Cannabis, health and the law
Sir, – I presume the experiences of the learned doctors with issues of harm caused by abuse of cannabis have arisen in countries where cannabis is illegal (“Ireland ‘sleepwalking’ into legalising cannabis, doctors warn”, News, May 20th). This, in the first instance, must raise the question of the efficacy of criminalisation in reducing usage of cannabis.
However, the moral and ethical case for continuing criminalisation must also address the wider harms, if any, caused by criminalisation.
Even if it is conceded that there will be a small increase in psychosis by “new” people who will misuse cannabis because of decriminalisation, this is more than counterbalanced by the “several orders of magnitude” reduction in harm to millions of people around the world who will not have their lives ruined by having a criminal record and/or by incarceration – not to mention the tens of thousands of people killed every year in drug trafficking wars.
If morality is primarily to do with harm minimisation, the moral and ethical case for decriminalisation is overwhelming. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I note the important letter from my colleagues in the Cannabis Risk Alliance (May 20th). They are real experts in this area, and I fully support their concerns.
There is another view. Cannabis is now freely available across Ireland. It is illegal, and wholly unregulated. Income from cannabis sales supports a great deal of violence, environmental damage, and a wider span of criminality, including terrorism and people trafficking.
I believe there is no prospect of abolishing cannabis. Like alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs of addiction, cannabis is probably a permanent feature of our society. Like the others, it is not safe. Cannabis, like alcohol, is particularly dangerous for adolescents. All have risks, and all need to be mitigated.
Risk mitigation for cannabis has failed. High-dose products, with higher risks, have become ubiquitous. The question is how best to mitigate the risks. I believe that banning cannabis use has failed. I suggest that legalisation, tight regulation, a ban on advertising, active health promotion, and taxation may well be the best options.
I acknowledge that use may rise, though different areas have had different results. Harm will continue, as cannabis, like alcohol, is not a safe drug. The open question is where does the balance of benefit lie. – Yours, etc,
Professor of Health Systems,
School of Nursing
and Human Sciences,
Dublin City University,