Today's news: The Government has said that moving cannabis from a class B to class C drug, where possession is no longer an arrestable offence, would give their drug policy greater credibility among young people and help police direct resources towards heroin and cocaine.
So what do you think? Is reclassification a good thing? Should dope be legalised completely? Not know too much about dope (honest!) I've been doing some reseach.
Some background information
Street names: Dope, blow, smoke, hash, puff, black (usually for cannabis resin); grass, ganja, marijuana (i.e. mary jane), weed, pot, bush (usually for the leaves and buds of the plant) but some of these names are interchangeable. Nowadays 'skunk' is also popular, a variety of grass grown to be particularly potent, which has stronger hallucinogenic properties.
Official names: Cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, cannabis ruderalis
The current law
Class B Drug: meaning 'mid-range' penalties.
Simple Possession: The maximum penalties available are three months, £500 fine or both if dealt with in a magistrate's court, or five years, unlimited fine or both if dealt with in a crown court.
Possession with intent to supply: you do not need to possess a huge amount to be charged with this; a small gift to a friend can render you liable. A large amount for purely personal use might also be taken as obvious proof of intent to supply.
Offering to supply: The offence happens if an offer to sell the drug is made, whether it is accepted or not.
Supplying / Producing: One person buying on behalf of a group can be charged with supplying. The maximum penalties available for the above three offences are: six months, £5,000 fine or both if dealt with in a magistrate's court, or fourteen years, unlimited fine or both if dealt with in a crown court.
What is it and how will I feel if I take it?
Cannabis is a naturally growing plant that prospers in equatorial regions, and is most commonly exported from Thailand, India, Morocco (where the bulk of the UK's cannabis originates), Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, although it can flourish in the wild in any sunny environment such as the west coast of America. Cannabis comes in two common forms. Resin is a black/brown substance, sometimes soft and sticky, sometimes hard, which in its natural state is exuded from the flowering tops of the plant and is called hashish, while what is usually referred to as grass is the leaves, stalks and buds of the plant. There is also a thick oil variety of resin called hash oil, which is five times more potent weight for weight than resin. Average prices are £15 for 1/8th of an ounce of resin, or between £15-£20 for 1/8th of on ounce of grass.
Resin is the most widespread form of cannabis in the UK, coming in slabs, chunks or balls. It is usually mixed with tobacco and rolled into a smokable 'joint' or 'spliff', or the mixture is put into a pipe or a (often home-made) construct called a bong. Resin can also be burnt neat and the fumes inhaled. In America grass is far more common and is smoked neat rolled in a cigarette paper or in a pipe. Both resin and grass can also be drunk in a tea concoction or eaten, either neat or baked into cakes, biscuits, chocolate etc. The main active ingredient in cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinoil, or THC.
If smoked ('toked'), it shouldn't be longer than five minutes before the effects are felt. These include a heightened awareness of sound, colour and textures, a desire to 'get deep into' a discussion (as is the case with most other drugs, a non-user sat with a bunch of dope smokers will find it extremely tedious) and a dreamy and light-headed floating sensation. Music or TV may suddenly seem endlessly fascinating or unusually moving; fits of giggles are the standard, as is the desire to stuff your face (known universally as 'the munchies'). This all depends, of course, on the strength of the cannabis. Fresh skunk weed, as well as giving off a thick pungent aroma that will stink out the surrounding environment, can cause mild hallucinations and make it difficult to have a discussion, let alone move around. A light resin joint might just make that CD sound better than it did previously. Resin tends to have a more 'sleepy' effect, while grass can sometimes have a 'speedy' quality that some say aids artistic creativity. You may lose track of time, and short-term memory can be temporarily confused. Performing simple tasks can seem quite complicated, albeit sometimes amusing; sudden occurrences can be scary or 'freaky'. Some people find cannabis makes them immediately nauseous, while others say it has no effect on them whatsoever.
If eaten, cannabis can take up to 90 minutes to produce any result, but the effects can be much stronger than smoking - all the above effects but multiplied until the user is hugging the toilet bowl. It is harder to regulate how much you consume - a smoker can just stop when they've had enough.
Whether cannabis is 'safe' or not is the issue that dominates every discussion about legalising it. In terms of risks to general health, cannabis is 'safe' - no one has ever died directly from consuming cannabis, and nor are they likely to, which makes it safer than any mind-altering drug, legal or otherwise, currently available. Yet cannabis is at least psychologically addictive, albeit mildly so in comparison to other drugs. A World Health Report in 1981 on cannabis concluded that the main risk was lung cancer - hashish smoke/cannabis tar is more harmful than cigarette smoke - and seeing as most European dope smokers combine the two, the potential for harm is obvious.
Aside from this, the main effect of cannabis was said to be on 'intellectual function'. Long-term users face 'impaired functioning on a variety of cognitive and performance tasks during marijuana intoxication'. In other words, memory, sense of time, reaction time, motor co-ordination and attention would all be impaired to some degree. But the main complaint from regular cannabis users is the general sense of apathy, tiredness, and sheer 'can't be bothered' attitude that it brings on. Getting up is harder; sleep is erratic and dream-free (or at least dreams aren't recalled as well); short-term memory loss is common; and some hardened smokers told how they would start things (e.g. work projects, reading a book etc.) but never finish, as they found it harder to concentrate and were easily distracted, with the mind wandering from random thought to random thought. They also found they tended to stay in more, slumped in front of the TV with no enthusiasm for life.
Of course, this all depends on how much cannabis is consumed, the way it is consumed and how often. Someone who enjoys a joint every weekend is unlikely to experience many, if any, of these ill-effects, whereas a heavy user who smokes for several hours every evening will soon find they've slipped into a pattern of use that obscures much else in life. Cannabis intoxication - getting stoned - produces the same results as having a drink; it temporarily pushes problems aside and relaxes the soul after, say, a hard day at the office. In this way it is addictive, just as anything pleasant could be said to be addictive. Cannabis does not always mix well with alcohol - just one joint and a can of lager can produce immediate nausea in some people who would have been fine if they'd stuck to either substance on its own. Horses for courses.
Medical opinion is still split on whether cannabis is physically addictive. Most cannabis users agree that it is a 'mind' thing rather than a 'body' thing, and users who regularly take a break from the drug report no more than mild cravings that are just as likely to be nicotine withdrawal as anything else. Also, these cravings would often only occur at the time they would normally take cannabis - for example, if they were used to having a joint when they got home from work at a particular time, or every Saturday night, etc.
Another controversial issue is that of 'cannabis psychosis', or long-term mental derangement bought on by cannabis use. There is no real convincing evidence for this, yet it was cited as one of the main anti-legalisation arguments for years. Temporary mental imbalance can and does occur, characterised by paranoia, irrational thoughts and actions and general confusion, although, again, cannabis consumption has to be large and constant - not the case with the majority of casual users. This will usually clear if cannabis use is halted.
In 1988, the American Drug Enforcement Agency reported that 'Nearly all medicines have toxic, potentially lethal effects, but marijuana is not such a substance. Marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.' Not that this stopped the DEA spending millions of dollars every year on trying to combat cannabis use.
There is a whole other field of cannabis research - its beneficial effects when used as a medicinal substance - that is too huge to go into here, but sufferers of various diseases, particularly those with MS, have cited cannabis as the only drug that brings them a satisfying measure of relief from their pain.
So the bottom line is that using cannabis is not at odds with an active, happy, healthy lifestyle if taken in moderation. As my grandfather used to say, "moderation in all things."
But it can also take over your life if you let it.
[thanks to various sources: BBC, LCA, the Met etc.]