David Blunkett's recent decision(2) to consider reclassifying cannabis from a class B to a class C drug is to be welcomed. At long last, a politician is willing to think about considering the facts, rather than simply bowing to political pressures. A better decision would have been to decriminalise cannabis immediately and completely, but this is still an important step in the right direction.
It is easy to understand why legalising cannabis is the correct thing to do. What is not so easy is to understand the arguments of those who oppose this. Many of these people are Christians who seem to think that enjoying yourself is wrong, and enjoying yourself a lot is even worse. This is strange, as the man they claim to follow was criticised for eating and drinking too much He offered people joy and abundant life. He could enjoy himself - some of the time, at least! - while serving God with His whole heart, a knack which is too often missing today.
Cannabis should be made legal for two basic reasons. Firstly, there is no good reason to make it illegal; and, secondly, the damage done by cannabis is almost entirely due to the fact that it is illegal.
It is possible for people to argue that cannabis should be - should remain - illegal. But you cannot, with any integrity, keep cannabis illegal while alcohol and tobacco are legal. Some people may wish to live in a society where people are prevented from harming themselves or subjecting themselves to any form of risk, but no society has ever been fascist enough to try and implement this approach. Imagine the sports you would have to ban, the swimming pools you would have to close...
The standard argument against legalising cannabis is that people who use cannabis sometimes 'graduate' to harder drugs. Of course they do! You buy them from the same supplier. If you want to encourage people to associate with criminals whose only interest is in getting you hooked on as wide a range of drugs as possible, why stop at cannabis? Why not make tea and coffee illegal, too? After all, they too are drugs with harmful side effects. Then we could have middle class housewives visiting the dealer for their weekly fix of caffeine, and getting themselves hooked on ecstasy and heroin. It is a policy that has worked for a generation of schoolchildren.
Alcohol not only harms the person drinking it, it frequently maims and kills their friends and families(3). People are allowed to drive half a ton of metal at lethal speeds after drinking enough alcohol to slow their reflexes significantly. They can destroy their livers with alcohol, beat up their wives and fall off motorcycles while drunk, and our most energetic response is to consider running another advertising campaign to educate people about the dangers.
This says a great deal about our society: a drug that kills tens of thousands and makes them violent to others is tolerated, even encouraged in many circles, while a drug that kills nobody and makes people more placid is banned(4).
People use astonishing arguments to keep cannabis illegal. One of the most common is: we must uphold the law. If this was an argument against legalising cannabis, it would be an argument against any change to any law. I tell people they should keep the law, but (if the law is an ass) keeping it is not enough: you have to try and change it. Most young people today know about the dangers of cannabis, and they know how these compare to the dangers of the legal drugs used by the establishment. How can we expect them to respect the law when the law is so blatantly unjust?
(1) Paul is General Manager of Crisis Centre Ministries, a Christian charity that helps people who suffer from life-disrupting problems. Many of the people they help are both homeless and addicted - often to tobacco, alcohol and a range of illegal drugs. He stresses that the content of this article reflects his personal views, and that CCM does not have a corporate policy on the legalisation of cannabis. [Back...]
(2) The text of the press release on 23 October said that he would "seek advice from scientific and medical experts on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) on their assessment of the arguments for re-classifying cannabis from Class B to Class C." [Back...]
(4) To put things into perspective, U.S. Department of Health figures suggest that 100,000 people die each year from alcohol-related reasons, 450,000 from tobacco-related reasons, and less than 10,000 die each year from all illegal drugs. It is debatable whether anyone has ever died from cannabis-related reasons. [Back...]