There was recently a petition of the UK government to legalize cannabis. See the DF thread on that here. Because the petition received so many signatures, they may debate it in parliament.
However for now the government released a text response outlining the reasons for their opposition to cannabis legalization. I thought I'd go through their responses and explain why I disagree with them.
I'll first say that I'm at least somewhat impressed at the quality of their arguments. Drug legalization is clearly becoming an issue they feel more time needs to be dedicated towards. I do regard all their arguments as misguided but nonetheless I recognise they are engaging with the subject with a little bit more rigour and seriousness than they have in the past. Which isn't saying much is it.
I will take their arguments/points separately.
Many of the harms of cannabis are the result of prohibition. It is because of prohibition that dealers have bred extra-strong 'skunk' cannabis with very little of the anti-psychotic CBD cannabinoid. Similar to the reason dealers invented crack cocaine. Legalisation would allow customers control over the strain of cannabis they consume, allowing them to make healthier choices than are currently available due to prohibition.
The harms cannabis causes are severely exaggerated by the government to say the least. Gordon Brown once absurdly remarked that 'of course, this new skunk cannabis is lethal'. While there are indubitably harms associated with cannabis use, it's very hard to argue that they are anything like the harms of alcohol or tobacco. Any argument which seeks to claim that it's the harms of a drug which is the reason they must be prohibited, and yet fails to apply this standard to alcohol and tobacco, is simply inconsistent.
Ah yes the ACMD now agrees with the government... after all the dissenters were fired. Regardless, they say the same about alcohol and tobacco so clearly the fact that it's a public health issue does not entail that it should be illegal. Nor does making cannabis illegal somehow help deal with that public health issue. The example of policies from other countries like the netherlands and portugal shows that when we devote our resources to education and treatment rather than the criminal justice system, use and problems associated with use goes down. I agree it's a public health issue, but therefore we need to make health treatment available, not put people in prison. So the idea that this is somehow an argument for prohibition is mystifying to me.
This I find the weakest argument of all. If we remove the revenue source of a criminal organisation then they will become economically unsustainable and cease to exist. Last I checked, something which ceases to exist is unable to commit crime.
I already touched on how education and treatment, not incarceration, is the solution to drug dependence.
The vast majority of people do take drugs. Alcohol and tobacco are drugs, and combined they kill in numbers which beggar belief. Cannabis has never killed anyone. If what they seem to be worried about here, which is alcohol and tobacco users switching their drug of choice to cannabis, then we would all be far better off.
The young are absolutely not listening to any of the nonsense the government propaganda attempts, through moralistic preaching and shock tactics, to indoctrinate them with about drug use. For example, cannabis was raised to a class B drug a few years ago, against the recommendation of the ACMD which funnily enough the government in this statement seems to, conveniently on this occasion, reference as their support. So cannabis is now in the same class of drugs as Amphetamine. The class system is supposed - in the parallel universe the government's drug policy makers inhabit - to reflect the dangers of the drug. So a child who tries cannabis, finds it to be relatively harmless at least compared to alcohol, if they believed the government would regard Amphetamine as similar in its harms. The idea that the government could even dare to make the judgment that it's anyone but them sending the wrong message to children is simply another sign of their detachment from reality on this issue.
These additional costs would easily be covered. It's not only taxation of cannabis which can produce revenue, which is all they seem to have realised, there is also revenue gained from the cessation of the inordinate wastage of obscene amounts of money on prosecuting people for the victimless crime of cannabis use. Not to mention the 100,000 criminal records each year young people are being burdened with, for the rest of their life, in the UK. Who can even calculate the damage done to our economy and social mobility by that? Not to mention the racism and classist factors.
We can not only stop these unconscionable harms and abuse of our citizens, we can direct the money we spent doing that to positive ends that will actually do some good. The idea that the increased administrative costs of this is somehow a counter argument is honestly insulting.
Drug use has and always will be a fact of human life. The global illicit drug trade is worth $400 billion. No amount of government effort, or even global effort, can prevent the simple economics of supply and demand when manifested on this scale. Once you accept that drug use is inevitable, you realise we have two choices. Either the drugs are controlled and distributed by the criminal gangs, or they are controlled and distributed by the government as it does with alcohol and tobacco. This picture of a drug-free world is a utopian fantasy. The lack of realism in the government's outlook, until it is changed, will cause more harm to people than it attempts to solve. I am more likely to be harmed by the government for my use of drugs than I am by the actual drugs themselves. That is a phantasmagorically strange situation to be in. I should have the right to do with my own body in the privacy of my own home whatever it is I so desire. The idea that the government has the right to get involved there is an Orwellian overreach. The economic factors are important, but we shouldn't forget this libertarian argument either.
The problem with these statistics is that they aren't taking into account the recent phenomenon of legal highs. How much of the reduction in illicit use is due to the surging rate of legal high usage? The government would prefer not to find that out because it likes statistics which justify its policies. Once you start speaking the truth, you get fired. Ask David Nutt.