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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 11:12 GMT
Is it time to relax the cannabis laws?
The London police chief pioneering a tolerant approach to cannabis has said that he is very pleased with the scheme.
Lambeth Police Commander Brian Paddick said the pilot project - under which people found with small quantities of cannabis are let off with a warning rather than being arrested and cautioned - should be continued.
He felt that the local south London community supported the scheme so much that it was now starting to work with the police to fight more serious drug and drug-related gun crime.
Mr Paddick's comments come after a government-commissioned report said cannabis should be downgraded from a Class B to a Class C drug.
Do you feel that cannabis is a safe substance? Should it be decriminalised completely? Or should the law remain as it is?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Although I am in the liberal camp on this issue, we need to keep driving while stoned an offence. How can this be enforced without a simple test of a person's condition? We don't want to enter a grey area on this.
I'm against legalising any drugs except as use for medicines, for the simple reason that I would not like my children to become addicted to them. Legalising cannabis is the first step in becoming a drug tolerant state and I feel that drugs should only be used for medicinal cases and as a last resort. I know people will claim that my views are hypocritical because I drink alcohol, but I only drink alcohol because I was brought up in a society where alcohol was accepted as being normal. So in a way, though I wouldn't really admit it, I am addicted to alcohol, as are most people who drink it. Everyone claims that they are not, but how many of us give it up completely? A few years ago people got their highs by drinking, now they get their highs by taking drugs. In a few years time, what then? Heroin, Ecstasy, LSD?
It's a failure of a culture's philosophy. Westerners use drugs and other intoxicating substances far too often already in far too great a quantity, the detrimental realities of that are evident for all to see. There has never been a time in human history where we've had so many intoxicating substances, in such massive quantities at our disposal, to now promote their use by legalization, is counter productive to the objective of reducing usage. For people are clearly using too many intoxicating substances already, be they legal or otherwise.
Guy Chapman, UK
I think that legalising cannabis for medical treatment is right because the present law is too strict. I would also like to see many people taking an advantage of this change.
I've never seen anybody start a fight while stoned. Can you say the same thing about alcohol?
Cannabis is a completely natural plant form. People have been using it and other plants for centuries. It's human nature - it will always be with us because at the end of the day, because it's only natural.
I think cannabis should be freely available. Some people say it damages your memory, but I say it should be made freely available. Oh yeah, and that think about damaging your memory that's all, er, is this the evolution debate?
If decriminalisation occurs, make sure that some proper prospective health studies are carried out over a 20 year period, stating up front that there will be no compensation for any illnesses developed during that period as a result of cannabis use. If and when after 20 years no significant health issues emerge (and it often takes studies on tens of thousands to see the whole picture, not a couple of hundred), then give it the all clear and start allowing hash-cafes like in Holland. I personally don't believe that there will be a problem, but I don't believe that this issue should be dealt with in anything less than a professional medical way.
Matthew R Illsley, England
Matthew R Illsley: So you would ban all drugs? Would that include the mood-altering substance caffeine? Just as many drink coffee in the morning to wake them up, others choose to use cannabis to relax at the end of a busy week. Banning all drugs just doesn't make any sense.
To Matthew R Illsley, England. You sound like a whole heap of fun. Do you want to come to my party!
In response to Matthew Illsley: The drug laws, especially those dealing with cannabis, are a complete and utter absurdity. Why do so many people want to tell us what we can or cannot do with our bodies? As a criminal solicitor, I see alcohol related madness every day. The most violent a cannabis user gets is towards a Mars Bar.. Drug users - and for the moment I refer to harder drugs - become modern day lepers. If the Illseys of the UK could pull their heads out of the ground they might see that drug related crime is a consequence of our drug laws, pure and simple. That, however, is a concept that may be beyond them.
Prohibition doesn't work it merely increases the financial incentives. Legalise, control and TAX. Huge new revenue would be generated for the government and drugs gangs would lose 99% of their customers/cash.
I've been smoking cannabis for over 20 years now. I've never been unemployed and earn enough to be a higher rate taxpayer in the IT industry. Is it completely safe - no, nothing is. But my own experience proves that it can't be that bad for you. Certainly alcohol is a far more damaging drug, as is tobacco, both for society and the individual. At the very least decriminalising cannabis will enable the police to concentrate their efforts on the substances that do ruin people's lives, like heroin and crack. The scientists want it downgraded, the police are in favour and it would free millions of normally law-abiding citizens from the threat of arrest. What's the problem?
