The recent legalisation of cannabis in Colorado and Washington state – not to mention Uruguay, the first country ever to legalise cannabis – serve as experiments for the pro-legalisation argument. So what is the result of these recent legalisation measures? Are we seeing a monumental increase in the number of cannabis smokers? Are people dying from cannabis toxicity? Has there been an increase in the number of hospitalisations caused by cannabis-induced psychosis or schizophrenia? Short answer: no. We see nothing of the sort.
Despite the ill-informed scaremongering claims of journalists such as Peter Hitchens, cannabis is not a dangerous drug. The recent story about how UK resident, Gemma Moss, who apparently died from ‘cannabis poisoning’, is not to be taken seriously. Ms Moss smoked one joint, so there is just no feasible way that she died from cannabis toxicity. As this article from Huffington Post reveals, you would have to smoke 20,000-40,000 times the amount of THC in a single joint in order to overdose.
There is just no way someone can receive a lethal dose of cannabis because no one can smoke 20,000 40,000 joints in the time it takes to smoke one joint. However, the cause of her death has also been attributed to the possibility that the cannabis she smoked was laced with something else. Another explanation of her death says that the slight increase in heart rate caused by cannabis could have induced a cardiac arrest if Ms Moss had a pre-existing heart condition.
Professor David Nutt also commented on the issue, stating “Any minor stress on the body can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, the butterfly’s wingbeat that triggers the storm. Ms Moss had suffered from depression, which itself increases the risk of sudden cardiac death. It is quite plausible that the additional small stress caused by that cannabis joint triggered a one-in-a-million cardiac event, just as has been more frequently recorded from sport, sex, saunas and even straining on the toilet.” This is a highly improbable set of events, yet still possible.
Sorry for the digression. It was merely to point out how unlikely it is for cannabis to be physically harmful. Except for freak cases like Gemma Moss – for which cannabis cannot be blamed for certain for her death – cannabis is a relatively harmless drug. And by keeping it illegal, the UK is missing out on incredible economic benefits; lessons which can be learnt from legalisation in Colorado and Washington. On the first day that cannabis became legally available in Colorado, cannabis shops (mostly in Denver) collectively made more than $1 million. This is an astounding figure. If these sales came from a new product that wasn’t already a prohibited substance, every other country in the world would jump on the bandwagon. These impressive sales in Colorado continued. Sales surpassed $5 million in just the first week.
And since cannabis has been legalised for recreational purposes, it is of course now a taxable product. There are estimates that Colorado is expected to take in $184 million in tax revenue from cannabis after the first 18 months of legalisation, as well as estimates that Colorado will generate $2.6bn in sales from cannabis in the first year. Estimates like this have really attracted the attention of many politicians and policy-makers. The Colorado experiment serves as a powerful incentive for other states and other countries around the world to legalise cannabis for recreational use. Uruguay’s recent legalisation of cannabis created a sort of domino effect, where Uruguay’s neighbours were also considering legalisation as a viable model.
The UK should also seriously consider legalising cannabis. Any refusal to even debate on the issue is just absurd when we consider the obvious economic benefits of legalisation. A recent article from Vice magazine, based on a 2011 study by CLEAR (the cannabis law reform group) and based on Colorado as a guide, the legalisation of cannabis could potentially result in £2.4bn in tax revenue per year from sales alone. As the article points out, “That’s obviously a lot of money. But to put it into perspective, £2.4 billion a year could be used to pay for the starting salaries of 110,071 teachers; 10,666,666 nights in an NHS bed; 109,090 police cars and their maintenance for four years; every single elderly person’s winter fuel allowance; or one billion school dinners.”
The Lib Dems have always been known as a party who promote a pretty liberal approach to drugs. Nick Clegg recently said that the UK needs to abandon the war on drugs and revise its current drugs policy. This statement comes after a recent visit to Colombia. Clegg will examine the Uruguay experiment and publish a report on an alternative strategy to drugs later this year.
Unfortunately, Clegg is not a proponent of legalisation, so it is unlikely that the report will advocate such a position, which is a shame. It’s a shame because if cannabis was legalised in the UK we could really benefit from all of the tax revenue that it would generate. It was recently revealed that Colorado collected £1.2m in taxes on cannabis – in its first month of legalisation! Bear in mind that the population of Colorado is 5.2 million, while the UK is 63.2 million, so we could generate far more than this in our first month of legalisation.
This money could go towards many useful public services. It could also help to prevent the deep welfare cuts that George Osborne is planning. Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in the UK, so our policy-makers must know that legalising the drug for recreational use would create a booming industry, just as it has in Colorado. Our policy-makers need to take these facts on board and learn from Colorado, Washington and Uruguay’s legalisation of cannabis.