Image

The mundanity of political life, post budget, has been somewhat sparked up (if you’ll forgive the pun) by the brave proposal by Independent TD Luke Ming Flanagan ( pictured above) for a partial legislation of cannabis. The plan is very ambitious and most unlikely to succeed. But the issue is an international one, and a proper debate in this country about it is long overdue. At the entrance to Blackrock park in Dublin, is a big faded piece of graffiti – Legalise the Weed- which has been there for, literally, decades.

A proper debate about ‘the weed’ also challenges our instinctual hypocrisy about this pastime, especially compared to our tolerance of alcohol, and it’s much more violent effects. Indeed, Flanagan doesn’t even get into the whole distinction between people almost killing each other after alcohol abuse and filling up the A&E’s and court rooms, whereas the worst you can say about people smoking a few joints is that they might listen to too much music. As they say in the US, ‘when was the last time you saw a man lying in the gutter with a joint in his hand?’

This not to be flippant. There are, of course, serious health questions to be asked about the prolonged use of cannabis, but most of these do not stack up and the real stigma of the drug is that is has been illegal for so long. Just as booze used to be illegal in the Prohibition-era US, or condoms were illegal in Ireland.

Opponents of legalisation say that long-term use creates paranoia, but the evidence is divided on this, and yes, an overlong overdependence on any drug or stimulant is not healthy. But the Government has no problem extending the hours of betting shops, feeding a truly destructive addiction. The other argument against legalization of cannabis is that it is a ‘gateway’ drug which leads to other drugs, but again there is no conclusive evidence of this. You might as well say that alcohol is a gateway drug. The sad thing about the impact of heroin in Dublin, for example, is that youngsters get hooked on it without ever having done any other drug in their life. Indeed, a cautious moderate use of cannabis could actually prevent such addiction.

Image

Flanagan’s Cannabis Regulation Bill 2013 would legalise cannabis use and allow for the cultivation of plants for both personal and commercial purposes. And, as he says, the bill comes at a time when legalisation of cannabis is being looked at in a new light all around the world, including in the US where a number of states have now legalised the drug. Flanagan’s bill would provide a “practical way to regulate the scale and use of the drug” for adults and reduce exposure to minors and other adults.

For many of us, legalizing soft drugs is a no-brainer and should been done years ago. The only reason it hasn’t is that there has been a general conservative over-reaction to the ‘permissive society’ of the 1960s and 70s as well as, separately, a surge in the criminality connected to drugs generally, notably hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine. But this is not the fault of cannabis, except that by continuing to be treated as illegal, it is thrown in with the other drugs and so criminals profit and control the trade.

Many argue that we don’t necessarily need ‘another legal drug’. True, but if it is something that is already widely partaken of, then it is destructive and unfair to keep it criminalized. Especially when it is not harmful in anything like the way other drugs are. Or in the way that alcohol and cigarettes are, both of which widely and legally available. Personally, I am not a fan of the weed, which usually sends me to sleep, but I don’t think I have the right to stop others from enjoying what is a passive, relaxing and often hugely imaginative and creative stimulant. Yes, it is mind altering, but so is a few beers and a stiff whiskey – all heavily taxed by the Government.

The reality is that the Irish are a ‘live and let live’ people who would rather let individuals do as they wish in private, if it bothers no one else. It is not in our nature to pursue the rather Anglo Saxon culture of rigorous law enforcement such as in the UK where people used to be constantly busted for smoking a few joints and needlessly and pointlessly criminalized. But now even the UK is changing on this, backed up with the strong advice of former policeman and health officials who have had to deal with the consequences of this pointless criminalization.

Image

Advertisements