Marijuana…is also known as Dagga; Bud; Cheeba; Doobie; Devil’s Lettuce; Durban Poison; Ganja; Thai; Spliff; Sticky Icky; Laughing Grass; and sometimes even ‘Art Supplies’ to name a few. According to the World Health Organisation, it is the most widely cultivated, trafficked and abused drug on the planet. Over HALF of all drug seizures worldwide are weed seizures, with over 147 million people around the world who smoke the stuff…yet, it still remains illegal in most countries, South Africa included, and we need to ask ourselves, why?
As most avid weed smokers know by now, the ‘Medical Innovation Bill’ (a bill to legalise Cannabis in SA for medical, industrial and economic purposes) was introduced in parliament on Wednesday 19th February 2014.
Mario GR Oriani-Ambrosini (from the Inkatha Freedom Party and Member of Parliament), who submitted the bill, was diagnosed with stage four of inoperable lung cancer last year.
Oriani-Ambrosini spoke about how millions of cancer patients suffer every day, because our government won’t bother putting any money into research where no profit can be made. The bill’s purpose essentially involves establishing a couple hospitals, where proper cancer research and medical innovation can take place.
Not only that, but the bill would legalise the medical, commercial and industrial use of marijuana in South Africa, much like these weed-friendly areas around the world;
- More than half the USA has legalised marijuana in some form (mostly for medical purposes, but Washington and Colorado have legalised it for recreational use)
- Uruguay was the first country to fully legalise the production and consumption of Cannabis. (Tax revenue generated from sales is being directed toward the prevention of hard drug use)
- In Europe; Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland, have all decriminalized Cannabis.
- Back in 2001, Portugal took a huge (and risky) leap, in decriminalizing ALL drugs, which has resulted in halving their addiction rate in 10 years, with drug use rates now being among the lowest of EU states.
But what are some of the pros and cons of legalising marijuana?
1. The most common ‘con’ is that weed is a ‘stepping stone’ drug. Let’s take a typical 18 year old who has smoked weed a few times before, enjoys the feeling of getting high, but is curious about what else he can experience. So he dabbles in magic mushrooms. After the shrooms, he wonders what MDMA feels like, after that, he might try a line or two of cocaine at a grimy club… and before you know it, he’s living in a ditch eagerly awaiting his next fix of heroin. Now that is an extreme example, and it’s most certainly not the case for everyone, but it’s a scary reality that we cannot deny. (One also needs to realise, that if marijuana was legal, it would be regulated, which means that same teenager would purchase the weed from a responsible source, and not from a dodgy drug dealer who goes by ‘JBreezy’, trying to make an extra buck by offering him something ‘even better’.)
2. Then of course there is driving ‘high’…The Senior investigator at the National Institute on Drug Abuse in America, Marilyn Huestis, says after smoking weed, people generally have more trouble staying in lanes, they struggle to do multiple tasks at once (like changing gears while munching on a Lunchbar?), and there’s a real problem maintaining concentration on long, monotonous drives. Alcohol-related car accidents kill around 1.24 million people a year, but studies on the impact of smoking spliff while driving is much less clear. Another problem is that at the moment, there is no test similar to a Breathalyzer that can check how much THC (the psychoactive compound found in weed) is in a person’s system. Only a blood test— and that’s obviously a little tricky, presenting a few legal and practical constraints.
3. Another risk includes the fact that stoners may suffer from ‘amotivational syndrome’ which is basically the loss of motivation and drive which comes with regular use of the plant. However, PsychologyToday.com claims that researchers have found that levels of dopamine are mainly lower in long-term weed smokers, and those who begun using it at a younger age. Lower dopamine in a part of the brain called the striatum, is linked to less ambition and motivation at a neuronal level. This is why if it was legalised, it is crucial to treat it just like tobacco or alcohol, with strict age restrictions in place.
1. The most obvious pro, as Mr Oriani-Ambrosini mentioned in parliament, would be the medical benefits. According to Webmd.com, pain is the main reason people ask for a ‘green’ prescription, says Barth Wilsey, MD, a pain medicine specialist at the University of California Davis Medical Centre. This includes chronic headaches, diseases like cancer, or long term conditions like nerve pain and glaucoma. Doctors in countries where medical marijuana is legal, prescribe weed to treat seizure disorders; insomnia; muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis; nausea from chemotherapy; and poor appetite or weight loss caused by diseases like HIV, which is obviously a major issue in South Africa. Medical marijuana can be smoked, vaporized (heated until active ingredients are released but no smoke is formed), eaten, or taken in a liquid form.
2. The second major advantage of legalising weed, would be the massive amount of money the country can make in terms of tax revenues. In California, where medical weed has been legal for a while now, over $14 billion is made annually for the production of marijuana. (That’s R150 billion!) According to Forbes magazine, in 2010, one study was done for the libertarian CATO Institute, which said legalising and taxing weed would increase state tax revenues by about $9 billion (R96 billion) a year and reduce spending on enforcement by about the same amount.
3. Let’s not forget about the thousands of jobs that could be created. Any self-respecting stoner can tell you there are 2 strains of marijuana that can get you high (Sativa & Indica), and there is a third strain ‘Cannabis Ruderalis’, which is where we get ‘hemp’ from. You cannot smoke hemp, but this magical plant has tons of uses including fibre (which lasts way longer than cotton), paper (to save trees), building supplies like ‘hempcrete’ or insulation and special plastics, (which are environmentally friendly) and of course biofuels! South Africa has the perfect weather conditions to grow the plant, and thousands of unemployed people who could benefit from this.
At the end of the day, there are serious pros and there are serious cons for legalising cannabis, but the same can be said about using both tobacco and alcohol. Tobacco kills about 6 million people every year, and alcohol is the cause of 2.5 million deaths annually, but people take part anyway.
There are millions of people around the world who smoke marijuana regardless of the fact that it’s illegal. It’s happening under our President’s nose every single day. Why not take full control of the situation, prevent the black market from thriving, and make something positive out of a sticky icky situation?