Should the UK Legalise cannabis?

I will preface this by saying that I am a medicinal user and cannabis supporter through and through, but I will try to take an impartial view as to why the UK should legalise weed. My love and passion for cannabis is what sparked my interest in creating my own Headshop & Smoking Accessory store.

Recently in the UK, Suella Braverman unsuccessfully suggested that she’s going to reclassify cannabis, putting it on the same level as heroin. This sparked a lot of discussion surrounding the classification of cannabis and I wanted to throw my own thoughts in the hat.

This is a long read, and I have tried to put a lot of effort in to researching and fact checking all of my points. None of this article is medical advice or suggesting that you need to consume cannabis, I merely want to address the fact that a lot of the problems surrounding cannabis arise from misinformation and weird laws introduced 40+ years ago. We need change, spending billions worldwide to punish a regular person for smoking a plant is absurd.

Firstly, we need to discuss that it’s quite clear prohibition does more harm than the drug itself and we’ll touch base on the potential harms of cannabis use later on. Prohibition of this famous plant came when Richard Nixon was elected US president in 1968. During the 60’s when he was elected, drugs were becoming very prevalent and cannabis was no exception with the flower being associated with youthful rebellion and Government dissent which was obviously not taken too kindly to by the Government, scientific research evaluating the safety & efficiency of marijuana and other recreational drugs were halted as a consequence.

June 1971 comes around and President Nixon has wagered a “war on drugs” with an increased presence in drug enforcement officials, no-knock policies and mandatory sentencing. The rest of the world didn’t take long to follow suit, the UK introduced the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, decriminalising cannabis from this point on was always going to be an uphill battle. There is also a lot of evidence to suggest that Nixon’s War was a hate crime and fundamentally racist based off of the “typical user” being a minority, I won’t go in to that today but I will say that one of Nixon’s top political aids, John Ehrlichman, later made comments about this “war on drugs”

“You want to know what this was really all about. The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Comments made by John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s top political aide.
Drug prohibition is both wrong and unworkable

So why is drug prohibition bad? Drug prohibition has been objectively ineffective as a drug control strategy and it subjects innocent, law-abiding citizens to stigmatisation, arrest, prosecution and imprisonment for something they do in their private time. We’re not talking just about cannabis here, we’re talking about plenty of drugs that have proven benefits and medicinal purposes like psychedelics for curing PTSD, depression and a plethora of other ailments.

Imagine, if you will, you’ve come home after a long day and you have nothing to do that evening. Some might sit down with a glass of wine, some might smoke a few cigarettes and some…well some might smoke a joint, just a little bit of weed to relax them. Setting aside the fact the person that smoked the joint isn’t going to just die and they’re certainly not going to get up and do something bad because lets face it, weed (dependant on tolerance) is going to make you relax and not want to move.

The person smoking the joint is breaking the law and is now subject to prosecution, in the UK it costs an average of £449 PER PERSON to be detained for 12 hours for cannabis possession/use. That very same person also purchased their narcotics off of a drug dealer in a back-alley and that weed is not regulated – it could have come from anywhere. That same joint was probably smuggled in and a lot of laws were broken there too, which only adds to the cost, people most likely died from growing and transporting these drugs too. Do you know what legalisation would do? It would cut out all of this activity and we could have legal, regulated weed from some of the best growers in the world with real talent making strides and innovations, which in turn is taxed and benefits the UK economy more. We’re talking billions in tax that could be used for education, the NHS, infrastructure and more.

Alcohol-related hospital admissions between 2020 and 2021 were 814,595 in the UK and cost over £7bn. The argument can be made that since alcohol is legal and more readily available, the stats are going to be way higher but you need to consider this; there’s no known lethal dose of cannabis and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Preventions) doesn’t even have a category for cannabis deaths. There are a small amount of deaths linked to cannabis because of illegal THC cartridges you can buy and “spice”, which is a synthetic THC made in a council flat bathtub. In fact, there were only 36 cannabis related deaths in 2020 – these are related deaths, not deaths because of cannabis and the CDC even found that cannabis deaths are usually because another drug or illicit substance like opioids were found in the users system too.

A better way to look at these stats (because alcohol and cigarette deaths are bound to be WAY higher since they’re legal), in England and Wales since records began in 1993, there have been an average of 0.6 cannabis related deaths per million, in 2013 alone the average death rate for alcohol was 140 per million.

On the flip-side of these stats as well, states in the US with legal marijuana saw a 25 percent decrease in prescribed pain killer related deaths.

How much does enforcing marijuana laws cost the UK?

