Recently, various British representatives voice their opinion on Sadiq Khan’s plans to ‘decriminalise’ minor cannabis offences in London. The planned scheme is said to offer counselling sessions to under-25s caught with small quantities of cannabis, instead of pushing for arrests and prison time.
The recent announcement by Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, to decriminalize cannabis has been met with much opposition from the public. Many feel that it does not go far enough in addressing the issue of cannabis usage in the UK. Some even argue that such measures could lead to an increase in cannabis abuse. Others insist that the plan goes against the current trend in society towards more liberal views on drug use.
There are still many who believe that this will not be enough to stop those from taking drugs.
Decriminalisation Across the Globe
Cannabis is decriminalised in various countries across the globe, with varying degrees of success. Countries like: Portugal, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Czech Republic, Israel, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and South Africa have all fully or partially decriminalised its possession and/or sale.
In some instances, however, these laws have only applied to adults over a certain age (usually 21), while other nations allow minors to possess and consume cannabis. In others, cannabis remains legal but consumption is restricted to specific locations.
The United States has also taken steps to decriminalise cannabis. However, there are currently no federal laws prohibiting cannabis in the US. It remains illegal at both state and federal level, although several states have passed legislation allowing medical marijuana.
How Decriminalisation Affects Addiction Rates
In some places where marijuana has been decriminalised, addiction rates have decreased. This is largely due to the fact that people are able to obtain the drug without fear of arrest. According to one study, which looked at the effects of cannabis decriminalisation in Portugal between 2001 and 2012, there was a decrease in the number of individuals entering treatment facilities for substance abuse. This was linked to a reduction in fatal overdoses and hospital admissions for overdose-related issues. Further research into the subject found that the rate of patients admitted to a psychiatric facility following an overdose dropped by half as well.
It is thought that the lower rate of overdose deaths in Portugal can be attributed to the availability of prescription opioids. In the years after decriminalisation, the number of opioid prescriptions increased dramatically, resulting in greater access to the potentially addictive substances.
This suggests that when cannabis is available legally, fewer people may turn to harder drugs to self-medicate.
However, it should be noted that this is just one study. More research needs to be done before we know if decriminalising cannabis really reduces the amount of alcohol and illicit drug users.
What Do the Experts Say?
Addiction experts have voiced their concerns regarding cannabis decriminalisation . One leading expert, Professor David Nutt, told The Independent that he considers the move “a step backwards” and argues that it will make things worse. He believes that the government should instead focus on making cannabis less accessible to children.
Another expert, Dr Ben Sessa, who is the founder of DrugScience, says that any changes made to the way that cannabis is treated need to be carefully considered. He points out that the evidence linking cannabis to mental health problems has yet to reach the same status as the link between tobacco and cancer. Sessa further adds that any proposed change must avoid creating situations where the drug is easily available, particularly to young people. For example, if cannabis were to become decriminalised, then it would need to be sold from regulated shops, rather than through the black market. The current situation makes it easier for teenagers to buy cannabis because they don’t need parental consent to purchase the drug.
According to Paul Spanjar – owner of the Providence Projects – a leading addiction treatment centre based in Dorset – “One of the many misconceptions about addiction is that drug or alcohol use is the cause of it, this is simply a misunderstanding. Individuals fall into addictive patterns of behaviour for a number of reasons including past trauma, a lacking sense of purpose and poor self-esteem, the substance is just a coping mechanism for the individual’s pain. Any effort to decriminalise substances must be balanced with offering individuals an opportunity to complete a treatment programme, or risk exposing more vulnerable individuals to the painful cycle of dependence.”
As you might expect, there is still much debate about whether or not to decriminalise cannabis. Some countries such as Australia have already moved towards complete legalisation, while others remain firmly opposed to the idea.
Although the benefits of cannabis decriminalisation seem clear, the potential downsides cannot be ignored either. With so many uncertainties surrounding the issue, it seems unlikely that the UK will follow suit anytime soon.
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