The biggest problem with any law is where to draw the line. Take abortion - where does one draw the line on when it is morally acceptable to terminate a foetus? Some say that it is never OK, some say that it is acceptable in cases of rape, some state that it is alright under any circumstances provided the foetus is not in the third trimester. Some take it even further and suggest that using contraceptives in the first place is immoral. Drawing a line is never easy.
But there are some situations where the line seems to be all over the place. Let's look at a few facts about cannabis:
- Most drugs are assigned a safety ratio by medical practitioners, a ratio that is a measure of how much of the drug you need to get 'high' versus how much of the drug you need to take in order to die of an overdose. Low safety ratios mean that an overdose is incredibly likely, and these can be found in more dangerous drugs. Heroin has a safety ratio of 1:6, meaning that taking 6 times the dosage required to get the average person high will be lethal. Alcohol has a safety ratio of 1:10. Ecstasy and Cocaine both have safety ratios in the 1:10 to 1:20 range, depending on which study you cite.
"And cannabis' safety ratio?", I hear you ask.
Well, no one's really sure. No one has ever actually died from a cannabis overdose. Using some biological and mathematical guesswork, various studies have placed it at anywhere from 1:2000 to 1:40000. But it may as well be 1 to a billion. No one will ever consume that much cannabis in a short amount of time.
- This is where the line gets a bit fuzzy. Surely for cannabis to be illegal, if we know it isn't responsible for thousands of deaths like other dangerous drugs, then it must be particularly addictive.
Below are six different drugs. Rank them from most addictive to least addictive. Award yourself a point for every drug you get in the correct rank.
Cocaine (not crack cocaine)
Think it through...then scroll down when you've arranged them all.
Ok, ready? Here we go!
#1 - Nicotine
So there we are. The winner of this contest is a drug that is sold legally and responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths every year. Similarly to cannabis, it is rare that people overdose on nicotine, but nicotine has a way of killing people with its secondary effects.
#2 - Alcohol
Clocking in at second place, we have another legal drug! Alcohol is known to be intensely physically and psychologically addictive. Alcohol dependency frequently goes unnoticed due to the fact that it is a legal drug and is more societally accepted as a result. Unlike nicotine, however, alcohol has a whole host of side effects which can occur both in the short term and long-term. It is known to cause brain damage and liver problems, as well as making the user more easily aggravated and violent. This effect combined with lower inhibitions mean that in addition to the effects of the drug itself, many users find themselves in vicious fights, injuring themselves and others around them. Interestingly, alcohol is so addictive that withdrawing from it cold turkey for those who are more severely addicted can outright kill an addict.
#3 - Heroin
The bronze medal goes to heroin. Heroin is an interesting drug for many reasons: it was ironically first synthesised as a non-addictive form of morphine (a textbook case of irony, given its status as one of the most addictive drugs in existence). It is sold as a prescription painkiller for the terminally ill in the UK under the brand name 'diamorphine'. Anecdotally, it is said by those who have tried it that there is no feeling of euphoria that even compares to the feeling of heroin when it is injected directly into the veins. Heroin is also known for its horrible physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms, though withdrawal is typically non-lethal.
#4 - Cocaine
Cocaine is a drug that, when taken, has been shown to have destructive effects on the user's pleasure receptors in the brain. Though this is not always the case, it is likely that users will experience a rush from snorting cocaine, then discover that they need more of it to feel as good again, destroying more pleasure receptors in the process. If this process is repeated with increasing amounts of cocaine, the user will find themselves addicted. However, cocaine is not as difficult to quit as nicotine or alcohol.
#5 - Caffeine
The wonder-drug of programmers, university students, computer gamers and night-shift workers alike, caffeine is used primarily for its stimulant properties in keeping people awake. Caffeine addiction typically goes unnoticed as it does not have particularly many damaging effects on the body and is easy to obtain. Caffeine withdrawal is not particularly serious either, and consists primarily of fatigue (which is usually interpreted by users as a sign to drink more coffee).
#6 - Cannabis
And in last place, we have cannabis - shown by studies to be psychologically habit-forming, but hardly addictive at all in a physical sense.
So just what is wrong with cannabis after all?
To say that cannabis is without side-effects would be a blatant lie. Smoking cannabis has been shown to have negative effects on the short-term memory while using and for brief periods afterwards. In addition, studies have linked cannabis use with psychosis in later life in those who are genetically predisposed to mental illness, particularly among those who started using from a young age. But cannabis has its upside, too. It can be used in the treatment of up to 200 illnesses. It is particularly effective in treating the sickness caused by chemotherapy, and has shown to impact favourably on the overall health of cancer patients in particular. For these reasons and others, 14 states in the US have legalised programs that allow doctors to, when they believe it appropriate, prescribe patients medical marijuana.
When one compares the effects of cannabis against those of alcohol, it should become clear that something is wrong with where the line has been drawn.
So why legalise?
There are a number of benefits to society associated with legalising cannabis.
1 - Reduce organised crime
When the US enacted laws enforcing the Prohibition of Alcohol in 1920, it didn't work well for them. Gangs took over the distribution of alcohol so that the demand could be properly met with supply. However, things like beer and wine weren't very space-efficient when it came to transportation. Harder spirits which contained more alcohol and which were therefore more expensive became far more viable. As a result, public drunkenness was said to increase as people were drinking spirits for their alcohol instead of their usual beer/wine. The side effect of the sale of alcohol was that violent gangs now had a source of income.
Violence is rife in Columbia (Cocaine) and Mexico (Cannabis) because different gangs are doing their best to control their turf. They can afford to buy corrupt policemen and politicians, hired mercenaries to protect their crops and weapons to further increase their control over the country. Their money comes primarily from selling drugs. If drugs (cannabis in this case) are made legal, then the price drops dramatically. Many economists have said that the price of cannabis in the US would drop from $400 per ounce to $40 per ounce, even with tax. This drop in price represents a significant loss of income to gangs.
2 - More government income
This was a clincher for California. California currently has a proposition which is due to be voted on on the 2nd of November this year known as Proposition 19, which aims to legalise, tax and regulate the sale and consumption of cannabis. California is a state that is quite deeply in debt. The tax from cannabis being sold represents USD$1 billion per year to the state of California - money that they (and others) will be able to put to good use, especially in the aftermath(?) of the global financial crisis.
3 - Less government expenditure
There are a lot of people in jail for crimes as small as possession of cannabis. This is due to what is known as 'mandatory minimum sentencing' - basically, if you are guilty of a crime, then regardless of the circumstances the judge must sentence you to at least the mandatory minimum sentence. Legalising cannabis would lead to less people in jail for cannabis related offences, which means less money spent on both law enforcement and prison upkeep since less prisons are needed. A further financial gain for governments!
So there you have it,
Let's draw a proper line.