Even more recently, Drug Minister Norman Baker, who had antecedently acknowledged these low risks, announced that Cannabis reform is “not my prime objective and I am not advocating it at the moment” less than two months after being appointed to a position of power.
However, many countries are starting to soften their perceptions surrounding the plant, as well as their laws, for both its medicinal and recreational uses (the most relaxed statute, bizarrely, lies in North Korea, where Cannabis isn’t even considered a drug).
So why, if it isn’t so bad after all, does the British government continue to criminalise those who use the plant medicinally or recreationally?
Peter Reynolds, leader of political party Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR), believes that part of the blame lies with “weak, corrupt politicians who are in the pockets of the alcohol industry, terrified of the press and are desperate to cover up the GW Pharmaceuticals scandal”.
It has been reported that legalised Cannabis could potentially damage the alcohol industry. If this were to happen, the body of drinks producers in the UK, also known as The Portman group, would be largely affected. The Portman Group is an incredibly wealthy and influential government lobbyist group, who could quite possibly lose a huge majority of their income and custom if a safer recreational product became available.
Despite all of the issues that the government allegedly has with Cannabis, they have been allowing GW pharmaceuticals to grow and distribute the drug for the past 15 years (10 of which were unlicensed, illegal growth). The company use Cannabis to create their lead product, Sativex. Sativex is an oral spray used to treat symptoms of MS, made from extracted CBD (the medicinal compound in weed) and THC (the stuff that gets you high) and gives users the exact same effect as smoking Cannabis. Sativex is then sold for an extortionate £125/10ml to MS sufferers – who would be better off inhaling or ingesting the plant’s cannabinoids as extraction destroys highly beneficial counteractive substances found in the plant.
Another possible reason for continued restraint could be pressure from the US Government, who have separate reasons for prohibition. In 1937 the USA introduced a ‘Marihuana Tax Stamp’ for both Cannabis and Hemp. Hemp is one of the most versatile fibres on Earth and has no recreational benefit when smoked, and so criminalisation came from pressure from timber and oil companies who feared its competition, amongst other reasons.
When Cannabis was criminalised in the States, it was mainly associated with black Jazz musicians and Mexican workers and became sensationalised by William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers – notorious for their yellow journalism.
Today, prohibition serves the best interests of America’s private prisons who capitalise on incarcerated Cannabis users. Many private prisons also benefit financially from the work they force prisoners to do.
In the UK, public pressure to legalise Cannabis is increasing. A small scale self-conducted survey confirmed that 82.54% of 16-25 year olds are pro-legalisation (the same survey also revealed that 68.75% already smoke Cannabis on a regular basis, in comparison to the 58.73% who smoke cigarettes).
Organisations like CLEAR, NORML and the 49 Cannabis Social Clubs in Britain are calling for legalisation, regulation and education of the world’s favourite illicit drug to ensure a fairer and safer future for consumers.
Legalisation would lead to regulation of Cannabis’ quality; ensuring consumers knew exactly what they were buying. Street dealers and organised gangs would lose a huge part of their income, and millions would be saved on the government’s ever-failing ‘war on drugs’ – which is estimated to cost the taxpayer £16bn per annum.
Legalisation of Cannabis has also been estimated to create an income of between £2-6bn/year for the British economy, as well as the tens of thousands of jobs that would come with it.