It is official. We have lost the war on drugs, which greatly targeted the use of cannabis among Americans. Moreover, the lost war has left America with a sour wound at the local and international level. Locally, we have wasted billions of dollars trying to arrest and jail peaceful cannabis users. Internationally, we are now known as the country with the highest number of prisoners. Unfortunately, most of them are incarcerated for “crimes” that could have been prevented had we put together a proper legal framework that defined and categorized cannabis accurately. Since our federal and state laws have wrongly categorized cannabis as a “very dangerous drug,” most of us perceive it that way. 

But do we have a way of legalizing it for safer use? Or, are we going to make laws based on abuse and false categorization? In this discussion, I will show you where we are as a nation compared to what other developed nations are doing regarding cannabis legalization.  

Where Do We  Stand Now? 

So far, only four out of our 50 states have legalized cannabis for recreational use. In 2012, Colorado and Washington pioneered the move. Here is what other countries are doing and have done: 

  • In 2013, Uruguay became the first nation to fully legalize cannabis  
  • In 2016, New Zealand promised to hold a national referendum to allow its citizens to decide whether they want the plant legalized or not 
  • Canada is on its way to become the first G7 nation to legalize cannabis. So far, a bill is already in parliament in Ottawa to legalize the plant.

UK Doctors are Speaking Loud and Clear 

In the UK, doctors are taking the lead in pushing for the legalization of cannabis for medical uses. This renewed enthusiasm follows a case where a six-year old boy was denied to use his cannabis-based medical treatment for epilepsy in the UK. The boy had been treated effectively in the Netherlands but when he came home, he was denied the right to use it because it contained “banned substances.” He took a petition with 300,000 signatures to the House of Commons. 

One of the MPs in the House, Dan Paulter, termed the draconian and inhuman denial of the boy’s cannabis medical use as one of the “absurdities about the law.” Doctors in the House of Commons are leading efforts to amend the law that bans the use of cannabis for medical reasons. Another 12 year old boy, Billy Caldwell, claimed that he too suffered similar injustices as he was denied treatment and his doctor was reprimanded by state officials for attempting to write a cannabis-based prescription.  

The Australian Case and Push 

In Australia, the Greens’ policy indicates that 35 percent of Australians have already used cannabis. Moreover, they also have many cannabis-related arrests with 79,643 people being arrested in 2015/2016. 

Despite all these thousands of people facing arrest, it is clear that cannabis’ impact on the Australian population is nothing compared to that of alcohol and tobacco. For example, one study shows that tobacco accounted for 9 percent of Australia’s combined fatal and non-fatal disease burden with alcohol accounting for 4.6 percent. However, illegal drugs only had a 2.3 percent contribution with cannabis accounting for only 7 percent of the 2.3 percent. 

With these realities clear before law makers and other policy shapers, Australia is steadily moving towards legalization. One of the leading proponents of legalization, Di Natale, who is also a former doctor, says that the “tough” approach the government has taken on the plant causes “enormous” harm. He also adds that banning cannabis only drives people from getting timely help and exposes them to a dangerous black market. He further states that, “Our plan to create a legal market for cannabis production and sale will reduce the risks, bust the business model of criminal dealers and syndicates and protect young people from unfair criminal prosecutions.” He also says that, “drug use as a health issue, not a criminal issue,” terming the legalization bandwagon as a rational response to the “failed” combative policy of criminalization.

Responding to the above moves, Alex Wodak, the president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, says that the ban on cannabis has neither reduced its abuse nor availability. Instead, he laments that it has distracted the police from chasing serious criminals, hurt innocent youths, and enriched more crooks who control its black market. 

Final Thoughts 

This post was meant to open your eyes to see where we are in legalizing cannabis compared to other developed countries such as Canada, the UK, New Zealand, and Australia. I hope that our medical fraternity and law makers will learn serious lessons from these countries.