Are Illnesses such as Marijuana Addiction Enough to Prevent Drug Decriminalisation?


A new report has been published in which two top charities have said that drug use should be decriminalised. They believe that those suffering from illnesses such as heroin, cocaine or marijuana addiction should be given access to treatment rather than be treated like criminals. The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and the Faculty of Public Health (FPH) believe that drug users should not be punished but should be given help to overcome their substance abuse problems.

The RSPH and the FPH are not the only organisations to feel this way; many charities and even some police forces in the UK are of the opinion that the current war on drugs has failed. In a recently published report titled Taking a New Line on Drugs, the organisations say that as well as decriminalising drugs for personal use, there should be more education in schools to pupils as young as five. They believe that young children should be educated on the dangers of drugs from a young age and that it should form a part of the PSHE curriculum.

Health Issue

Drug use is currently a Home Office matter here in the UK, but many believe that those who use drugs and have become addicted to these substances should be recognised as having an illness and that this, therefore, should be a matter for the Department of Health instead.

Campaigners here in the UK have long been calling for changes to the current drugs laws as they feel that the existing laws do nothing to improve public health. Some are of the opinion that punishing those found in possession of drugs for personal use actually results in greater long-term harm for the individual and those closest to that person.

Those who end up behind bars for drug possession are often exposed to harder drugs while inside, and being locked up can have a detrimental effect on the family of the affected person. When a family is split up due to one member’s incarceration, it can have a devastating effect on all involved. Relationships often suffer and some are damaged beyond repair. As well as the separation issues, there are also financial struggles for those left behind, which often continue when the person returns home and finds it difficult to get work with a criminal record.

Double Standards

Others are critical of the fact that there are a number of other dangerous substances still legally available, which are having a detrimental effect on the health of those who use them. Baroness Molly Meacher, who was speaking for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Police Reform, said that current legislation criminalises those who use certain psychoactive substances while other psychoactive substances such as alcohol and tobacco are still legal but also cause harm to health.

Effects of Drugs on Health and the Economy

While many believe that decriminalising drugs is the way forward, some others remain adamant that drugs should remain illegal. A spokesperson for the Home Office said, “The UK’s approach on drugs remains clear – we must prevent drug use in our communities and support people dependent on drugs through treatment and recovery. At the same time, we have to stop the supply of illegal drugs and tackle the organised crime behind the drugs trade.”

Drug use continues to be prevalent in England and Wales, with 34.7 per cent of adults between the ages of sixteen and fifty-nine admitting to having taken drugs during their life. These figures were obtained during a survey for the Home Office in 2014/2015.

The numbers have revealed that every year, the cost of drug arrests is £535 million. However, according to the Office for National Statistics, there has been a drop in the number of drug offences in 2015 on the previous year.

Should Cannabis Be Legalised?

While some people would agree to the decriminalisation of drugs for personal possession, most remain clear that those who supply drugs should continue to be severely punished by the full weight of the law.

In addition, many people do not believe that illegal drugs such as heroin or cocaine should ever be made legal, although, it is a different story when it comes to marijuana. In many US states, marijuana has been made legal for recreational and medicinal purposes. Some advocates believe that the same rules should apply here in the UK.

Nevertheless, recent studies have found that the brains of long-term users of cannabis are significantly affected by their habit. Dr Francesca Filbey from the University of Texas at Dallas and lead author of the study said, “This study shows that marijuana disrupts the natural reward circuitry of the brain, making marijuana highly salient to those who use it heavily.”

She believes that the alterations in the brain could mark the difference between someone who uses marijuana recreationally to someone who has developed marijuana addiction. Campaigners for the legalisation of marijuana can often be cited as saying the drug is harmless and not addictive.


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