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The Constitutional Court recently declared that the prohibition of cannabis cultivation and use within the privacy of one’s own home impinged on the constitutional rights of the individual and has instructed Parliament to change the legislation accordingly. This progressive thinking on the part of the Constitutional Court reflects the principle of respect for the rights of the individual in a liberal democracy and overrides the notion of a “nanny” state, which manages all aspects of the lives of its citizens.

Irrespective of any constitutional considerations, the real reason why cannabis use should be legalised is because prohibition policies have failed dismally to achieve what they are intended to do.

With the introduction of the impending legislation, the following will happen with respect to people who use cannabis: those who use cannabis in a non-problematic way will continue to do so. Those who have a cannabis use disorder will no longer get arrested.

The illegality of cannabis has never deterred anyone from using the substance. Prohibition has just created an underground drug economy that is impossible to regulate or tax, given rise to powerful supply chain monopolies who rule communities and filled the prisons with people convicted of victimless crime. It corrupts the criminal justice system and provides easy income to the legal fraternity dedicated towards defending users caught in the legal net. A whole industry is dedicated towards maintaining the status quo with vested interests, including politicians on the right bereft of any other social causes.

Cannabis remains the most widely used illicit substance worldwide. This change in thinking is long overdue. A regulated, taxed industry, while not without its challenges, makes much more sense and reduces collateral damage much than the idiotic prohibitionist policies of the last century.

However, cannabis use should not be regarded as without consequence. Cannabis has always retained the image of a “soft” drug. The problem is that “soft” is often confused with “safe”, whereas “soft” actually means that cannabis does its damage softly and insidiously. The damage from hard drugs is usually clear and apparent. It is easy to connect cause and effect with hard drugs. A dysfunctional lifestyle that, if left unabated, ends as a nightmare and is often fatal. No one has been recorded as deing from a cannabis overdose.

The intrinsic damage arising from a soft drugs like cannabis is much more difficult to identify or quantify because the dependence producing quality and the intrinsic toxicity of the drug is low.

My experiences in addiction treatment over the past 25 years identify the adverse consequences of cannabis use in five broad, all dose related (quantity and duration) and possibly reversible with abstinence although some studies have questioned this. I have excluded the non conclusive suggestion of the relationship between cannabis use and psychosis.

  1. Intellectual function is impaired. The ability to process and recall information is impaired
  2. Executive function is restricted. The ability to be pro active, organise and co ordinate activity is limited.
  3. Cannabis use induces a depression. Although it is a mild euphoriant, chronic use depresses mood. It is rare to find a daily user who is inspired with life.
  4. Procrastination is endemic amongst regular users. Their year book is filled with a litany of failed good ideas
  5. Chronic users often become a shadow of their former glory.

 

The cannabis war cry “don’t panic, it’s organic” needs to be regarded with caution. Recreational cannabis use is probably less dangerous than alcohol use. Cannabis addiction, on the other hand, is often a very sad story.

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