This Week’s Debate: Should Cannabis be legalised?

Roscommon TD Luke Ming Flanagan recently put forward a motion to legalise Cannabis. The motion was defeated by 111 to eight last week. In this week’s debate we discuss whether Cannabis should be legalised…


NO: Cannabis is a health risk

By Hazel Elliffe

TD Ming Flanagan has opened the debate for a 2013 Bill to legalise Cannabis use in Ireland.  Many people see cannabis as a harmless substance that helps you to relax and “chill” – a drug that, unlike alcohol and cigarettes, might even be good for your physical and mental health.

The reported pleasant effects of cannabis use are a sense of relaxation, happiness, sleepiness; colours appear more intense with music sounding better. So what is in cannabis that causes such good effects?

Cannabis is of the nettle family that have grown wild throughout the world for centuries. Its resin (ganja/hashish), leaves (grass,weed) and flowering tops (herbal cannabis) are used. Most commonly, the resin or the dried leaves are mixed with tobacco and smoked as a “spliff” or “joint”, inhaled strongly and held in the lungs for a number of seconds. It contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that is responsible for its mind-altering properties and also contains non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD), which can protect against neuron damage.

Skunk refers to a range of stronger types of home cultivated cannabis, grown for its higher concentration of active substances. It is grown either under grow-lights or in a greenhouse, often using hydroponic (growing in nutrient rich liquids rather than soil) techniques.

It has higher volumes of THC, the main psychoactive component in cannabis, and reduced quantities of CBD which tends to counteract it. Meanwhile medical cannabis which has proven to offer pain relief to various illnesses is rich in CBD and low in THC.

So what are the bad effects of Cannabis use? Well around one in 10 cannabis users have unpleasant experiences – hallucinations, anxiety and paranoia. These feelings are usually only temporary, although as the drug can stay in the system for some weeks the effect can be more long-lasting than users realise.

Heath studies on psychological health have shown it can cause anxiety, depression, lack of motivation and difficulty concentrating. Studies have shown a clear link between cannabis use and mental illness in later life. There is growing evidence that people with serious mental illness, including depression and psychosis, are more likely to use cannabis or have used it for long periods of time in the past.

Recent research in Europe has suggested that people who have a family background of mental illness – and so probably have a genetic vulnerability anyway – are more likely to develop schizophrenia if they use cannabis as well. Regular use of the drug has appeared to double the risk of developing a psychotic episode or long-term schizophrenia.

If it is legalised it could be abused or misused by young people. Adolescents who use cannabis daily are five times more likely to develop depression and anxiety in later life. Using it in the teenage years can cause permanent damage on the developing brain. Over the past few years, research has strongly suggested that there is a clear link between early cannabis use and later mental health problems in those with a genetic vulnerability.

The brain is still developing in the teenage years – up to the age of around 20, in fact. Any experience that affects this process has the potential to produce long-term psychological effects.

There have also been suggestions that cannabis may interfere with a person’s capacity to concentrate and organise information. This effect seems to last several weeks after use, which can cause particular problems for students.

Cannabis can also have a detrimental effect on physical health. Consultant/physician Professor Joseph Harbison, a doctor at St James’s Hospital, has seen “five or six cases” of young people having strokes following the use of herbal cannabis in the past three years. He suggested the strokes may be linked to the increased potency of cannabis available in Ireland.

The British lung foundation did research on the effect on respiratory health. The main risk to physical health from cannabis is probably from the tobacco that it is often smoked with. Cannabis is costly and people mix it with tobacco to make it last. Smoking is harmful for the lungs and smoking cannabis poses a risk to the lungs as cannabis smokers can inhale more deeply than tobacco smokers and hold it longer than tobacco.

Some researchers are more worried about the effects of cannabis with other substances such as alcohol and tobacco. Some suggest it may increase cravings for other drugs. Studies have shown individuals experience withdrawal affects, irritability and trouble sleeping. The irritability, anxiety and problems with sleeping usually appear 10 hours after the last joint, and peak at around one week after the last use of the drug.

