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What began as a method of arranging to meet up for a smoke between a group of Californian stoners has blossomed into a global event, spawning festivals, special product releases, and campaigns.
This 4/20, we’re aiming to shine a light on the cases for and against legalising weed and examine why the UK hasn’t followed suit just yet.
In the UK, cannabis is listed as a Class B drug.
That means that possession is punishable with up to five years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.
Production and supply is punishable with up to 14 years in prison, as well as that same unlimited fine, or – again – both.
Weed is afforded the same classification as amphetamines, barbiturates, and sedatives such as ketamine.
Many argue that this classification is too high, and some argue that the classification itself is unnecessary, and that weed should be legally available for both medicinal and recreational purposes.
Of course, medicinal cannabis is available in the UK for certain treatments, but for the purposes of this article we’re going to focus on cannabis as a recreational drug.
A poll last year from YouGov found that 52 percent of those asked – 3,317 people, if you’re interested – support or strongly support the legalisation of cannabis.
A poll released today by advisory firm Hanway Associates also found that 52 percent were against criminal punishment for personal cannabis use, and 55 percent believed that cannabis products should be legal for over 18s.
While it was under a Conservative government that medicinal cannabis in certain circumstances was approved, the party has historically opposed legalisation and many were shocked at its 2018 decision on medicinal use.
Labour also doesn't support legalisation directly, and its stance has differed over the years.
Currently, however, there are a few parties that openly support the legalisation of weed.
The Green Party, Wales’ Plaid Cymru openly support legalisation, as do the Liberal Democrats.
So, what are the arguments for it?
First off, many argue that criminalising drug users is not productive.
Some countries such as Portugal, where drugs were decriminalised in 2001, have a system whereby drug users are provided with treatment programmes as well as harm reduction methods – clean needles in the case of heroin – and support, rather than being arrested.
Secondly, legalisation would allow for a controlled and taxed market that could bring money into the economy while allowing for greater controls on factors such as potency.
Many argue that alcohol and tobacco are significantly more harmful than cannabis, yet both are allowed to be sold and taxed freely to those of age.
Furthermore, there are compelling arguments that decriminalisation would curb the illegal drugs market significantly by bring it into state control, therefore cracking down on revenue streams for gangs and big drugs producers.
However, those who oppose cannabis decriminalisation argue that it is an addictive substance, particularly among young people, and can have long term and significant effects on mental health and longer-term brain damage in certain severe cases.
They also argue that keeping cannabis illegal does work in deterring people from using it in the first place, and question whether legalising weed actually forces criminals out of work, or forces them to adapt.
The debate is far from over, and with most people in the UK favouring declassification – among those in the polls cited above, anyway – and the two largest political parties remaining broadly against the idea, it remains to be seen whether public opinion will eventually turn to a political shift on the matter.
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