Should cannabis be legalised? MM speaks to experts, police and dealers as Cameron pushed to reconsider

By John Paul Shammas

Liberals across America celebrated more than just winning an election this November, as Colorado and Washington said Yes We Can-nabis to legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.

But back here in the UK however, Greater Manchester Police are cracking down on the drug, and they’re cracking down hard.

An astounding 250 cannabis plants are recovered across Greater Manchester every day, amounting to almost 90,000 in 2011/12, emphasizing the considerable allocation of police resources ploughed into such an operation.

Meanwhile, David Cameron is being urged by a cross-party committee to reconsider the UK’s drug policy.

The Commons home affairs committee have taken advice from both sides of the debate – including Richard Branson and Russell Brand – and are advising Cameron that the time to reconsider Britain’s tough stance on drugs is ‘now, more than ever’.

Then what stands in the way?

The idea is that cannabis is a ‘gateway’ drug which, even through on-and-off recreational use, could consequently lead someone into harder drugs and even crime.

However Professor David Nutt, who in a prestigious career has worked as an advisor to various Governmental departments including the Department of Health alongside holding positions at Cambridge and Oxford, rubbishes this idea.

“Cannabis is not a gateway drug,” he said. “Crack and heroin are.”

“It is only a gateway drug in so far as you have to go to drug dealers to get it. Just because all heroin users have used alcohol, it does not make alcohol a gateway drug.”

Professor Nutt sparked controversy in 2009 when he put forward the argument that horse riding was more dangerous than ecstasy.

This prompted his dismissal from his most recent government position by the then-Home Secretary Alan Johnson, who explained that Nutt could not both be a government adviser and a campaigner against government policy.

And since then, Nutt hasn’t backed down, especially in the case of Greater Manchester Police’s recent operations over the past year, which mark a 31% increase in the capturing of cannabis plants from the previous year.

“It costs £500million per year to police cannabis. This money could be better spent particularly as policing cannabis causes a lot more harm than cannabis use.”

Across the pond, MM got in touch with Jonny Goldwine, an American living in the state of California where the easing of recreational marijuana laws preempted her fellow states of Colorado and Washington.

As of January 1, 2011, possession of 28.5 grams of the drug was reclassified as a mere infraction in California, which would have no implications with regard to criminal records.

Mr Goldwine, a 34-year-old hotel receptionist, has been using the drug since his teens, and like Professor Nutt, he completely rejects the gateway-drug theory.

“The idea that weed causes people to commit crimes or to do harder drugs is funny to me,” he said. “No one has ever smoked weed and immediately said: ‘Now lets go f*** stuff up!’.

“If someone uses marijuana and then goes and robs a bank, that person was going to rob that bank regardless.

“But by attaching a criminal record to marijuana possession is when that gateway to crime could be opened. Luckily we don’t have that here anymore.

“If cannabis does lead to other illegal drugs, it is only because it is an illegal drug.”

But whilst American legislators show increasing tolerance to the use of marijuana, Greater Manchester Police are unapologetic in their crackdown.

Detective Inspector Earnshaw of Greater Manchester Police firmly believes that by combating the supply of drugs, including marijuana, that authorities are making communities safer.

“Drugs are a major driving forcer behind many other crimes such as burglary, robbery, vehicle crime,” he said.

“That is why we are determined to root out all those involved in this trade.”

MM got in touch with an ex-dealer, now in their mid-twenties, who was willing to participate in this report should their identity remain concealed.

And this insider believes that the police’s marijuana recovery operation demonstrates an out-of-touch approach to policy.

“It’s surreal,” they say when presented with the recovery statistics. “But people are never afraid of taking concern with things they don’t know anything about.

“You can’t tell me with a straight face that alcohol and smoking don’t destroy lives, but people see it as normal because they want to see it as normal.”

As Greater Manchester Police brace themselves for a 20% budget cut by 2015, their budgets and resources in the coming years will be stretched more than ever.

The question is, is it time to reconsider where these resources are allocated?

Picture courtesy of Lollyman, with thanks.

For more on this story and many others, follow Mancunian Matters on Twitter and Facebook.

Related Articles