The legalisation of cannabis would send the wrong message to young people that this is a harmless drug. The evidence is there that it has harmful effects on both mental and physical health. I for one will not be supporting a bill to legalise it.

YES: We’re losing the war on drugs

By Marcus Mac Dhonnagáin

We’re losing the war on drugs.

Independent TD for Roscommon Luke Ming Flanagan recently proposed legislation that would see cannabis legalized. What Flanagan proposed would be a legalization of the drug along similar lines as the sale of both tobacco and alcohol. His legislation, which has not been passed, proposed an option that many world governments are not considering – the legalization of cannabis.

In the early 20th century, the US instituted a prohibition on alcohol at the behest of societal groups that wanted to see the evils of the liquor be done away with. They naively thought that by banning it, society would become a better place, free from the taint of the devil liquor.

This policy failed spectacularly; not only did the American people ignore it for the most part, but the sale of alcohol went from the legitimate honest businessman to the determined gangster.

The measure didn’t prevent people from purchasing and consuming booze, and eventually the US repealed the policy, realizing that its continuation would continue to fund gangsters, as well as consume many of their resources that might otherwise be spent elsewhere.

The prohibition era showed why simple criminalisation of a substance doesn’t work; because people who are determined to get their hands on it will always find a way, and there will always be a supplier, operating outside of the law and more than willing to use violence in order to profiteer from its sale.

Thankfully prohibition was repealed, and the sale of alcohol went back into the hands of the market, as well as under the scrutiny of the authorities. The past provides us with a real lesson for today. The US recognized that alcohol could cause social and health problems, the force and funding needed to keep a ban in force would be overwhelming, and in the end, mostly ineffective.

The same applies to cannabis today.

The people that are profiteering off cannabis – the groups that world governments have declared war on, be they criminal gangs or paramilitary organizations – are extremely well-funded, well organized and have shown that they’re more than willing to fight back so that they can maintain their lucrative businesses.

Governments have become so wrapped up in trying to fight drugs, that they’ve resigned themselves to a long conflict that has no real end in sight. And no matter their efforts, all manner of narcotics continue to flow into the state. It’s time that we recognized that much like alcohol, there are smarter ways against fighting drugs; beginning with cannabis.

In 2012 a report from the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Public Health Information and Research Branch found that cannabis was the most illegally used drug in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Unlike cocaine and heroin, cannabis is a soft drug like alcohol or tobacco. This isn’t to say it isn’t harmful; all drugs have negative impacts, but it’s widely considered that its negative impacts are on par with drugs that are legal.

Alcohol addiction is a very real disease, and has been responsible for the destruction of many lives. Likewise, tobacco is a leading cause of cancer. Why do we legalize these drugs when they are so harmful to public health?

It’s because we can’t control them, and, in the end, they’re more socially accepted. Cannabis for many years now has seen a normalization and social acceptance. Many political movements, albeit in the more alternative wing of the spectrum, have called for its decriminalization.

Gone are the days of hysteria that were created by the 1936 film Reefer Madness. People smoke cannabis regularly, whether for medicinal or recreational purposes, but are technically breaking the law for doing so. And by doing so, their money is being used to sustain a massive black economy.

If people are still obtaining and smoking cannabis in such large quantities, and are being prosecuted by the law for doing so, we must ask if the current policy is being really effective. Not only that, but by ignoring the problem, the state has very little oversight over the quality of the drugs themselves, and receives nothing in terms of revenue from its sale. And if cannabis continues to be the most illegally used drug in both the Republic and Northern Ireland, then gangs are still profiting from it.

In order to properly regulate the consumption of a product better, the state should legalize cannabis, and recognize that it cannot stop people from consuming it. It has failed to do so over the last number of decades; what hope is there that it can continue to do so?

Its resources are finite, and its sellers are determined to continue to profit from it. It’s time that the prohibition of cannabis came to an end, and that the Irish government realize that the war on drugs is a fight it cannot win.

Do you think Cannabis should be legalised? Join in the debate by leaving your comment below.

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