It’s been just over a year since Colorado legalised marijuana for recreational use and to borrow the phrase of a Denver Police Officer in a recent interview, the sky hasn’t fallen.
The officer claimed that the Colorado police “aren’t seeing much of a change” in how they conduct their duties since legalisation, and figures show that impaired driving, property crime and violent crime have all fallen since legalisation. It seems that the paranoid Republican nightmare of jobless addicts, who before legalisation worked in law firms and had never had a single toke, roaming the streets were unfounded. On the flip side, the Republican dream of cold hard cash in large amounts has definitely become a reality.
First year sales indicate that legalisation has brought in around $60 million in marijuana taxing and licensing fees, whilst the state has also saved most, if not all, of the $145 million it has been estimated was spent each year on fighting marijuana. These figures don’t event take in to account the increased revenues and jobs created from tourism, which has also increased, and other industries that receive a boost from marijuana legalisation (think Amsterdam’s late night bakeries). The single most interesting case of job creation might be a local newspaper appointing its first official cannabis critic, but estimates for total creation are about 10,000.
The profits are not just going straight into state coffers either as voters decided that a portion of revenue should go back in to local government, with the first $40 million in excise taxes annually being dedicated to a state-wide school construction fund. School districts can also apply for grants of $1.5 million, funded by tax revenues, to hire nurses, social workers, and psychologists to help prevent and treat substance abuse among students. Far from falling, the sky seems to be clear and blue.
With this success many more states have started pressing harder on legalisation, with New York filing a bill to legalise in January. The discussion has even made its way across the Atlantic, with numerous stories appearing in the national press about changing attitudes towards legalisation and party opinions in the run up to the general election. With this in mind we conducted a short online survey of University of Bath students to gauge opinions towards legalisation and marijuana use in Bath.
Out of 436 University of Bath students surveyed, 64.4% said that they had taken cannabis at least once in their lives. This is more than double the national average, with the British Drugs Survey 2014 (conducted by The Observer and Opium Research) finding that 26% of 16 – 24 year-olds had taken marijuana. This difference could be explained somewhat due to our research being conducted online and promoted via social media, so there is likely an element of self-selective bias. However, the British Drugs Survey also showed that 40% of drug users were in social grades AB, so the high usage could be reflective of Bath being an affluent area.
Of the 64.4% of students who have taken cannabis, a signifi cant number do so on a regular basis, with 5.0% saying they currently do so every day, 9.6% saying they do so few times a week and 11.0% saying they do so weekly. This corresponds to 16.5% of the 436 total respondents taking cannabis at least once a week, indicating that out of 16,425 students on campus, roughly 2,475 take cannabis on a weekly basis.
The majority of students who have taken cannabis are casual users however, with 26.0% saying they take it on a less than monthly basis and 28.7% saying that they used to smoke and do not smoke anymore. 10.7% answered N/A, suggesting that they also do not currently smoke.
Regular use of cannabis has been linked to instances of psychosis and mental health issues in later life, with a lot being written, or watched in the case of Jon Snow, in recent weeks regarding ‘skunk’. This is perhaps reflected in the figure that 45.4% of Bath students know of someone who have had a negative experience from cannabis use, although these negative experiences only marginally (-0.8%) impact whether or not someone has taken cannabis.
In the short term, heavy use has also been linked to concentration difficulties and motivation loss, which can obviously lead to education difficulties. This can be seen in the qualitative elements of the survey, with one student claiming that “It’s not conducive to a productive work ethic”, and another saying “I felt it was affecting my concentration and I didn’t want it to have an impact on my studies”.
Despite these negative elements, there is also research to show that controlled use has clear benefits, both medically in the long term and in helping with relaxation and anxiety issues in the short term. This is also reflected in the survey, with one student stating, “University is hard, weed takes the edge off ”.
