A report by a group of leading academics will controversially push for changes in cannabis laws, allowing the state to prepare and distribute marijuana for recreational use. Amanda Fielding, the founder of the Beckley Foundation, “a charitable trust set up to promote the investigation of consciousness
and its modulation, and the science of drug use, from a
multidisciplinary perspective” will present the findings of their report to the UN Commision on Narcotic Drugs, who will in turn report to the UN general assembly at a meeting that will decide the international drug control policies for the next decade.
The findings of the Beckley report show that cannabis damages the health of heavy users as is to be expected, including increased risk of psychosis, lung and heart problems. Around 40% of Americans admit to having tried the drug and 3.9% of teenagers worldwide use marijuana regularly, compared with just a single per cent of the world population that uses other illegal drugs. Teenagers have an increased likelihood of dropping out of school early, and being in traffic accidents.
The potency of cannabis is also getting higher (pun definitely intended :p) as levels of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical that gives the user a high, are treble the levels that were present 10 years ago. Similarly the levels of cannabidiol, believed to help prevent psychosis, are falling, and are absent in certain strains.
There are obviously dangers associated with the drug, however the Beckley commision concludes that “the damage done by prohibition is worse than from the substance itself.” The drug is thougt to be less harmful to users and society than other illicit drugs, and far less damaging than legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco. Each year 2.5 million deaths are attributed to alcohol and 5 million to smoking. To date there have been just two documented deaths from marijuana overdoses.
Many of the harmful consequences stem from the fact that cannabis is illegal, the Beckley commision claims. University of Maryland Criminologist Peter Reuter, a co-author of the report said “If you don’t think being arrested is a harm, you’re unpersuadable, in the US, 750,000 people were arrested in 2006, and I think that’s a substantial harm.”
A study by the National Drug Research Institute in Perth, Western Australia, in 2000, came to the same conclusion. Cannabis possession here attracts a criminal conviction, although in South Australia this is not the case. It was found that 32% of those ‘criminalised’ had severe employment consequences, compared with just 2% of those ‘infringments’ in Southern Australia.
The Beckley report is recommending that cannabis should be subject to strict standars to ensure that it is not strong enough to cause psychological problems and sold through government outlets. This will ensure that children are unable to buy the drug and that the criminal element that currently profit from drugs are slowly pushed out.
Fielding accepts that it is a controversial proposal, but I for one think it seems well thought out and potentially beneficial. The key seems to be moderation, for me, as with all things in life. People will always take drugs, if we can help make this safer for the user then, that can only be a good thing. It would obviously need to be proven that the weaker strains discussed are genuinely safer, and a large-scale information campaign would be required, but it has to be better than the alternative.