By Max Fernandez
As most cannabis legalisation advocates know by now; the small South American country of Uruguay (with a population of just over 3 million people) has sent shockwaves across the globe by taking the brave and logical step of passing a draft bill in their House of Representatives, that would effectively implement a legalised and regulated market for cannabis. The question is: what happens now?
To help put this question into perspective, we must first look at the progress that has been made in the last few years by the legalisation lobby. Since 2010, 8 US States have given the green light to allow for medicinal cannabis licenses to be issued, by a trained physician, to the sick and dying. This includes Illinois and New Hampshire earlier this year, taking the overall number of States to 21. People with conditions such as Glaucoma, Cancer and HIV have been able to find relief from their suffering by using medical cannabis, without having to feel harassed and bullied by their respective State authorities (although Federal US agents are still applying pressure to many cannabis dispensaries across the USA).
The most encouraging advances for legalisation advocates in the last year have been the ballot initiative results from Colorado and Washington State back in November 2012, which allow under State law for cannabis to be consumed and sold by adults aged 21 and over, for both recreational and medicinal purposes. Now with Uruguay choosing to do the same, the tide truly seems to have shifted in our favour.
Concerning the US; opinion polls consistently show that the majority of voters are in favour of regulating cannabis in a similar way to alcohol (see Pew Research Poll). Certainly support for medically prescribed cannabis across the US is incredibly high, with an average of 70% of voters in favour of its legalisation. This includes the deeply conservative southern states, such as Georgia and Texas. Only recently has CNN’s Dr Sanjay Gupta, a former outspoken critic and sceptic of medical cannabis, come out in favour of its use. This would have been almost unthinkable five years ago, for a respected mainstream correspondent on a huge media news network to advocate for cannabis’ legalisation.
Although attitudes towards cannabis in the US are gradually changing for the better, the fact remains that there are still many US States that are extremely hostile to cannabis and its users. New York is a prime example, where everyday hundreds of people are cautioned and fined for their cannabis use, and where many people (especially people from the black community) are sentenced to serve prison time for distributing cannabis. This impact on communities can be massive, as a prison sentence makes finding a legitimate career an ever more difficult task. This of course leads many younger people to feel trapped and isolated, which drags them into a vicious cycle of habitual crime.
Currently New York, Ohio, Minnesota and Pennsylvania are in the process of addressing pending medical cannabis legislation which, if passed, represents another huge step forward for our cause. 2014 will no doubt go down in history as yet another key year for US cannabis law reform.
Further south, Latin America is also on the brink of a major breakthrough in terms of their collective drug policies. For too long the Latin American people have been subjected to the cold, harsh reality of the ‘war on drugs’ that consecutive US governments have relentlessly pursued. Over 60,000 Mexican people alone have been slaughtered as a result of this failed war since 2006, bringing almost incomprehensible devastation and pain to the affected families, and the country as a whole. However, there is hope that change is coming; the local government of Mexico City recently announced their plans to start debates as to whether or not cannabis should be legalised.
Columbia, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are also expected to take steps to further liberalise their respective countries’ policies toward cannabis in the near future. The fact that Uruguay has already taken the initiative will make this all the more inevitable.
As far as the UK goes, most advocates would agree that very little has changed in terms of legislation in the past 30 years. There have, however, been an ever increasing number of people who regularly consume cannabis. The invention of the internet has helped to debunk much of the propaganda that our governments and much of our mainstream media consistently spews. A much greater percentage of our population is now aware that when used responsibly, cannabis is statistically much safer to consume than alcohol, tobacco and many of the pharmaceutical drugs that are regularly sold. A poll that was conducted earlier this year by Ipsos MORI confirms that the majority of British people, like the American people, are in favour of seeing cannabis legalised and regulated. More pressure will need to be placed on our mainstream media and our political leaders to take our more views seriously.
Finally, if I can convey one message through this article, it is this: our struggle is not a national or domestic one; it is an international, global struggle that links us all. For every State in the US that legalises medical cannabis, our goal is furthered as a whole. For every person who is incarcerated for either distribution or possession of cannabis, whether it is in our country, or somewhere thousands of miles away from us, we all suffer. We must find ways to help strengthen our links with global organisations such as NORML and the Drug Policy Alliance that seek what we seek; and end to the costly, inhumane, and failed war against cannabis users.