Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Article by Helen Bamber

The Legalization of Cannabis
The questions and debate surrounding the legalisation of cannabis have been circling for decades, but only recently has the weight of public support swung in favor of legalisation. Whilst the majority of Americans now support the concept of cannabis legalisation is some format (whether for medicinal or recreational use) the American government still spends around $1 billion every year on enforcing the current cannabis prohibition laws. Some key commentators suspect that we will soon see this change. One of the main problems surrounding cannabis legalisation, and the main reason that we haven’t seen widespread legalisation is in getting the legislation around the issue right. If marijuana is legalised across the board with open access to all, in the same way that alcohol is legalised, then we are likely to see a huge increase in the number of cannabis users, particularly amongst the poor, the young, and the vulnerable: something that no government wants. However there are many proven benefits of marijuana use for medicinal purposes, and as more and more studies prove its worth, these really cannot be ignored any longer. So what is the best way to legalise marijuana which will ensure that the vulnerable are protected, whilst giving those who need the drug for medical use some much needed reassurance and legal protection?

Will We Soon See Federal Approval?
It was very recently announced that, for the first time, the Senate would consider legalising the medical use of marijuana for people who find the drug beneficial in assisting a list of pre-approved conditions.  Whilst several states have already adopted this policy and incorporated it into their state laws, so far there has been absolutely no comment on the process at a federal level. Until now. Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) will join together to introduce a bill that would reclassify marijuana to schedule 1 rather than schedule 2 in the federal drugs scheduling system. The main benefit of the bill is that it would permanently prohibit the federal government from shutting down medical marijuana operations in states where the use of marijuana is legal for medicinal purposes. Rescheduling the drug will allow for further research into the medical benefits of taking marijuana, enabling  at least three different licenses to be issued to FDA-approved research institutions for marijuana related studies that will only serve to benefit the wider population.

The Importance of Smart Legislation
When it comes to legalizing cannabis, it is important that that legalization is sensible, and that it is restricted to use for medicinal purposes, rather than introduced in a widespread way, in the same way as tobacco and alcohol.  An estimated 42.1 million adults in the United States currently smoke cigarettes (around 18% of the population) and around 130.6 million people (which is more than half of the population) currently regularly drink alcohol. These large figures are, in a huge part, because both of these substances are legal and people are free to use them without anything other than age restriction. In comparison, there are much fewer people in the country regularly taking marijuana, and the fear is that complete legalization would change this, leaving is living in a nation of pot heads. Nationwide and unrestricted legalization, therefore, is unlikely to ever occur in the United States and for good reason.

Now is the right time for the Senate to discuss this issue and for this legislation to be passed. As public opinion against the blanket prohibition of cannabis continues to grow, it is essential that the parameters within which the government are willing to consider legalizing the substance are outlined and discussed. Legalization on the basis of medical need makes good medical and national sense, and is something that has been recommended by a wide host of medical professionals. An across the board legalization, however, is yet to be recommended by any leading figure, and could well turn the tide of public opinion against the concept of legalization. Only time will tell if this new and exciting bill is passed by the Senate, and what it will mean for those in states where marijuana is not currently legal who wish to take the drug due to medical need.

by Helen Bamber

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