With a growing international movement for the legalisation of both medicinal and recreational cannabis use, Aisling Hudson makes the case for recreational use here in Ireland.
There have been incredible campaigns in Ireland over the past few years to change policy around medicinal cannabis. Often these specific campaigns highlighted complex and heart-wrenching cases of individuals fighting against conservatism and drug panic for basic health care for their loved ones. However, the time has come for the legalisation of cannabis to expand beyond medicinal use to include recreational use.
The criminalisation of cannabis for recreational use continues to cause more problems than it solves on the island of Ireland. North of the border, paramilitary groups have a brutal record of assault and intimidation, with kneecapping being an all-too-common punishment. Over the past twenty years, the torch of informal cannabis regulation has been passed from paramilitaries to drug gangs, and the terror continues.
In the south, some progress has been made in the last year, with police being given the power of discretion towards people caught with small amounts of cannabis. However, criminalisation still looms over all aspects of cannabis use. Meanwhile, there is very little evidence-based education on substances – both legal and illegal – and most “common knowledge” about cannabis is based on drug hysteria and conservative mores.
This autumn, Gino Kenny of People Before Profit will put forward a bill to make cannabis available for recreational purposes for adults. If successful, the legislation will open the door to the more humane treatment of recreational cannabis users and a medically based approach to any substance misuse.
Cannabis: A health food?
An important starting point is to look at the actual evidence-based research about the impact of cannabis on the body. Findings suggest that cannabis regulates underactive and overactive immune systems.1 The focus should be on controlling cannabis strains with a high ratio of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to cannabidiol (CBD). High THC strains can be available for adult use only. Cannabis containing less than .3% THC has already been declared non-narcotic food by the European Court of Justice.
These strains of cannabis have no psychoactive effects. Low THC strains have been shown to relieve anxiety, hyperactivity, improve focus, and be safely used by children.2 Retailers in Ireland are still being raided and prosecuted for supplying low THC products, proof that the Irish state cannot be trusted to implement European rulings that impact human rights.
Even high THC cannabis use throughout pregnancy has been studied without observing any adverse effects for the baby.3 A comparative ethnographic study of prenatal cannabis exposure among Jamaican mono-drug-using pregnant women. Results showed no differences between exposed and nonexposed cohort until one month after birth. The exposed group scored higher than the unexposed cohort on all generalised tests at one month. At five years old, participants of the exposed group again showed significantly better results than the unexposed group across the standardised tests.4
Children in Jamaica have cannabis tea throughout their lives as it is believed to make children strong and keep them healthy. Jamaican mothers may well be right to give their children cannabis tea to promote health because cannabis contains nutrients like essential fatty acids and amino acids which directly interact with the body’s CB1 and CB2 receptors. This process has been seen to promote energy balance throughout the central nervous system.5
The variety of cannabis strains provides potential relief for countless problems. There are so many strains of cannabis, each containing a distribution of hundreds of compounds in varying ratios. Broader access and basic research would uncover optimal strain effectiveness and highlight strains to be avoided by certain groups. There are many ways of consuming cannabis that does not involve smoking, such as tea, allowing all ages to participate in this cultural experience. Even when smoked, extensive federal research for over forty years by Donald Tashkin has failed to link cannabis to lung damage.6
There are many convenient and comfortable ways to enjoy this natural herb, either socially or individually. Cannabis can have multiple positive effects when used correctly and few adverse effects, even when misused. Cannabis is often mixed with tobacco when smoked. One of the more harmful aspects of cannabis culture, tobacco use can have a gateway effect into more serious recreational habits, such as regular tobacco smoking.
Dangers of prohibition
Adverse side effects of cannabis relate not to the herb itself but rather to its prohibition. Prohibition of cannabis means that many people have been denied the chance to discover its health and social benefits. Worse still, a criminal record for possession or cultivation of cannabis can lead to a life of insecure employment, inability to travel abroad, exclusion from society because of associated shame and stigma, and harassment by police, along with much more.
Many people, including children, get into debt with drug dealers who operate on the black market. Often these drug dealers regulate the cannabis market by employing thugs to beat up, and even murder, users or their loved ones, all over small amounts of money.
