US Attorney General Jeff Sessions famously said “Good people do not smoke marijuana.” I laughed out loud when I heard him say it. Several US states have legalised recreational marijuana usage, and frankly, it’s about time. In the news much more recently, South Africa also legalised private marijuana usage (while it is still illegal to distribute or deal), with Canada having done so as well for amounts of the psychoactive drug up to 30 grams. It would seem that more and more governing bodies are opening up to the idea that cannabis use, contrary to Mr. Sessions’s point of view, is not a bad thing. I hope the UK realise this, too, as I think it’s high time the grass was legal throughout the UK.
Before I delve into student mental health, allow me to quickly add that as with any mind-altering substance, cannabis can be abused just the same as alcohol, prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Research in how cannabis can be used effectively, therefore, is all the more important and enlightening; Oxford University have launched a £10 million programme for this purpose.
Research surrounding marijuana usage and mental health suggests both specific beneficial and detrimental effects. It can help with anything from serious medical conditions to something simple we aren’t estranged from in St Andrews – hangovers; but can have severe detrimental effects on folks with bipolar disorder. To start, though, here’s a word that is not used sparingly in St Andrews (or any university in this day and age): depression. One study, done by The Centre for Epidemiological Studies in 2006, found that adult marijuana users of varying frequency, compared to non-users, reported feeling less depressed and had fewer somatic complaints. Other bodies, such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists, emphasize that early marijuana use by minors has been research-linked to later problems with depression and even schizophrenia – having seen this, they equally emphasize that minors already suffering from depression before beginning marijuana use were not more likely than before to develop more severe depression. We, at St Andrews, have seen our fair share of marijuana use either in ourselves or in people we know, over varying points in our lives. I find it uplifting, personally, to think that some of the biggest mental health problems we experience in a student-run town could be helped by cannabis, access to it and education about it, which would all ideally come with its legalization.
Cannabis is also purported to help individuals suffering from social anxiety. I would be gagged if I found someone here in St Andrews, of all places, that had never suffered from social anxiety. A study led by experts from the University of British Columbia in 2016 showed that a therapeutic application of cannabidiol, or CBD, use showed decrease in anxiety symptoms, particularly in folks with social anxiety. Living in a place that can be conducive to social anxiety, this could prove to be a huge benefit to a community like ours.
I say all of this remaining conscious of the family and friends I know whose lives have been negatively impacted by drug use. Getting involved with the wrong people at university in America has led to people I love becoming addicted to drugs, beginning with marijuana and working up to harder stuff. They ended up taking time off and completely starting over, for which there is no reason to be ashamed, but it is important to remain cognisant of different genetic predispositions to addictive tendencies, something I’ve learned about my own family and take into account regularly. What is also noteworthy, though, is cannabis’ observed effects on those who suffer from addiction. There is a wealth of research which points to CBD, the same compound which alleviates social anxiety symptoms, as a therapy for drug and alcohol addictions, particularly opioid addiction, something that has been ravaging the southeastern part of the USA. A treatment centre in Los Angeles started using cannabis as a treatment method for addiction recovery.
I also never forget that drug trade as it stands now is a complex system which in some cases leads to further crime that hurts people and communities. A legal, regulated distribution system could undercut the damage that illegal drug trade does, obviously vitiating the crimes currently being committed, and minimizing the amount of marijuana being circulated which has been cut with harmful synthetic substances which are responsible for a substantial number of emergency room visits. Such a system could also put more educated folks in charge of the regulated circulation of these drugs. A high school in my home state this year saw several students admitted to hospital after taking gummy bears laced with a huge amount of THC. Though this incident is not resultant from badly cut marijuana, it is resultant from a poor attempt to create a marijuana-like high using the same chemical.
In Colorado, the Amendment 64 ballot specified that the first 40 million dollars of revenue in marijuana sales, regulated by local governments, would go towards the B.E.S.T. Program, one which funds improvements to and construction of Colorado public schools. I saw an article the other day in The Courier covering concern over school budget cuts to a school in Fife. I can’t help but merge these two ideas in my own head – could this country adopt a system similar to Colorado’s, whereby revenue from regulated marijuana sales could be used to do some good? Perhaps fund education, or initiatives aimed at uplifting disenfranchised communities? That can be very much up for debate.
I leave you with one more remark – I spoke of the folks in my life who have been affected by drug use, including but not limited to marijuana, but I insist that this does not compare whatsoever to those who have loved ones behind bars for marijuana-related crimes. It is indeed good news that cannabis-related arrests have gone down by around 46% since 2010, but there are still thousands of folks behind bars for offences which may not have been hurting anyone. Of course, without case-by-case knowledge, it is difficult to speculate – some may be behind bars simply for possession, some for intent to distribute, and who knows what those distributed drugs could be cut with, if anything. I can’t help but feel a profound sadness, though, at the fact that many folks doing no harm to anyone have been incarcerated and have had their records blemished. Imagine if a student, your friend, ended up in such a situation.
Lastly, it is impossible to discuss drug legislation without covering inherent racial profiling. It has been estimated that black Britons are eight times more likely to be stopped for a stop-and-search on the grounds of a police officer having smelled marijuana. This is a practice I find particularly problematic and inconsistent for this exact reason – it’s been observed by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary that black, asian and other minority Britons are disproportionately stopped and searched.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid insisted a couple months ago that the government had no plans of legalizing cannabis after former Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs William Hague bluntly claimed that the UK had “irreversibly lost” the war on drugs. I see no need for a war on cannabis in this day and age (or throughout history, for that matter); cannabis legalization deserves the green light from the government.