Yes it is. The hypocrisy and ignorance of those who blame the world's ills on cannabis never cease to amaze me. Anyone who has looked at the facts and has the ability to think for themselves can see that drug-prohibition on a grand scale is damaging, insulting and above all ineffective.
David LJ, Isle of Man, UK
Hippies and social workers drug of choice legalised, eh? What about us in the city, media and entertainments industries with a predilection to cocaine. Where is our representation, after all, we generate far more income for the country in taxes? This is just yet more New Labour Cronyism.
I think cannabis should be decriminalised for good. I know many people that use this drug for medicinal purposes and it works! It is not an addictive drug, and is harmless. Also it is better than smoking a cigarette.
Cannabis is not a safe substance. It is a drug that causes changes in your ability to control yourself and your mind. Sure, it's not as dangerous as heroin, but it's still dangerous. Why are we choosing to ignore the JAMA report that shows that regular cannabis users have 20% less vocabulary retention than non-users? Sounds like a cause of early dementia to me, but it's not been around for long enough yet for anyone 'in authority' to make the connection. I'm sure that will change and in 50+ years time someone will have to pick up the pieces of a failed experiment.
In response to Brian who thinks it should be illegal because it causes a 20% drop in vocabulary. I've smoked for years and I definitely feel that I'm not as verbose as I once was. But surely this isn't a reason to make something illegal, surely it's down to the individual to make these choices. No, not only should it should be fully legalised, anything else is just oppression of civil rights.
Recently there have been several articles in the press where people have been calling Cannabis a gateway drug. How can it be a gateway drug if it is legalised and sold in off-licenses, thus taking distribution away from those who also sell the harder drugs?
I don't see how any substance that directly modifies mental processes and adversely affects hand/eye co-ordination and reaction times can be described as a safe drug. Whilst the physiological effects of cannabis on a user might arguably be relatively benign, its immediate effect compromises the safety of other people in the vicinity of the user. I am thinking specifically of road users and other environments where machinery is in use, or where people otherwise need to be fully alert and well co-ordinated. Because of this safety issue, I would like to see a reliable, easy and routine means of detecting cannabis use put in place before cannabis is downgraded, decriminalised or whatever.
As we already have more than enough injuries and deaths to innocent third parties caused by irresponsible use of alcohol, the government's intention to put cannabis on the menu seems to be a step in the wrong direction. In other words, it is not the drug itself which is a problem so much as the potentially dangerous situations that may result from its use. I am not, incidentally, repeating what I have read elsewhere: people I know use - or used to use - cannabis and I have witnessed from the passenger seat of a car some of the hair-raising effects it has on a driver's judgement.
Cannabis is a harmful drug but that does not stop the millions of people who use it regularly. The current laws are not working, so let's think again, education and taxation.
Of course cannabis is not 'a safe substance'. No activity in life is without its risk. However, it is not for the government to tell us what we do with our own bodies. There is very little crime associated with cannabis use, and the crime there is, is almost entirely due to its illegality. Decriminalise it immediately.
Cannabis has been used for millennia and is far less damaging than most other recreational drugs. It should be decriminalised completely as it has been in Holland, and police should concentrate on stemming the tide of Class A drugs like heroin, cocaine and ketamin etc. People who resort to the age old debate that cannabis use leads to harder drugs are clutching at straws, we might as well say that everybody taking heroin started with breathing air, and the habit led on from there, and ban air breathing.
It makes a lot more sense to legalise it. Over the years has it not been proven that prohibition is not the way to control some thing? Pushing it underground only makes it less safe and puts money in to the hands of organised crime. On a political level it makes sense. Society now sees cannabis as acceptable, it is perhaps more accepted then drinking or smoking. It is certainly less harmful and more sociable way to relax. When did you ever see a gang of stoned football hooligans trashing the town centre?
No the laws should not change, it will only be taxed heavily and will become the next budget scapegoat.
Cannabis is not totally safe (what is?) but it should still be legalised as prohibition causes more harm than would liberalization. People have become so used to associating drugs with harm that they have forgotten why they are banned in the first place - to stop harm. If we focus on harm reduction then the choice is clear.
