Before we get onto today’s juicy debate, if you didn’t catch David on last night’s London Tonight news programme, talking about Gary McKinnon, click here.
So, on this day in 1967, a petition was printed in The Times calling for the legalisation of cannabis in the UK. Among the signatories were The Beatles.
It had five points:
1. The government should permit and encourage research into all aspects of cannabis use, including its medical applications.
2. Allowing the smoking of cannabis on private premises should no longer constitute an offence.
3. Cannabis should be taken off the Dangerous Drugs list and controlled, rather than prohibited.
4. Possession of cannabis should either be legally permitted or, at most, be considered a misdemeanour, punishable by a fine.
5. All persons imprisoned for possession of cannabis, or for allowing cannabis to be smoked on private premises, should have their sentences commuted.
25 years later, there was another petition, which David signed.
It’s a controversial issue, I know, but I’d like to know where you stand.
There is considerable scientific evidence of marijuana’s healing and therapeutic properties. Cancer patients are thankful for its help easing pain and nausea caused by chemotherapy, as are sufferers of multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. HIV and AIDS patients use it to increase appetite. It’s said to relieve stress, anxiety, asthma and glaucoma, to clear headaches and banish insomnia.
Indeed, some doctors consider it to be safer than highly-addictive prescription medication. After all, marijuana withdrawal is not nearly as severe as withdrawal from these or other drugs.
That said, plenty of people – as this recent New York Times article shows – insist that cannabis has ruined their lives, and research from the US suggests that as well as the obvious respiratory problems caused by smoking anything, frequent or long-term cannabis use may raise a man’s risk of testicular cancer.
What is consumed today – now available on prescription in 13 US states – can be up to five times more potent than what was available in the ’70s, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and this is blamed for increased addiction rates. Many insist that cannabis use paves the way towards harder drugs.
There has always been, at best, confusion, at worst, blatant propaganda surrounding this debate. When hemp was banned in the US in 1937 with the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act, Congress claimed that marijuana made users extremely violent. However, by the ’50s and ’60s, it was blamed for turning would-be soldiers soft and, therefore, unsuitable for waging war. Strange.
Last month, the US Supreme Court declared that federal law over-rides drug policies in states where marijuana is allowed for medicinal purposes, thus allowing federal officials to destroy home-grown plants and to arrest anyone found to be in possession of the drug, even if they have it on their doctor’s advice.
My personal feeling – and that of San Francisco Democrat, Tom Ammiano, who introduced a bill earlier this year which would allow anyone over 21 to legally possess, grow, buy and sell marijuana – is that it should be taxed… just like cigarettes and alcohol, which we all know are responsible for millions of deaths every year.
A report by the State Board of Equalisation estimates that marijuana sales would raise $990 million from a $50-per-ounce fee and $392 million in sales taxes.
Currently, its prohibition costs the US more than $400 million per year.
To look at it from a different perspective, it’s commonly agreed that we should all be exploring ways of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. Does the answer partially lie in the industrialisation of hemp cultivation? Hemp is a renewable resource which can be used widely as, among other things, a source of food and medicine, as well as a hard-wearing alternative to cotton. Its seed oil can be used to make more environmentally-sound plastics and paints.
It was assumed that, by the 1940s, all paper would be made from hemp in the US, thus sparing trees – and we all want to save the rainforests, don’t we?
Furthermore, the production of hemp is said to be far less harmful to the environment: requiring fewer chemicals, the fast-growing plant needs barely a season to reach maturity, making it more ‘renewable’ than the trusted tree.
Romanticised, certainly. Demonised, definitely. Should cannabis be legalised?