At the Labour Party conference yesterday the comedian Russell Brand called for drugs to be decriminalised. At next week’s Conservative conference, the free-market Adam Smith Institute will be pushing for the legalisation of cannabis. Legalisation means more users. That means more harm, not just to individuals but to society. The institute, however, describes cannabis as “a low-harm consumer product that most users enjoy without major problems”. What? A huge amount of evidence shows that far from cannabis being less harmful than other illicit drugs, as befits its Class B classification, its effects are far more devastating. Long-term potheads display on average an eight-point decline in IQ over time, an elevated risk of psychosis and permanent brain damage.
Cannabis is associated with a host of biological ill-effects including cirrhosis of the liver, strokes and heart attacks. People who use it are more likely than non-users to access other illegal drugs. And so on.
Ah, say the autonomy-loving free-marketeers, but it doesn’t harm anyone other than the user. Well, that’s not true either. It can destroy relationships with family, friends and employers. Users often display more antisocial behaviour, such as stealing money or lying to get a job, as well as a greater association with aggression, paranoia and violent death. According to Stuart Reece, an Australian professor of medicine, cannabis use in pregnancy has also been linked to an epidemic of gastroschisis, in which babies are born with intestines outside their abdomen, in at least 15 nations including the UK.
The legalisers’ argument is that keeping cannabis illegal does not control the harm it does. Yet wherever its supply has been liberalised, its use and therefore the harm it does have both gone up.
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