A known poet once wrote that ‘April is the cruelest month.’ Fast forward almost 100 years, and April might perhaps now be termed as the mellowest month, as hundreds descend to London’s Hyde Park to celebrate ‘4/20’, or international ‘Cannabis Day’, symbolic of the increasing popularity of cannabis in Britain as across the globe. Undeterred by its current illegality in the United Kingdom, thousands of cannabis users continue to consume the drug, and advocate its legalization to escape punishment and simplify access to it. The ‘pro-legalization’ campaign has long been existent, though its substantial growth in the past decade – epitomized by Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron’s decision to support its legalization – places the issue toward the forefront of national politics, proving pivotal not only in U.K. parties’ amassment of public support, but also in the personal lives of all British citizens.
The arguments -though myriad on both sides- in support of legalization admittedly appear convincing, and likely underpin the dramatic increase in support for the drug’s decriminalization (self-interest aside.) Fiscally, the estimate that legalising the sale of cannabis in Britain would generate up to £1bn in tax revenues is a universally welcome attribute in reducing the U.K’s current plight of debt. Cited health advantages, such as managing abiding pain and briefly decreasing social inhibition prompt many to assert the necessity of marijuana in their daily lives. Further, the argument exists that the ‘war on drugs’ paradoxically creates addicts: through being caught up in the criminal justice system, users are less likely to escape addiction, according to drugs charity Release. As per the ‘pro-cannabis’ camp, the elimination of a marijuana black market will allow for greater governmental regulation, and will allow potency testing and warning labels for the plant to be ushered in.
That some positive results will occur from the decriminalization of marijuana is undeniable- but this is beside the point. The inherent, and certainly substantial, dangers and toxicity of the drug should certainly prompt the government to think twice in considering its legalization. At its core, marijuana is a psychoactive drug, and hazardous; clinical studies reveal that moderate consumption of the drug impairs short-term memory, slows reaction time, and increases the risk of cardiac arrest. The detriments to mental health are also significant: the proven correlation of cannabis consumption with anxiety, depression and psychosis evidences the manifest risk in allowing all people – especially those with a predisposition to mental health issues – to smoke the drug. Some users will invariably refute this point, asserting the absence of adverse effects on themselves. This is, however, a solipsistic view and must be discarded: the fact that there is a clear link between cannabis and schizophrenia remains, and some individuals are significantly more vulnerable. Decreased productivity is a further unwelcome, yet very frequent, by-product of cannabis: a study U.S. of postal workers found that employees who tested positive for marijuana had 55% more accidents, 85% more injuries and a 75% increase in being absent from work. Research shows that teenagers who smoke cannabis regularly before the age of sixteen drop out of school at more than twice the rate of non-users. An undesired aspect of society, unproductivity may well be an unfortunate consequence of increased usage of cannabis. The consumption of cannabis is naturally not ‘forced’ upon anyone and shall always remain a question of personal choice, but with the mass-marketing and increased accessibility of cannabis that decriminalization would create, young, naïve and nescient people may irreversibly jeopardize their futures through smoking such drugs. We must be conscientious in preventing this from occurring.
Advocates of cannabis will often be quick to assert the strong similarity of the drug with alcohol, and swiftly bemoan cannabis’ contrasting illegality. This is however a false equivalency: that the two substances consist of fundamentally different components – marijuana’s addictive qualities are far higher, and (unlike alcohol) are correlative with defects in long-term cognitive abilities- negates any meaningful comparison between the two. Even so, it would surely be irresponsible to make a third drug freely available and add to the harmful consequences of the two we already have- alcohol and nicotine. The claims that marijuana is vital in alleviating chronic and serious pain is a legitimate one, and should hence be confined and regulated strictly for medicinal purposes for those in genuine need. The increased feeling of wellbeing and relaxation that cannabis induces can easily be replicated through other medicinal sources, such as with antidepressants and benzodiazepines, and prove far safer with reduced risks of long-term cognitive impairment. Cannabis is primarily a recreational drug, and though social libertarians may react in horror to prohibitive and intrusive stances, it is essential to underline its impacts on the entirety of society, not just the individual consumers- addiction, illnesses, family breakup and crimes borne out of marijuana usage (studies find that approximately 60 percent of arrestees in England test positive for marijuana) are unwanted side-effects that ultimately affect everyone.
Though it may hold some positive features, the dangers inherent in marijuana should disqualify it from being made accessible to the entirety of the British public. Clinically proven links to nervous damage, heart complications and psychosis, allowing millions of Britons access to a psychoactive drug with addictive qualities is a hazardous move at best, a destructive one at worst. Fundamentally, we must ask ourselves two questions: is cannabis unambiguously safe, and is it more beneficial than already legal medicinal drugs? The answer to both questions is ‘no’, and the onus is now on the government to carefully review the implications of marijuana before deciding on its legalization- for it could well prove a decision damaging and myopic.