Buying cannabis on the black market also makes the customer a criminal. Often cannabis buyers have to deal with suppliers who also sell fake prescription drugs to children and other harmful substances. Customers risk their freedom and safety up the unlit back lanes of our cities, towns, and villages with every purchase. It is claimed that using cannabis causes paranoia, but prohibition causes far more paranoia than any misuse of cannabis ever could.
Aside from the questionable efficacy of prohibition, there is the cost of criminalising cannabis suppliers and users. There is the enormous cost of surveillance, bringing offenders to court and prison, and the cost to the economy when users lose their jobs, and the human cost to families deprived of loved ones because of cannabis activities. All of this is a waste of resources, and none are effective at reducing cannabis consumption.
When society is falling to pieces, Ireland must redirect resources to people in need – not the criminalisation of a safe substance. Global pressures insist we reduce prison occupancy, cannabis users being the obvious place to start. Cannabis users and cultivators should not be put in prison and should not be brought before a criminal court for growing or selling cannabis.
The profits associated with cannabis under prohibition are impressive. The stakes are high because the punishment is harsh. The quest for profit makes cannabis incredibly expensive and dangerous.
Allowing individuals to produce and share cannabis, along with a state-produced supply, would bring the cost of cannabis down to an affordable price, which would squeeze the criminal gangs out of the market. With more people having access to a legal and regulated source of quality cannabis, many of our social problems will be resolved.
When cannabis is regulated for everyone to access, there will be no illegal production because cheaper, more secure supplies will be available legally. However, if the regulation is in any way exclusionary, there will still be some black-market activity. For example, children still consume alcohol because prohibition alone does not eliminate children’s curiosity.
The sale of unregulated cannabis to children can still be considered a crime, but not for selling unregulated cannabis to adults. Growing cannabis or selling it to adults outside the regulations should be a civil offence and treated the same as working without paying tax. Any cannabis sold commercially resulting in a profit for recreational use or otherwise should be taxed.
Do we need another recreational drug on the Irish market? Yes, we need a safe recreational drug. According to the LD50 table, cannabis is safer than coffee, black tea or sugar. It potentially makes tobacco safer7 but generally does not mix well with alcohol. Alcohol is one of the more harmful drugs on the planet, and our culture is drenched in it.
It is time to give people on this island broader freedom of choice regarding recreational drug use.
- Almogi-Hazan, O. & Or, R. (2020) “Cannabis, the Endocannabinoid System and Immunity-the Journey from the Bedside to the Bench and Back”, International journal of molecular sciences, 21(12), p. 4448. Available at: DOI:10.3390/ijms21124448. (Accessed on June 22 2021)
- Kachru, R.et al. (2021) “CBD Use in Children—Miracle, Myth, or Mystery?” JAMA Pediatrics. 175(6) p. 652. Available at: doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.0367 (Accessed June 11 2021).
- Dreher, M. (1993) Prenatal Marijuana Exposure and Neo-Natal Outcomes in Jamaica: An ethnographic Study, Paediatrics, 93(2) pp. 254-260. Available at:http://druglibrary.net/crl/reproduction/Dreher_et.al_94_Prenatal_Exposure_Pediatrics.pdf(Accessed June 12 2021).
- Dreher, M. (2013) “Pregnancy and Cannabis” Cannabispatientnet, Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDV5HhmP4UI. (Accessed on June 12 2021)
- Bermudez-Silva, F.J., Cardinal, P. and Cota, D. (2012) “The Role of the Endocannabinoid System in the Neuroendocrine Regulation of Energy Balance”, Journal of Psychopharmacology (Oxford), 26 (1), pp. 114-124. Available at: doi:10.1177/0269881111408458 (Accessed June 12 2021)
- Tashkin, D. and Roth, M.D. 2019, “Pulmonary effects of inhaled cannabis smoke”, The American journal of drug and alcohol abuse, 45(6), pp. 596-609. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/00952990.2019.1627366
- Tashkin, D. (2006) “Dr Donald Tashkin Lung Cancer Study pt. 1” Ruby Dunes Video. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJmQ16cGBHU