In terms of supply, 35.1% of students have bought weed from ‘a dealer’, this is almost identical to the national average of 35% of 16 – 24 year-olds (The British Drugs Survey 2014). Of those who have purchased from a dealer, 60.8% have bought from a dealer in Bath and out of the 436 students who took the survey in total, 21.3% had purchased weed from ‘a dealer’ in Bath. These lower numbers compared to usage are reflected in the fact that 58.7% of Bath students have ethical or safety concerns over buying weed from the illegal market, although this falls to 45.8% of those who have bought from a dealer.
The safety concerns are fairly obvious; there is a danger in buying from a stranger who you do not know and the obvious risk of being caught by the police. Furthermore, when you are buying on the unregulated illegal market there is no guarantee that the drug you are taking is what was marketed to you. With cannabis use this can lead to a poorer quality product and a less enjoyable high, but when the drugs in question are synthetics or powder the risks become more serious. Drugs like MDMA and cocaine are regularly cut with other substances, such as Bath Salts and Crystal Meth, and this can potentially lead to fatalities.
The ethical issues with the black market are numerous. The drug trade is intrinsically linked to criminal gangs and human trafficking, with the profits of seemingly harmless crimes such as smoking cannabis being used to fuel darker deeds. The war on drugs has also been an incredibly controversial, with its affect at home, invasive and inherently racist stop and search programs that increase incarceration rates of young black men, and abroad, the targeted destruction of communities in Latin America by the military and cartels, being plain to see.
It is these problems that proponents of legalisation claim would be solved by a regulated market. The quality of the drugs being sold would improve and be clearly marked, whilst regulated growers and distributors would remove the monopoly that criminal gangs and cartels have on production. As with Colorado, the amount of money received in the legal economy rather than the black market would be substantial, with the Institute for Economic and Research estimating that up to £900m could be raised annually through taxation of regulated cannabis market in the UK. Finally, legalisation would also save the £361 million that is currently spent every year on policing and treating users of illegally traded and consumed cannabis in the UK.
These arguments seemingly resound well amongst Bath students, with a resounding 73.6% of those surveyed claiming they support legalising marijuana use. This fi gure rises to 87.9% amongst students who have taken it before, and even amongst those who used to smoke but no longer do, 84.5% support legalisation. However, the number does fall to 66.2% amongst those who know someone who has had a negative experience from it, but this still almost a two thirds majority. Finally, 54.8% of Bath Students say that they would smoke weed if it was legal, with this figure rising to 67.3% amongst those who support legislation.
These figures are significantly higher than The British Drug Use Survey 2014 that found 34.8% of 16 – 24s favour legalising cannabis. However, the findings do mirror a wider trend in public opinion, with Transform, the drugs policy and research think tank, commissioning a poll that found 53% of the British public support cannabis legalisation or decriminalisation of possession. They also found that only 1 in 7 support heavier penalties and spending more being on enforcement. Whether or not this will become a reality is questionable however. The two main parties, the Conservatives and Labour, are both opposed to decriminalisation. UKIP have suggested that they would support a Royal Commission on drugs policy to examine alternatives, but do not have a full formed policy.
Unsurprisingly, the most pro-legalisation party is the Green Party, who favours decriminalising cannabis and axing prison sentences for other drugs, whilst Nick Clegg recently promised to hand drugs from the Home Office to the Department of Health if the Liberal Democrats were elected. He also argued for British pilots of the Portuguese approach, where possession of drugs is an “administrative offence” rather than a criminal one, and promised that his party would investigate the legislation experiments seen in parts of the U.S. such as Colorado.
Our survey would suggest that these progressive policies would poll well amongst the youth vote that the Liberal Democrats are so desperate to get back, but whether they will be able to instigate them is a different matter. As part of the current coalition they commissioned a Home Office report into drugs policy, yet this caused controversy when the Conservatives were accused of “suppressing” the report’s release. Consequentially, whether they could infl uence another coalition into seriously reconsidering drugs policy is highly doubtable.
What is clear is that in Bath, at least, cannabis use is widely accepted and legalisation resoundingly favoured. If this trend is mirrored amongst students and young people around the country, and further experiments like Colorado prove to be successful, then the discussion around decriminalisation will not go away, and the arguments of those who are pro-legislation will only strengthen.
Photo credits: bathimpact