The Cannabis Debate
Minister Ó Ríordáin,
I am a non-drinking, cannabis smoker, and I want to request that you revisit Irish drug laws, as it pertains to so called “recreational drug usage”. As always with hot button topics like this there are multiple pros and cons to legislation and many sides to every argument. The obvious argument against legislation, is that when overused or abused, cannabis usage can lead to dependency, memory loss and emotional dependency. On this note though it can be said that alcohol overuse and abuse has the exact same side effects.
For the purposes of this letter however, I want you to consider two potential benefits to legislation; namely the medicinal and economic benefits cannabis could provide if legalised.
Legislation and a relaxing of the laws around Marijuana, could provide Ireland with the ability to be leaders in researching the properties and benefits of the cannabis plant. Before moving on, I wanted to clarify that it is a single chemical in cannabis that makes it Psychoactive. There are at least two active chemicals in cannabis that researchers think have medicinal applications. Those are cannabidiol (CBD) — which seems to impact the brain without a high— and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — which has pain relieving (and other) properties.
Now, with more and more people turning to the drug to treat ailments, the science of cannabis is experiencing a rebirth. We’re finding surprises, and possibly miracles, concealed inside this forbidden plant. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, recently expressed interest in what science will learn about marijuana, noting that preliminary data show that “for certain medical conditions and symptoms” it can be “helpful.” For example, with the recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado there has been the ability to apply and test the value of some of the plants components. Thousands of children across the United States are afflicted with Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, rare forms of childhood-onset epilepsy that can cause dozens, even hundreds, of severe seizures each day. To date conventional drugs have been ineffective in presenting a cure for these illnesses. Last year, however, the FDA approved a clinical trial of Epidiolex, a drug made from cannabidiol (CBD)—one of 85 active chemical compounds, called cannabinoids, in cannabis. The initial findings were promising. After 12 weeks of treatment, 54 percent of patients experienced fewer seizures and 9 percent saw their seizures cease. The trial has already moved to a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.
From a purely capitalistic and economic perspective (because let’s face it, this is the only language the government understand), being the leaders in research could be extremely profitable. The potential life changing effects of Marijuana should be studied in greater detail and the Irish government need to wake up to the potential health and economic benefits which could arise from allowing researchers to focus and study this illegal plant. However the true benefit of relaxing legislation around cannabis and encouraging research is the benefits it can bring to families. Personally I know that if my child was suffering from a debilitating illness and facing hundreds of seizures every day, I would happily take the risk of a €2,750 fine and import what appeared to be a miracle but illegal drug, to help them alleviate their suffering.
I am a recreational smoker of cannabis. When asked why I smoke rather than drink, I say it’s because I don’t feel as out of control as I do when drinking. The main issue I face with my current recreational preference, is that I know when I buy a fresh stash from my dealer, I am in some way contributing to the gangland warfare that is tearing through communities across the country. I cannot and do not condone violence in any way, nor am I particularly comfortable with the fact that what I am taking is an uncontrolled, unregulated substance, but it is the reality I am living with. Give me the option to become a more “responsible citizen” not contributing in any way to gangs and I would jump at the opportunity. I am not comfortable with my current predicament, I would much rather be using a substance that our government regulated rather than a substance of an unknown origin. To be honest if that means paying a higher price because of VAT and taxes, it would be a price I would happily pay and it’s a potential tax revenue stream that this government is losing out on.
A final benefit politically for any minister willing to raise this topic for debate, is that they can cash in on the newly galvanised youth vote. In a recent survey carried out by the European Commission, a third of Irish people believe cannabis should be legalised, despite almost 90pc saying they never or rarely smoke the drug. Just 4pc of those surveyed said they smoke cannabis, marijuana or hash at least once a week, while 88pc said they never or rarely used it. Close to 40pc of people aged between 20 to 49 years old said legislation should be enacted to legalise the drug. With a newly engaged and educated young voter pool, looking to have a say in the running of this country, a debate on the relaxing or even the legalisation of cannabis would help to continue the level of political engagement and momentum that we saw with the historical marriage referendum.
I urge you minister to follow the trend set by the leading countries in this area like Israel, The Netherlands and the US and let us have a heathy debate on the benefits and concerns with legalizing this misunderstood plant.