Cannabis should be legalised immediately. Regardless of whether it is safe or not, the use of cannabis as a recreational drug does less harm to the individual than alcohol, causes less social problems than alcohol and it's illegality drives users into the arms of criminals. Most importantly though, cannabis use does not harm those around the user and the law should not prevent personal choices on lifestyle where these choices are not explicitly going to limit other people's rights to make the same choices. Obviously driving while stoned is dangerous, but that is a separately prosecutable offence to possession of the drug already. The law should be there to protect us from each other - if an intelligent adult who is aware of the risks chooses a path which endangers their own health then that is their responsibility. It is not the place of government to make these choices for us where we are only damaging our selves. And if the government believes that it is their responsibility to protect us from making these sorts of choices then ban alcohol and nicotine, enforce public exercise schemes, ration fatty foods, ration television, ban cars capable of driving at more than 25 mph etc..
I don't do drugs and I don't hang about with those who do. But those who insist on keeping the drug ban have learned nothing from the past thirty years nor from America's disaster with prohibition. Like with alcohol, we'll be better off with controls rather than bans.
Cannabis is dangerous. Full stop. We are not long off getting a tablet form for giving to MS suffers which provides all the relief but none of the high or addiction. That means we can now stamp out the revolting, addictive, destructive weed version and the pro-drugs lobby lose another leg to stand on and our kids are a bit safer.
If the laws are relaxed, and we introduce 'Dutch style' coffee shops in the UK, we will take a lot of money out of the criminal's pockets, which could be put into the treasury. I do however have concerns over about Cannabis being available to juveniles who have shown that being under 18 does not prevent them from getting drunk and disorderly.
Tim Staddon, UK
I believe anyone who has reached majority should be able to have the choice. Just because it's there doesn't necessarily mean that you are going to abuse it.. after all there are plenty of teetotallers out there who don't expect alcohol to be a class A drug.
It's about time the laws on cannabis where scrapped altogether. Criminalising cannabis has done nothing but provide a platform for a highly lucrative crime industry. The police would be better used dealing with crime that really hurts people, not people sitting at home wanting a joint. Right or wrong, good or bad, people will always want to smoke cannabis. You have as much chance of changing this as you have changing children┐s' desire for sweets. And as long as people want it, there will be those who will provide it. Much better to face this and deal it, than make it illegal and expect it to make any kind of difference.
Cannabis is reasonably safe if consumed sensibly. Rather like drink, it should be a social rather than a solitary pastime and not taken to excess. If there is any danger at all, it is the risk of acquiring nicotine addiction (if mixed with tobacco). It is, frankly, scandalous that the drug has been illegalised for so long, merely on account of a few idiots who fail to use their common sense when using it. If the same criteria had been applied to alcohol, this country would have become as "dry" as Saudi Arabia.
Just think of the poor drug dealers though. If you start legalising drugs, how do you expect them to make a living?
Absurd - people and the media get obsessed with the most remote health risks (BSE, MMR etc) yet apparently want to encourage far more dangerous substances - it makes no sense. But it could make "cents" for the tobacco companies, who as huge drug pushers already, would make millions from "trendies" and gullible kids by adding cannabis to their product range.
Yes I think it should be decriminalised. It is not a safe substance but neither is alcohol and many other 'legal' substances. Alcohol causes more trouble through violence, vandalism and stupidity than cannabis does which relaxes you more. It will save police time, and allow them to crack down on more serious issues like hard drugs and street crime.
Re: Mr Illsley's ludicrously oversimplified synopsis of the situation. Drugs are and have always been an integral part of mankind, our behaviour whilst under their influence has the potential to be both be beneficial and destructive - such is being human. To describe drugs themselves as 'evil' is absurd - they're inanimate.
Legalise it now! It's far less psychologically damaging than alcohol. You get no hangover from it, unlike alcohol. It also is less likely to make you antisocial than alcohol. It is only dangerous if you have an underlying psychological disorder or illness before you use it-same as alcohol and other drugs.
There is much drug-related crime purely because taking drugs is deemed to be an illegal activity. Taking the power away from the undoubtedly corrupt individuals and organisations who deal drugs is the only way to reduce this. If there were legitimate, and taxable ways to acquire recreational drugs then the vast majority of these unscrupulous people would be forced out of 'business' having had their primary income removed from them. This action is a step in the right direction, and will reduce, not increase, crime.
Yes, it should be decriminalised. Most cannabis users (and there's plenty out there!) are, like Patrick, normal people. They're not junkies, they're not about to hit the slippery slope to harder drugs.. And on a personal note, I'd rather the substantial revenue from cannabis sales went back into the public purse, rather than lining the pockets of dealers that are likely to be engaged in other criminal activity.
