With the NUIG referendum on the legalisation of cannabis tomorrow, Ryan Morrison the Secretary of Students for Sensible Drug Policy in NUIG gives his opinion on why the referendum should be passed.
In 1971, Richard Nixon the then president of the United States, coined, ’The war on drugs’. It attempted to encapsulate the policy that became widespread during the 20th Century -with countries around the world introducing increasingly harsh penalties for illegal substances- cannabis being a major foe.
Since then, with drug use at an all-time high, at the cheapest they’ve ever been, this ‘war’ has no doubt become one of the most failed global polices in recent history.
Let’s start with the examining the logic in the criminalisation aspect: There is no logic. Handing over a criminal conviction to somebody for a non-violent act, that only directly affects the individual is can only be described as draconian.
Not only does it clog up our courts, but we are turning people into criminals that simply should not be. With a criminal record you cannot immigrate to Australia or the US, your career prospects could be hugely restricted and you also carry along a damaging stigma.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction reports 25.3 per cent of Irish people have smoked cannabis at some stage in their life. One quarter of the entire Irish population are criminals.
Better shut the doors and batten down the hatches then because that means there’s thousands of people out there running around, out of their minds with reefer madness! This statistic in itself outlines the stupidity and utter nonsense of the criminalisation of cannabis.
But smoking cannabis can be psychologically addictive, you may say. Yes, cannabis can indeed be psychologically addictive. So can McDonald’s hamburgers. So too, is lip balm if you overdo it. In fact, virtually any substance that human beings can fit in or around their mouths, or get into their system some way, has the potential to be addictive.
However, this should not be a grounds to make something illegal. According to the Irish Heart Foundation, one in four Irish adults are now classified as obese; surely a direct result of an ever growing addiction to food. So, I suppose let’s just forget about educating everybody on balanced diets, good nutrition or information on how to exercise. Let’s instead, just start shoving big people in front of judges and maybe it’ll scare the fat off them?
‘Schizophrenia’ is a common word in the lexicon of prohibitionists. The disease is used as a go to argument, and it’s not surprising. The prospect of developing this mental illness would terrify anyone. Why then, when we have seen a massive increase in cannabis use in recent decades, have we not also had an accompanying epidemic of schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia affects approximately one per cent of the population, and it has remained at that figure throughout the 20th and 21st century. The director of Schizophrenia Ireland, John Saunders, appeared on TV3 last year and announced, categorically, that, ‘cannabis does not cause schizophrenia’.
However, common sense should apply, and nobody is suggesting that somebody with a psychotic disorder should engage in the use of cannabis. Obviously, the same goes for alcohol and caffeine for people with such conditions.
So, what will be the benefits if we do decide to make cannabis legal? The list is extensive but impossible to put succinctly in a single article. Some points include; a removal of criminal profits (from gangs who are known to use slave labour), an injection of some well needed tax revenue into the economy (UCD school of economics professor, Ron Davies, has made a conservative estimate of €582 million per annum), a regulated system that would reduce harm (people would be able to tell what they’re getting with their cannabis, in a similar fashion that people know the strength of the alcohol they purchase).
The most striking and rudimentary argument for the legalisation of cannabis in my opinion, however, is that based on the principal of libertarianism. Here we all are, in the modern age, situated in the west, where democracy and autonomy are central pillars to our way of life. You value the fact that you can dictate your own actions and make your own decisions. You would only expect the law to step in if your actions and decisions started to impact negatively on others.
In essence, your rights end where other’s begin.
Then why as a society do we feel it is okay to carry on with the prohibition of cannabis? You might not use cannabis because you do not enjoy the high. You may be weary of potential side effects. You may have an adverse reaction to the culture that surrounds it (admittedly, people sporting cannabis leaves on their clothes and announcing over a crowd of people, ‘it’s 420 guys’ is quite cringy).
Regardless, you must realise that this prohibition is nothing less than a violation of civil liberties. You might have no intention of ever smoking cannabis, but you should be outraged for the simple fact that if you did want to, you risk becoming a criminal in this country. You even run the risk of ending up in prison.
The citizens of Ireland need to realise that sometimes morality is distinct from law. Up until the 90’s, condoms were illegal. But just because they were illegal didn't make them wrong to use. It is an example of an archaic law; left over from other times.
The laws on cannabis follow a similar vein. Adults should have the right to choose for themselves, and the next person should respect this right.
To read our other coverage on this topic click here.