The Legalization of Cannabis
Few subjects have sparked such a vociferous, widespread and prolonged debate as the legalisation of cannabis and it seems as though almost everyone has an opinion on it.
Generally speaking worldwide attitudes towards the drug's use in the 21 st century are relaxing. It's only since the 1990s that countries have started to look at the legalisation issue rationally thanks to a renewed appreciation of the drug's medicinal qualities. The demand to legalise cannabis is gaining strength across the world and it seems likely that many countries will soon decriminalise cannabis for medicinal use.
Whether this will lead to full legalisation is another matter. Politicians are always wary of sticking their necks out and opening a can of worms. It's likely that strictly regulated personal use of cannabis will eventually be acceptable in many parts of the world - but unless every nation signs up to that policy the ones who will reap the most benefits will continue to be the black market drug traffickers.
Supporters of legalisation argue that the removal of the "criminal" tag would allow distribution to be regulated and even taxed. Governments which already rake in millions from taxes on alcohol and tobacco are aware that a cannabis tax would be a huge boost to any nation's coffers. It's estimated that the US alone could raise $400 billion a year while many European countries would see an annual windfall of at least £16 billion.
Of course the value of tax revenues would have to be balanced against the cost to society of cannabis abuse - politicians are all too well aware of the fact that the revenue raised from cigarettes is a drop in the ocean compared with the cost of treating tobacco-related illnesses.
Regulation would ensure the quality of the cannabis and remove the criminal risk of adulteration with hard drugs to hook in new customers. The pro-legalisation lobby argues that the criminalisation of cannabis makes it impossible to regulate the large number of home growers and inevitably leads to the development of an underground culture (irresistible to many youngsters). And they claim that if cannabis users are denied easy access to their favoured drug, they could fall prey to pushers of more dangerous substances.
The laid back cafes in Amsterdam are a perfect example of how relaxed soft drug laws, properly regulated, can work. Although technically speaking the sale of soft drugs is illegal in Holland (the sale, production and possession of up to 30g are punishable by one month in prison) the coffee shops are tolerated and it's accepted practice to carry up to 5g for personal use.
The Other View
Opponents of cannabis legalisation say the Dutch approach makes Holland a Mecca not only for cannabis users but also for drug traffickers who take advantage of a country that lowers its guard. The Dutch government, meanwhile, claims that smoking pot is a minority past time with less than three per cent of Dutch people admitting to being regular users.
Those fighting the decriminalisation of cannabis argue that legalisation would produce a hedonistic society without eliminating the criminal element. Street dealers would still operate to undercut licensed traders and smuggle contraband to evade tax. Anti drugs campaigners believe that cannabis is the "gateway drug" to the harder more addictive substances such as heroin. Legalising it, they say, would create an unacceptable "druggie" culture with the only winners being the drug dealers.