I think cannabis should be legalised so that those who are addicted to it (and I know a fair few that spend at least 200 pounds a month) can get proper help. I know doctors that will not perscribe cannabis addicts anything as they are taking cannabis! For anyone who thinks it is harmless, try living with someone who cannot speak to another human without screaming at them, sweats heavily and jerks and thrust around all night, has diarrohea, and cannot work for two days.......all from cannabis withdrawal after 48-72 hours! At least 10 per cent of the cannabis smoking population is addicted. We have Alchoholics Annonymous (probably because Alchohol drinking is not seen as a crime). We NEED Cannabis Addicts Annoymous!
Yes, if people enjoy smoking cannabis and are not causing a problem to society then why not? Matthew R. Illsley is narrow-minded and I can't understand why he wants to spoil everyone's fun and refers to drugs and alcohol as evil (how can an inanimate substance be evil? - total nonsense). People who lead stressful working lives need to relax and the use of drugs for this purpose is legitimate as long as they are not affecting the lives of others. Indeed numerous cultures have used both cannabis and opiate-based drugs over hundreds of years.
The use of drugs by people to escape social problems/responsibilities and depression can of course be destructive to society especially when addiction and crime follow, however in this case the drug is not the root cause. Many heroin addicts who obtain the drug from their doctor are healthy constructive members of society who work as professionals. Lets remember drugs abuse is the problem not drugs use. It is up to the individual to balance the personal benefit of taking a substance (relaxation/socialising/relief from an illness) to the possible consequences, such as cancer. This is what life is all about, no-not drugs, but each person's freedom and right to make their own decisions.
It is senseless not to legalise it. For those who say it is the thin end of the wedge, does this then mean that I will turn into 'a bottle of scotch a night' man if I try a shandy tomorrow? I don't think so. Get real. My only worry would be is if the tobacco companies got a monopoly on it. This would lead to the cigarettes with cannabis in (joints to those under 35) being very poor quality in strength and therefore more would need to be smoked, hence more profit and a less healthy population.
While I would congratulate Matthew R. Illsley on his commendable stance against drugs, I would suggest that his comments are a little naive as well as short-sighted. At 22 years old, I am sure that he has been around drugs at some point. No doubt that he has witnessed people taking such drugs as ecstasy as well as other hard drugs. Like Matthew I would be very supportive of any effort made to stamp these drugs out completely and I would support very long prison sentences for anyone convicted of peddling this filth. However, unlike Matthew, I have been around this world a few times and perhaps a little less blinkered in my attitudes toward drugs. Personally, I feel that cannabis should be decriminalised. It has been proven that there are beneficial effects for MS victims from smoking cannabis. There have also been documented cases of cannabis having beneficial and calming effects for victims of motor neurone disease. What Matthew appears to be suggesting is that these benefits should be denied to all. And if we criminalise such medicinally beneficial drugs, where do we stop? The next time Matthew requires a tooth filled, he would do well to remember his call to ban all drugs as the dentist sets to drilling cavities without the use of the 'freezing' injection of Novocain - a derivative of the Coca plant which also produces the highly addictive and dangerous drug cocaine. Or how would Matthew feel if an ageing friend or acquaintance was dying of cancer and denied any Morphine to kill the pain - a derivative of the Opium poppy and a direct relative of the hideously destructive drug heroin? And we should never forget that even in this age of scientific miracles, Morphine is still the most effective painkiller available to the medical profession. So I would suggest that Matthew consider some of these points. I am sure that at some time in the future, his view on drugs will not be quite so narrow as it appears today. Or perhaps Matthew didn't really mean that ALL drugs should be illegal.
By legalising cannabis the government would be condoning drug taking and I think that is wrong. But by keeping it as a criminal offence when the police are powerless to stop it, simply undermines respect for the law and wastes resources. I think the pilot project in Lambeth strikes the right balance.
If you outlaw drugs and drug taking all you do is put it outside the law. Where unscrupulous and dangerous people kill each other, and innocent people to protect their unpleasant interests. If you legalise it then they are put out of business or they have to come under government control. Which is safer for drug users and safer for non drug users- no one is going to go down a dark seedy ally to get their drugs if they can either go to the shop and get it or grow it themselves....... THE PEOPLE MOST SCARED OF LEGALISATION ARE THE PUSHERS!
The biggest benefit from decriminalising weed would be to get a large proportion of young people on side with the police. I have never broken into someone's house, mugged anyone or been reduced to prostitution to fund my weed habit - yet police remain 'the enemy' whilst I and many others are considered no different from murderers and rapists. Ever since man discovered naturally fermenting fruit he has been getting out of his head - even wild animals use natural "drugs" - it's never going to change, so get otherwise normal people onside and take this first step in changing the law to make society safer.
