police operations.
Lord Baker, the Conservative Home Secretary from 1990 to 1992, represents many people’s view on this issue when he stated that “To fill our prisons with people who are Cannabis users is a bum use of the prisons” (The Sunday Times, 8th July, 2001). In the history of the war on drugs in the United States, enormous resources were wasted on drugs: their “Zero Tolerance” initiative have helped to produce the world’s highest imprisonment rate and a tenfold increase in the prison population (Shiner, 2003).
While six percent of state prisoners were serving sentences for drug offences in 1980, by 1998, this has more than tripled to twenty-one percent (Shiner, 2003). Compared with users of hard drugs such as Heroin and Cocaine, the number of people smoking weed is far greater. Arresting those people put great pressure on police resources while the real crimes are left unattended, not to mention the fact that most of these Cannabis users are occasional users. However, aside from the benefits of legalisation, it also has some inherent drawbacks. First, the fact that legalisation might send the wrong message to the public in undeniable.
To understand the issue, one could conjure up a scenario in which a parent tells his or her teenage son that it is wrong to smoke Weed, the son could easily refute by saying, “If it is wrong, why does the law indicate that it is legal? ” Parents and educators will have a very difficult time explaining the issue to young people without the backing of the law. To counteract this negative effect of legalisation, the government has to do a lot more than simply changing the law. Large scale media campaigns have to be launched to make the public aware of the harmful effects of Marijuana.
If users realises the fact that Marijuana is ten times more carcinogenic than tobacco and can trigger or exacerbate mental illness, they are more likely to quit the habit for concerns for their own health. Another concern of legalisation is that it may inflate level of use by increasing the availability of the drug. Indeed, it is terrifying to imagine that one could buy Cannabis in stores just like buying alcohol and tobacco. However, this is just speculation without evidence and research of other countries suggests legalisation does not lead to increased use of the drug.
For example, in the United States, where eleven states decriminalised the use of Cannabis during the 1970s, either no significant increases in its use were detected after decriminalisation or, where increases did occur, they were no greater than those that arose in states in which no changes in Cannabis legislation had taken place (Vallance, 1993). Reality has taught us that total prohibition of Cannabis not only causes economic loss to a nation, but also inflicts more harm to society. Decriminalisation, although risky and controversial, can actually provide a better solution.
Education must be combined with legalisation to achieve the best outcome. All channels of communication should be utilised to inform the public in order to offset the various negative effects of legalisation. However, even education does not offer a comprehensive answer and the government still has a long way to go to provide better prescription. Government officials have to bear in mind that law can not solve the root cause of drug abuse. No matter how strict or liberal the law is, the deeper social problems behind the scene remain.
In the wealthy United Kingdom, all basic needs in life are all fulfilled and people began to seek pleasure in other ways. In addition, many people experience enormous pressure from work places, families, relationships, etc. , drug usage is only a channel to release the pressure and make them feel relaxed. Those social problems are deeply rooted in society and can not be solved overnight. Nonetheless, the government should strive to make this society a better place to live so that no one has to create their imaginary heaven by using drugs.