“Pot is a better drug than alcohol […] I’ll prove it to you, man. You’re at a ball game or a concert, and someone’s really violent and aggressive and obnoxious, are they drunk or are they smoking pot?” So said the late great Bill Hicks, who was in his time an insightful and very funny proponent of the legalisation of drugs, namely marijuana.
Whilst I don’t agree that cannabis is a better drug than alcohol, I would argue that it is the same as alcohol when it comes to its viability as a legalised drug. With the debate over the legalisation of marijuana rearing its head again – especially since the Prime Minister’s husband profits from the production of the plant – many reasons are being given as to why cannabis should remain illegal. But whatever we may say about pot, the same, or worse, can be said about alcohol.
I’m not a pot smoker and I enjoy a drink, but that doesn’t stop me from seeing that there are positive and negative effects from both drinking and smoking. Someone might say that cannabis can be dangerous to the person taking it, that it rots the brain and induces mental illnesses, but so do other things that are an unavoidable part of our modern lives, such as stress and staring at screens all day. The detrimental effects alcohol can have on the body are well known to us, from cirrhosis of the liver to high blood pressure. Whilst cannabis may play a role in someone’s mental health, alcohol has been linked to long-term depression and anxiety. Someone might say that cannabis can make you dangerous to those around you, but so, again, can alcohol; drink driving and violence are criminal offences despite the drug that causes them being legal.
What appears to be the case is that we have as a society legalised one drug for cultural and historical reasons despite it being potentially harmful, but not another equally feasible yet harmful one because it is nonetheless potentially harmful. An argument could be made for making all drugs illegal including alcohol, but apart from the obvious outcry, banning something because it has a degree of possible harm to it doesn’t always make sense; there is a probability of me being harmed from crossing the road, or riding a bike, or climbing a wall, but none of these things are made illegal because there are reasonable amounts of risk we accept with every action.
So there seems to be little reason to accept the status quo of having cannabis as an illegal substance and alcohol as a legal one. In fact, and it is an argument that is often used, the legalisation of something previously criminal not only allows the state to control it, but also bring in tax revenue from its sale. Legally or not, there are always going to be people buying weed, so why not take some of that money and put it towards the collective good? I can think of one national service that is crying out new funds.