Earlier this week, ministers in the United Kingdom said cannabis would be legal again in Britain in the not-too-distant future. The UK, one of the last western countries to criminalize the plant, has signaled that weed is accepted around the world.
It hasn’t always been this way. For decades, young men and women faced years in prison for being found with minimal amounts of cannabis in their possession. The War on Drugs was disproportionately affecting demographics throughout the country. It wasn’t only the class A narcotics that were in the government’s crosshairs – it was everything. From the early 90s until 2009, there were more than 30 million arrests for drug possession alone.
Fast-forward a couple of decades, and attitudes seem to have changed. The War on Drugs isn’t as intense and some states are considering legalization. Today, the likes of Washington DC, Colorado and California all accept marijuana isn’t a danger to society. In Portugal, all drugs have been legalized to help take the pressure off the justice system and cut costs on public services. So, what’s changed? Why have attitudes towards cannabis, in particular, turned 180 degrees?
The Domino Effect
It was Uruguay that was the first country to legalize weed back in 2012. After a consultation, they decided it was a good move to limit the damage of organized crime and regulate the drug through legislation. Not a few months later, Washington DC and Colorado followed suit and decided to make it legal to use weed recreationally in both states.
Each authority has its reasons for the decisions they make, but the domino effect is no doubt a factor. As soon as one country takes the plunge, it makes it easier for another to follow their lead. All it takes is a couple of months to see if there are positive or negative results. In the case of the rogue US states back in 2012, it seemed they like what they saw and used Uruguay’s example to push through legislation that was already on the books.
Even the lawmakers need a gentle push in the right direction before they pull the trigger.
Obama’s Pull Back
There’s no doubt that the public’s perception of cannabis has softened in recent years. Rather than seeing it as a drug that encourages mental health side-effects, they understand it has benefits. Medical marijuana has been around for years. But, attitudes have only changed since the turn of the 21st-century thanks to the opiate dilemma. Pharmaceuticals are as addictive as class A drugs, whereas cannabis is a safer pain relief option.
Obama saw this back when he was in office and started to pull back. While legalization was never introduced across the board, the administration did allow the likes of DC and Colorado to launch their own rules. Not only that, but police didn’t make the same arrests or press charges as strictly as they did under George Bush.
Attitudes might have been softening, yet Obama helped to consolidate the discourse with his liberal approach to cannabis from 08 to 16.
Advances In Tech
Of course, marijuana isn’t one-hundred percent safe. Due to the fact it has over 100 components, it’s hard to understand the potential side-effects of them all. However, experts are sure isn’t healthy is THC. It’s the hallucinogenic part of the drug that causes people to lose control of their faculties for a short while. With THC, there was always an argument weed was a gamble.
This changed after scientists found they could isolate the healthy cannabinoids. It started with British chemist, Robert Cahn and moved onto the next level with the Israeli professor Raphael Mechoulam back in the 40s and 60s. Through their research, scientists used the stereochemistry of both THC and cannabinoids to understand they were separate elements. Now, as a result, there is CBD vape oil and topicals, such as skin creams and balms, available across the board. The popularity of cannabis-related products means there is a method of understanding how weed can be productive.
Essentially, CBD is a gateway drug. Of that, there is no doubt.
Pressure On The Criminal System
One thing the War on Drugs didn’t foresee was the pressure on the American criminal system. What was once an envied legal process around the world soon became a laughing stock. Prisons were overcrowded and the Justice system couldn’t lose cases that went to trial, so they offered deals instead. Convicted criminals lost out as the reformation of the prison system turned into a circus meant to punish and demean.
Why did it happen? The answer is in the statistics. The US has less than 5% of the world’s population in the country, but it makes up 25% of incarcerated people. Millions of people are arrested each year, and more than 80% of them are for possession alone. More people are arrested for drugs than all violent crimes combined. Something had to give, and regulators understood it needed to be attitudes towards drugs, especially cannabis, or else the system might collapse.
Thanks to the olive branch from President Obama, the prison system isn’t under the same pressure now that drug arrests for marijuana are down. Sure, to this day, there are over 1 million drug-related arrests in the United States, but the number is expected to fall.
Of the 1.6 million drug arrests made in 2016, a large proportion was disproportionately represented by the black and Latino communities. The War on Drugs hit everyone regardless of race, but the people who felt it the worst were minorities. Black people are reported to make up 40% of the federal prison population in the United States.
This has been the case for years, so why is it a big deal now? Mainly, it’s because social issues are at the forefront of society in 2019. People are fighting for equality, which means they are highlighting injustices in the system, one of them being drugs. The declassification of classified documents has also helped. The Contra scandal of the Regan era, where crack cocaine was willingly introduced into the poorest neighbourhoods, has lead to mistrust of the government. The CIA purposely funneled drugs into the US and then arrested people, and the hypocrisy hasn’t been lost on the public.
The thirst to make things hasn’t subsided and doesn’t seem as if it will happen in the future. As the demand to tackle social injustice intensifies, the attitudes towards drugs are going to change rapidly. After all, they affect minorities worse than any other group.
Will National & International Laws Catch Up?
Still, public attitudes towards drugs won’t revolutionize the way countries tackle marijuana laws. Yes, the fact that countries such as Mexico that have a big problem with drugs will legalize weed is a big step forward. However, there is an issue: regulation. For a mind-altering drug, safeguards need to be in place to ensure there isn’t any impact on health.
Also, there is the money-making aspect. Drugs such as cigarettes and alcohol are taxable because they’re hard to reproduce without specialist equipment. Tobacco, for example, needs to be farmed. As the name suggests, weed doesn’t because it grows in gardens and basements alike without much encouragement.
Governments will, therefore, find it tough to tax and make money, which might be a sticking point.
Still, regardless of what the future holds, there is no doubt that attitudes have changed dramatically in the past twenty years. As a result, legislation is altering and society as a whole is benefitting. Hopefully, it continues to move the same way in the next two decades.
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Image provided by blacknote.com/flickr