Friday, 27 February 2009

Cannabis in the UK


Cannabis-lethal drug or useful treatment

It was used for centuries to cure Asthma, sleeplessness, nausea and dysentery. It is claimed it can relieve pain from anorexia, epilepsy and mood disorders and was used to great effect by British doctors until 1971, when it became illegal to prescribe as a medicine.

Cannabis had come under the spotlight in two separate conferences in four months, both to see whether decriminalisation of the drug for medicinal reasons is healthy in the late 1990s. It’s sternest critic and most hostile opponent, the former Home secretary, Jack Straw, whose son, William, was arrested for possession of it, is adamant it should remain illegal unless medical research can prove its safety.

Some 22 licensed projects into the effects of the drug have been set up for this very aim. Although, a lot of information about Cannabis is already available, ministers and doctors alike are uncertain of the repercussions and side effects of the more then 400 different substances contained within it.

The debate over decriminalisation is far and wide and cuts across many different boundaries. Amongst the Labour party for one, minister for overseas development, Clare Short, and veteran MP, Austin Mitchell, have spoken in favour of its return. The latter arguing disabled people and pensioners were forced to buy the drug through the Black market.

Noel Gallagher, of the pop group, Oasis, said earlier this year there was nothing wrong with taking drugs- it was like drinking a cup of tea. It is just as normal as any other social activity.

Advocates further argue in certain areas, is sale and consumption is already so widespread it should be legalised. State regulation would help to reduce prices, remove any unhygienic substances from it and force unlicensed traders of the drug out of business.

Police figures released in February 1997 in part support such claims. They show an increase in the number of people cautioned- but not charged for possession from 4, 000 in 1986 to 40, 000 in 1995.

Mr Straw further believes there is also a link between drug abuse and crime itself. Many burgle just to pay for the habit. Addiction thus strongly affects everyone, including unfortunately those very people who want nothing to do with the drug.     

But in a tale of twists and turns, even the former barrister and trained specialist in criminology, is prepared to see things differently if Cannabis is deemed healthy by the agencies employed to research it.

There was no reason why pharmaceutical companies could not get an effective license if medical experts cleared the way for it he argued.

Chief Superintendent Brain McKenzie, who was at the Oxford Union Debate in February to oppose decriminalisation was among those who felt even research should not be permitted.

In his address he claimed the drug increased the risk of schizophrenia, disturbs brain patterns, erodes brain cells and impairs the immune system. In addition to physical threats to the body, he went on to say THC, an active ingredient of Cannabis causes mood changes, loss of memory and impairment of co-ordination (i.e. partial blindness and blurred vision)

Also at the Oxford Union to strengthen the case against decriminalisation were the parents of Leah Betts, the teenager who died following a dose of Ecstasy given to her at a party some years ago.

Despite the opposition being weighed in, Cannabis is currently available on prescription in Italy as well as California and Arizona to certain patients, some of whom are even allowed to grow their own supplies.

Richard Branson,  a millionaiire entrepeneur, said he would cash in on the business in the UK immediately from its consumption if the law granted a license to its sale and supply as have numerous other companies within both the public and private sectors.

Politically, only the Liberal Democrats, much to the disdain of its senior leaders, have voted in favour of its return in the UK, although a new party ‘Legalise Cannabis’ contested at least 1 seat in the 1997 UK election as well.

At present, Cannabis is a Class B drug, which means it can’t be sold, bought, consumed or used in any way or form. Any public or private places that breach these rules, depending on the degree of it use and possession, may be shut down.

Medical research has so far come up with the following results-

A Herbal cannabis joint has 3 times more tar then an ordinary cigarette.

Regular cannabis use increases the risk of heart disease, bronchitis, emphysema and according to some doctors possibly lung cancer. 

New evidence also suggests smoking cannabis can cause mouth and throat cancer.

It causes fragmentation of thought, makes concentration difficult and slows down reactions. It is further claimed it causes psychological dependency.

Whilst users may be unaffected by medical evidence opposed to Cannabis, any new supporting research will continue to make decriminalisation all the more difficult.

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