We touched base early on the fact that it costs £449 to detain someone for possession for 12 hours, but what other costs are involved? It’s a lot

  • The UK Police spend 1,044,180 hours per year enforcing marijuana related crimes
  • There are currently about 1,400 people in prison related to a marijuana offence, costing the tax payer £50m per year.
  • Cannabis legalisation would result in savings from police budgets of approximately £200million each year.
  • Legalising cannabis would reduce expenditure on forensics by £12.2 million each year.
  • The legalisation of cannabis would save up to £60 million every year in legal aid costs.
  • The legalisation of cannabis would generate savings of £6.24 million
    courts and £19.8 million for the Crown courts, giving a total saving of £26 million each year.

We’re spending 100’s of millions a year as a country to imprison people consuming a drug that is proven to be less deadly than alcohol and cigarettes, which are legal and taxed. The legalisation of cannabis in the UK would result in more scientific research in the drug, which in turn would reduce costs even further – offering regulated weed in the UK would offer people more information on safe consumption, addiction and safe practices. This is infinitely better than letting people buy dodgy drugs from bad people that could be synthetic, sprayed or worse.

Is cannabis addictive
Is cannabis addictive?

Anything can be addictive and the definition of “addictive” is broad. Cannabis doesn’t have addictive properties per se, but it is habit-forming, and you can develop a dependancy on cannabis which is referred to as “cannabis use dependency” (CUD). A recent report suggests that frequent cannabis users are about 10% likely to develop a dependency and honestly, it’s understandable. It’s a very powerful drug that can make you feel fantastic.

There are caveats to these statistics though which mainly stem from adolescent usage when your brain isn’t fully developed, but one might argue that these issues arise from the fact it’s an illegal drug and we cannot properly study it, nor is there a healthy amount of education surrounding the subject. We teach youngsters not to smoke and drink, but we also teach them that cannabis is some sort of crazy drug that is perceived as a “gateway drug”. Education surrounding the subject is key – we should definitely be teaching about the proven medicinal properties of cannabis at the very least.

You have more chance of developing alcohol and nicotine addiction and research suggests that cannabis is WAY less harmful than them. People get addicted to sugar and all sorts, which are also arguably way worse than cannabis. Inhaling anything in to your lungs is not a fantastic idea but these substances have varying levels of harm to your lungs. Besides, cannabis has a Smörgåsbord of consumption methods, including edible form which certainly decreases the severity of internal damage.

The harms of cannabis, is cannabis bad for you?

It would be wrong of me to preach cannabis and insinuate in any eventuality that it’s healthy or good for you. Cannabis, like any other drug or foreign substance inhaled in to your lung, is not “good” for you. Is it bad? That’s up for debate in my humble opinion.

So what are the risks of cannabis? From researching this topic you can quickly find that the data available is few and far between, it’s abundantly clear that more research is needed in this area (which would come from legalisation 😉), but lets review some of the main concerns around the risks of cannabis.

Mental health problems

There is a small amount of evidence that suggests daily cannabis use can worsen mental health problems in people with pre-existing mental health problems. However, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report suggests that among people with no history of the condition, there is only limited evidence of a link between cannabis use and developing bipolar disorder.

Some studies suggest that daily users may (a very small subset) develop suicidal thoughts or in some cases, depression but this is largely unsubstantiated.

Cannabis use is likely to increase risk of psychosis, including schizophrenia. But a curious finding among people with schizophrenia and other psychoses is that a history of cannabis use is linked with improved performance on tests assessing learning and memory.

Respiratory disease

A 2014 study tried to find a link between cannabis and lung disease. The results suggests that it’s unclear whether smoking cannabis worsens lung function or causes any significant lung diseases. That being said, I inhaling anything in to your lungs other than air is not a good idea. Luckily, you can consume cannabis in a variety of ways, even cutting out the paper and opting for dry herb vaporisation.

The authors of that study — published in the journal Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine — conclude:

“There is unequivocal evidence that habitual or regular cannabis smoking is not harmless. A caution against regular heavy cannabis usage is prudent.”

“The medicinal use of cannabis is likely not harmful to lungs in low cumulative doses,” they add, “but the dose limit needs to be defined. Recreational use is not the same as medicinal use and should be discouraged.”

Your “thinking” may become distorted

I’m including this one because it’s true in part, but I largely disagree. Marijuana definitely effects your brain and the way you think pretty heavily and you ABSOLUTELY can smoke a joint and become couch-locked. It can make you feel lazy, tired and even foggy but you must understand there are so many factors that contribute to these feelings and issues.