It's not the trade, possession or consumption of cannabis that should be illegal - only its misuse. After all, it's not a crime in itself to sell, buy or drink a few pints of beer; but it is a crime to be drunk in charge of a vehicle, for obvious reasons. The legal approach to cannabis use should be based on the same principle.
If we make cannabis legal, can we make it illegal to bore others to death?
I think that alcohol NOT cannabis leads to hard drugs. Ask any heroin addict if they were drunk or sober when then first tried heroin 95% of them would say they did it when they were drunk.
A smoker, UK
All drugs should be legalised so that they can be properly taxed and controlled for health and safety standards by the government; moreover, making the drugs trade legal would eliminate the culture of violence that now exists around it and accounts for much of the crime in this nation. People who are bent on abusing drugs will abuse them, regardless of legal status; but this is a separate public-health issue, and we should treat such people as we do alcoholics. Personal prejudices and hang-ups about drugs should not get in the way of rational public policy.
Of course the laws should be relaxed. Any law broken by so many of the people is obviously a bad law. Smokers do not harm anyone bar themselves; why should they get a criminal sentence for it when drunks and chain-smokers don't? Answer: The politicians smoke and drink to excess.
I think cannabis should be decriminalised so it's easier to buy.
Cannabis should be decriminalised to allow the police to catch the thugs who smash up windows on their way home from the pub. And it would pave the way for a greater understanding of those who take drugs. Does taking cannabis automatically make you into a lawbreaking thug? I think not. Everyone knows from the comedy programmes that it's a sociable and friendly activity.
Decriminalise cannabis now. It is the least harmful of tobacco and alcohol.
It is not for the government or 'society' to tell me what I may or may not put in my own body.
I think that there is no problem with legalising cannabis. There is more violence, more deaths, and more accidents whilst on alcohol than on cannabis. The only reason that alcohol is deemed 'OK' is because it is a taxable drug! It doesn't lead to the use of harder drugs, that's just narrow-minded people's views on a topic they have no idea about. I say legalise it, it could be beneficial to many areas in life, not just in the treatment of patients.
It is quite absurd to make drug taking an offence. Cannabis is clearly on par with alcohol and tobacco. As for other drugs the supply needs to be controlled and regulated and illegal suppliers need to be stamped out.
I don't believe that the arguments about safety and decriminalisation should be mixed. Smoking cannabis is still smoking, and carries long term health risks. The active ingredients in cannabis can cause paranoia and other side-effects with long term users. However, these risks are well known and documented, and should not prevent the decriminalisation of the substance. Alcohol is a far more socially destructive drug. It is legal. Tobacco carries worse health risks. It is legal. In my opinion, failure to treat cannabis (and other recreational drugs) in the same way as alcohol and tobacco is rank hypocrisy. PS - I haven't used cannabis myself for 20 years, I don't smoke but I do like a drink.
Patrick B, UK
Yes, cannabis should be decriminalised. It seems ridiculous that someone can be prosecuted who happens to have a bag of weed on him or her. It does NOT cause violence as alcohol does, and there is no proven link between cannabis and hard drugs. It is like saying that alcohol is linked to cannabis, utterly ridiculous.
I think that it should be legalised because it would reduce crime and then the government could make loads of cash out of it by taxing it (a little bit).
Cannabis is not safe - in fact it's rather bad for you - just like alcohol and tobacco. On the flip side, it does have beneficial effects, both mental and physical. And it doesn't cause bottle fights in town centres. However, it is extremely popular and a hard-line approach, as put forward by Matthew Illsley, cannot and will not work - the police and the courts do not have the resources to enforce such a law, nor do they wish to be alienated from the public by being asked to enforce it. We should focus on the drugs which do the real harm (heroin, crack, PCP etc) rather than cannabis, which should be re-legalised, but with an age limit (say, 18) and health warnings, like tobacco. The tax revenue could then be used for NHS, education etc, and this would also remove the dangerous dealer element, constantly trying to push harder drugs to kids who just want a smoke.
Well, I think the consensus here is quite clear, apart from Matthew 'jail them all' Illsley at the top of the page, we all think that de-criminalisation is the only sensible option for a reasonable and educated society. I vote for a reefer-endum...(sorry that was terrible)
If tobacco and alcohol were invented tomorrow, there's no way that they'd be "legalised". If we decriminalise cannabis now, it follows that it will be impossible to put the genie back into the bottle at some future date when we discover just how harmful all recreational drugs can be.
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