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Will the UK follow in Canada’s footsteps?

By Aaron Lukas

This week, Canada has become the second country in the world to legalise the production, sale and consumption of recreational marijuana marking the first of any major economy to do so. Although the bill still waits for Royal assent, the Canadian government urges provinces and territories to make their own rules on Marijuana sales. From September, the Canadian government will allow its citizens to purchase products that still remain largely illegal across the world.

We all know someone that has smoked weed before, and perhaps even you may have as well. From my experiences, I do not understand why it remains illegal within the UK, nor do I understand why those who suffer from diseases have no access to the drug when it can potentially alleviate or completely remove pain. The UK government in the past has argued that it should remain a criminal justice problem classifying the drug as a class B substance, which carries penalties for possession of up to five years in prison. UK drug policy is outdated and must reflect a sensible and more responsible approach to criminalisation, punishment, and addiction. Marijuana should be held in the same regard as tobacco, and alcohol, governmental regulation, and proportionate taxation.

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The marijuana leaf flag used by cannabis legalisation supporters in Canada. source: wikicommons

In similar news, the case of Billy Caldwell also hit front pages this week, which saw a 12-year-old boy who suffers from status epilepticus, (a type of seizure which can last for hours and occur multiples times a day), be refused his life saving cannabis-based medication at Heathrow Airport customs. A cannabis-based oil is arguably enabling this young boy to live, but only after an extraordinary appeal by his mother, a social media storm, and a rapidly deteriorating Billy was the medication returned to him. At what cost are we not permitting those that suffer from awful diseases such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis (MS), motor-neurone disease (MND), and cancer to get the best possible treatments because of backwards, draconian laws from 1971 that do not reflect a fair, and just, evidence-based system of policymaking.

When I lived in Inverness, I once knew an individual who suffered from MS; he was in his 50s, and had been gradually deteriorating over the years to such a point where he was wheel-chair bound, (sometimes bed-bound), and relied on his wife and the NHS to fulfil his basic needs. He was prescribed a variety of medication which would often do little to alleviate his suffering. For him, this meant spending every day in endless pain slowly becoming less human, and increasingly demoralised. It took its toll on his family, and his 60-year-old wife would often ask my family for assistance to help lift him when he fell over because she could not handle his weight alone, nor did he have the ability, or strength to lift himself anymore.

One day I struck up a conversation during the 2014 Brazilian World Cup about the benefits of medical marijuana to help numb his pain, as I had heard it was really effectual for those who suffer from his condition. He talked about Sativex, a cannabis-based mouth spray which while rarely prescribed is a medication MS sufferers can receive on the NHS. He said he had tried it but did not find it to alleviate his symptoms, but confessed he once found marijuana on the black market to be more effective in medicating his condition. Despite this, he admitted he was uncomfortable with the idea that he was committing a crime so did not attempt another purchase. At what cost, do we admit as a society that something must change, the drug war has failed. This failure is exemplified in Canada’s recreational legalisation.

The case of Billy Caldwell may bring hope to those that seek medical marijuana decriminalisation and legalisation; on Tuesday the home secretary, Sajid Javid, announced a government review into medicinal cannabis, which seeks to establish an evidence-based policymaking approach to the issue, seeking evidence to suggest that marijuana can be an effectual remedy. In the 2017 UK General Election, the Liberal Democrats became the first major political party to support marijuana legalisation, but it still remains to be seen how other political parties will react in the oncoming years. Canada began this process by regulating medicinal marijuana in 2001, and this week became the first G7 nation to legalise full recreational use. The answer to the question: “will the UK follow in Canada’s footsteps?”, remains to be seen.

 

feature image source: BBC News

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