Some things that may cloud your judgement, make you feel “foggy” or weird:

  • Strain – The strain you’re smoking could be Sativa or Indica, it could have different terpenes to what you’re use to and they all play a part on the way you feel. Research the strains you’re smoking for a better time.
  • Environment – Your environment plays a huge part on the way you’re going to feel. I myself am a heavy user and consume about 5g a day, during the day I get all my work done, I’m highly productive and I eat relatively healthy, but I am a seasoned user and I know what does and doesn’t effect me. At night when I want to relax and go to bed, I smoke a different strain, the lights are off and I’m cosy watching my favourite shows, which makes me want to sleep.
  • Mood – Weed effects your brain, if you’re in a bad place or have underlying mental health disorders, it’s probably not a good idea to smoke weed.
Weight gain

This is another one I’m going to include but largely disagree with myself. I think an understanding of how weed works and how it’s going to effect you is essential. When I started smoking lots of cannabis for my personal medical issues, I did gain a bit of weight – I made the decision that if I’m to consume all of this marijuana, my eating needs to change. Weed made salad taste great and I became very fond of eating healthy fruits and veg, but I’m also partial to grease. Moderation is key.

That being said, you can very easily get in to the habit of being couch-locked and Dorito-bound. Don’t go in to it thinking this is what weed does otherwise it becomes a spiral and you’ll end up just eating.

What are the benefits of cannabis?

It’s only fair we discuss the benefits of cannabis now. This subject is hard because there are benefits from a medicinal stand point and a recreational one, also the list of benefits from cannabis far outweighs the negatives, so I’ll only list the more prominent points.

Relief of Chronic Pain

The use of cannabis has been proven to relieve chronic pain in many, many illnesses and pain causing medical problems. Cannabis has hundreds of chemical compounds that interact with your body in a variety of ways. Cannabinoids are thought to affect pain through various pathways, including the endocannabinoid system, which has receptors in the central nervous system, periphery, immune and hematologic systems.

Fights cancer

Cannabis doesn’t cure cancer, especially not all cancer, but there are strong studies that suggest marijuana can help fight some very aggressive forms of cancer, including that of the brain. Even if it doesn’t fight cancer directly, marijuana does help to manage pain, eating and a plethora of other issues that come with the terrible disease.

Regulate and prevent diabetes

Research conducted by the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis (AAMC) may suggest that cannabis is effective in regulating and preventing diabetes through a multitude of avenues:

  • Stabilise blood sugars – a large body of anecdotal evidence is building among people with diabetes to support this. 
  • Suppress some of the arterial inflammation commonly experienced by people with diabetes, which can lead to cardiovascular disease 
  • Prevent nerve inflammation and ease the pain of neuropathy – the most common complication of diabetes – by stimulating receptors in the body and brain. 
  • Lower blood pressure over time, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease and other diabetes complications 
  • Keep blood vessels open and improve circulation. 
  • Relieve muscle cramps and the pain of gastrointestinal (GI) disorders 
  • Be used to make topical creams to relieve neuropathic pain and tingling in hands and feet
Helps treat depression & ANXIETY

Both depressive disorders and anxiety disorders are common mental health conditions. The World Health Organization (WHO)Trusted Source estimates that over 264 million people have clinical depression, while the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)Trusted Source estimates that around 31% of U.S. adults will have an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.

Cannabis has naturally produced chemical compounds that help alleviate the feelings of anxiety and depression.

Helps with PTSD

Cannabis is very good at calming you down and making you feel euphoric and happy, PTSD sufferers. Two recent studies point to the way that cannabinoids may help treat PTSD. One shows how cannabis can reduce activity in the amygdala – a part of the brain associated with fear responses to threats. Meanwhile, another suggests that the plant’s cannabinoids could play a role in extinguishing traumatic memories. Both effects could be therapeutic for those suffering from PTSD – according to recent studies. 

Doesn’t turn you in to a drunk youth looking for fights

One of my biggest issues with alcohol is that way it makes people behave. I’ve never been on a “night out” and had a calm experience where no one fights. Cannabis is really a relaxing drug and lets face it, who can be bothered? You’re more interested in laughing at memes and eating.

It doesn’t matter what way you cut it really, there’s increasing evidence that suggests cannabis can help with thousands of ailments and diseases and there’s strong evidence that suggests the prohibition of drugs and the war on drugs is only making things worse. If you consume alcohol, sugar, or anything that’s considered “bad” for you, then you have no real right to suggest that cannabis is THAT BAD for you that it deserves to be illegal.

There are more facts that state cannabis is less detrimental to your health than alcohol. When you drill in to the reasons as to why, you’ll also see that cannabis really isn’t the face of evil that it has been painted to be in the last 40 years.

We at It’s Just a Herb believe that you are entitled to consume cannabis medicinally and recreationally in your own time, as long as you do not cause harm to others or become a nuisance. We hope that the UK will become a country like The US and Germany that legalise weed.

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