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Ah, the UK. Great Britain. Good old Blighty. Home of tea obsessions, crumpets, queuing etiquette, Yorkshire puddings (savoury,) and Spotted Dick, (sweet dessert,) poor dental hygiene, plummy sounding vowels and Hollywood villains.
This tiny, sceptred isle has given the world many things and been at the forefront of many innovations : television; telephones; the hypodermic syringe; the electric motor; the lightbulb (James Swan got there before Edison in 1880); the toothbrush; the tank; cement; the electric vacuum cleaner; the fire extinguisher; stainless steel; cats eyes (the road markings); the jet engine; the chocolate bar; and the World Wide Web on which you now read this article, to name just a few.
One area where the UK lags sorely behind our cross-Atlantic cousins is in regards to marijuana.
In the US, close to half of all states have legalised Mary Jane in some form or another: Four states and Washington DC have legalised it for recreational use. Nineteen states have legalised it for medicinal use and a further fourteen have decriminalised it.
Over half of the population of the US (around 55-58%, depending on which statistics you read) are in favour of legalisation.
In states where it is legal, there have been some interesting findings. None of the states where weed is legal for either recreational or medicinal use have become measurably less productive. In fact, it’s pretty much business as usual; people go to work, do their jobs, come home and maybe smoke a bowl or two — just like they did before legalisation, except now they generate upwards of seven million dollars in tax revenue per month in one state alone.
There have been no massive upsurges of people turning on to marijuana, either. If anything, having weed be legal makes it harder for younger people to obtain it and almost eliminates a need for a black market. If you can buy weed in a store, why would you go to a shady dealer? In Denver, crime rates have actually dropped since weed was legalised.
Even since I drafted this article, California has legalised non-medical use and Vermont is looking to legalise in some way too.
So how are things in the UK by comparison? Well, all forms of marijuana are still illegal to possess, grow, distribute, or sell. Not only that, but since 2009 it has been reclassified as a class B drug (there are three classifications, A, B, and C, where A is the most dangerous), which puts it in the same bracket as Ketamine, Amphetamines, and several opioids and sedatives.
The maximum penalty for possession in the UK is five years and an unlimited fine.
The UK government seem to have no plans to revisit laws surrounding cannabis, despite data coming from forward thinking states like Colorado and California proving that things will not degenerate into anarchy if people are allowed to smoke pot.
In 2011, the Global Commission on Drug Policy called for a review of policy, but the Home Office replied:
“We have no intention of liberalising our drugs laws. Drugs (sic) are illegal because they are harmful — they destroy lives and cause untold misery to families and communities”
Which is in direct contradiction of a quote made by the British Indian Hemp Drugs commission that determined that “little injury” was caused to society by the use of cannabis in 1894, some one hundred and seventeen years earlier.
This is despite mounting evidence that cannabis can be used safely and is less harmful than some legal narcotics like alcohol and nicotine, both of which have been legal for hundreds of years and have been linked to many chronic and fatal diseases and conditions such as cirrhosis, various forms of cancer, diabetes, and many others. Whereas cannabis has multiple medical uses, including some treatments of those conditions just mentioned, along with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
In addition, hemp can be used for any number of uses and products, including fuel, paper and textiles. Hemp has even been used to produce several prototype car bodies that are both lighter than glass and stronger than steel, and are carbon neutral to produce (as opposed to around ten tons of carbon released into the atmosphere during the production of a ‘normal’ car). Hemp can even be made into sustainable biofuel to run them. This isn’t even a new idea — the visionary car manufacturer Henry Ford constructed a hemp car back in the 1940s and was an advocate of cars made with, and run on, entirely plant based materials.
Yet in the UK in 2002, Carl Wagner, a resident of Kingston Upon Hull, revealed plans to open an Amsterdam-style cannabis cafe. This was quickly rejected by local authorities, despite Mr. Wagner's call for a meeting with Humberside Police and Hull Council in order to reach a “sensible agreement,” and his assertions that it would be run as a medical operation, primarily to ease the suffering of people with conditions such as arthritis or MS. This particular part of the story has personal relevance for me as I actually lived in Hull around that time, actually on the street that the café was going to be on. In fact, when Carl was interviewed at his market stall for the local news, my mother can be seen in the background, browsing bongs. (And if anyone can find this video, I’d love to have a link as my mother passed away a few years ago.)
In 2015 a UK based economics student started a petition to legalise cannabis and by September there were over 200,000 signatures — over double that required to have the issue considered for debate in Parliament. It was debated in October of that year but still the only licences given for the production or importing of hemp are granted for industrial use in the production of fibres.
So, if it is so useful and could help with many issues surrounding medical benefits, sustainability and environment impact, with even psychotropic strains causing no obvious detriment to society, while at the same time increasing tax revenue — why is the UK government digging its heels in to an obviously antiquated view of the plant that even enriches the soil it is grown in?
This is in stark and direct contrast to the news that recently came to light, as reported by Sky News, that the UK is the biggest exporter of legal Marijuana in the world! How can a country claim that there is no medical benefit, criminalise its use, consider it as dangerous as Ketamine, and yet reap the profits from its export ahead of any other country on earth?
I for one look forward to the day when I can drive past fields of cannabis plants being grown in the UK, to be used for hundreds of purposes to help people, revolutionise production of certain medicines, products and materials, and people can legally consume the drug recreationally if they so choose. With the UK teetering on the brink over Brexit and the massive problems with funding that the NHS has suffered (namely being promised £350 million by pro-Brexiteers and then having them renege on their promise), legal cannabis could both ease the burden on the NHS by offering alternative and cheaper medicines and therapies as well as generate revenue through taxation which actually could go towards helping the service, meaning better care for those who need it. What have we got to lose?