Biden’s got it right on cannabis – now it’s Britain’s turn

No, we do not need to reschedule cannabis to a class A drug. No, we do not need to confiscate passports for possession

Ruby Deevoy
Sunday 09 October 2022 09:01 BST
Doctor undermines Fox News segment criticising Biden cannabis pardons

This week, the US president Joe Biden made a monumental announcement: he’s pardoning all prior federal offences of “simple marijuana possession”.

In the UK, this so-called simple act could land you up to five years in prison – yes, even if you’re one of the estimated 1.3 million people who currently use cannabis bought from the illicit market as medicine.

As Biden said himself in a tweet, classifying cannabis at the same level as heroin (and more serious than fentanyl) makes no sense.

As it stands, cannabis is a schedule 1, class B drug in the UK. This means, officially, it has no therapeutic value. Which is astonishing, given that there are now over 15,000 patients prescribed cannabis in the UK to treat chronic pain, mental health conditions, epilepsy and much, much more.

In fact, not only do we know that cannabis has tremendous therapeutic value and a stellar safety record (there have been no cannabis deaths, ever – not something that can be said for alcohol, tobacco or even paracetamol), but it’s estimated that in America 47,500 deaths would be prevented annually if medical cannabis were legal nationwide.

Unlike our own government, who appear to only ever have plans to tighten cannabis regulation, Biden’s got the right idea. His call to initiate the process of reviewing how marijuana is scheduled under federal law and his acknowledgement of how these ludicrous laws have destroyed countless lives, torn apart families and encouraged shocking racial disparity in arrests should mark the beginning of the end of cannabis prohibition. And it probably will in America. But will the UK follow suit?

If we don’t, we’re flying in the face of all logic, and science. Not to mention compassion. We have almost 40,000 studies to prove safety and efficacy of cannabis in a myriad of conditions – even Covid. Cannabis can be used to treat ailments that currently have few successful therapies available, such as Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, intractable epilepsy and PTSD.

Legalising cannabis could save lives, and open up research to further our understanding of the plant and human health as a whole, due to the full body regulator network which cannabis interacts with – the endocannabinoid system. Any concerns would only be addressed appropriately, as keeping any substance illegal increases potential risk exponentially.

Aside from the medical view, which already makes it abundantly clear that the UK must legalise cannabis, there’s also the recreational side to consider.

Alcohol, which we’re actively encouraged to “consume responsibly” is referred to as “a toxic and psychoactive substance with dependence-producing properties” by the World Health Organisation, and contributes to 3 million deaths each year globally as well as being responsible for 5.1 per cent of the global burden of disease. In the UK, 13 people die every hour as a result of smoking tobacco.

If we’re allowed to drink and smoke to our heart’s content, despite the deadly ramifications, why is cannabis, with its extraordinarily low risk of adverse effects and toxicity, still banned? Particularly as cannabinoids (molecules in cannabis) have been repeatedly found to help treat substance abuse and even help those addicted to alcohol and tobacco, quit.

The century-long anti-cannabis campaign has been one of the most “successful” and harmful drives of all time. Despite a flourishing understanding of the way cannabis can benefit us physically, emotionally and even financially as a society, our government has continuously pushed against it.

Why? It’s certainly not for the benefit of the people, which we know given that the war on cannabis (and indeed, the war on drugs) was only ever based on money, war, racism and power.

In 1994, Nixon’s assistant for domestic affairs, John Ehrlichman, openly admitted this: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the anti-war left and black people. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalising both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.

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“We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Black and brown people in the UK are still charged for possession of cannabis at five times the rate of white people. Why do we continue to support this?

Just like Biden in the US, it’s time for us to take a stand against the lies we have been told about cannabis and the destruction this has caused. No, we do not need to reschedule cannabis to a class A drug. No, we do not need to confiscate passports for possession.

We need to break free from the haze of corruption that has ruined (and still ruins) millions of lives, and accept that this plant has always been, and always will be, a valuable medicinal, environment and social tool, that is integral to human progression.

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