Following the legalisation of recreational cannabis use in Colorado and Washington, the question the West faces is whether or not to follow in the footsteps of this controversial amendment. Just over a year ago these two American states instigated an experimental legalisation of the class B drug; shops opened in January of this year. Six months later, the results are mixed. Taking Colorado as our prime example, according to the Huffington Post, the population is divided equally between presuming good, bad, and no real effect on the state. Surely we could then argue this as an overall success? No effect is better than a bad one when it comes to drugs. If it is not hurting anyone then where’s the harm in making it legal? But opinions are just that, opinions. We need to see these effects or lack of effects in numbers and statistics, or at least our governments do before they make any permanent changes.
The intended result of making cannabis so easily attainable is to lower the activity and profits of drug cartels which would normally supply. It is often argued that cannabis is a gateway drug to the higher and more dangerous classes, but if the illegal aspect was removed, this may no longer be the case. According to data from the Denver Police Department, violent crime (including homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) fell by 6.9% in the first quarter of 2014, compared with the same period in 2013. Property crime (including burglary, larceny, auto theft, theft from motor vehicle and arson) dropped by 11.1%. This is undoubtedly good but it has not been long enough to determine whether or not this is a long-term success or a fluke. We can’t change our laws on possibly coincidental modulation in statistics.
One thing that is undeniable is the profits. January saw fourteen million dollars in cannabis sales and brought in huge tax revenues of over one million. But money isn’t everything. We can’t justify the legalisation of a class B drug simply because it is highly profitable and ignore the other effects. Clinics in Colorado have reported many more cases of young people dependant on the drug. Although the same laws apply to cannabis as do to tobacco, the legality of it makes it easier for teenagers to get hold of. There have also been cases where children have, accidentally or otherwise, consumed cannabis-containing edibles. A cookie or cupcake to a child is not something that they would have ever been warned off eating. In April, the metro published a story about a teenage boy visiting Colorado who consumed an extremely large amount of edibles and jumped from a balcony to his death. A few other similar cases have also been in the news recently.
So, what does this mean for the UK?
Surprisingly, Britain actually has higher cannabis usage numbers than average for most countries in Europe (the only exception is Italy). The real question is whether legalisation would make these numbers go up or down. It remains a fact to this day, even for mature adults, that as a race, we want what we cannot have. The grass is always greener on the other side. Literally, in this case. It seems to me that insofar as positive effects go, they currently outweigh the negative. But before we make any lasting decisions, we need more information, more numbers. Perhaps embarking upon an experimental spree of our own would be the way forward.