History highlights the absurdity of legal alcohol alongside illegal cannabis – time for the end of prohibition.
It’s no secret the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world’s economy to its knees. Across the globe, in 2020, there were record-breaking levels of unemployment. In fact, the virus negativity impacted four out of five jobs, worldwide. Importantly, the pandemic ushered in an unprecedented period of personal uncertainly and self reflection, professional turmoil, and, unfortunately, an increase in alcohol abuse. The ongoing pandemic was and is the perfect backdrop for the end of prohibition of cannabis. But, no.
The End of Prohibition Starts with the People
The history of prohibition in America starts with alcohol. The 18th Amendment made the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcohol illegal. When was prohibition? It started in 1920 and ended in 1933. Truthfully, the prohibition amendment lost public support during the Great Depression, which hit Europe and the United States the hardest. And it became an unenforceable policy – finally bringing the end of prohibition.
Sadly, prohibition had already allowed organized crime gangs in the U.S. to flourish. This was largely due to high-margin profits from selling illegal booze that then fuelled underground empires. Corruption, violent turf wars, and often unsafe and over-priced alcohol followed. Soon life with legal booze didn’t look so bad.
So, it makes sense that those struggling financially spoke up in favour of safer streets and alcohol that was regulated, fairly-priced and not poisonous. Those families and individuals on or below the breadline yearned for legalized, taxable alcohol all through prohibition. Additionally, this was all wasted income the government could have used to help the poor instead of lining the pockets of ruthless gangsters, like Al Capone.
When Alcohol is Legal but Cannabis is Not
Drink is the deadliest killer in the drug world, legal or illegal. It quietly ravages homes and communities while racking up enormous body counts. Enticing ads appear on screens everywhere aiming to coax you into temporarily switching off from the world.
In America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that alcohol is responsible for 95,000 deaths annually. It’s an alarming number and far higher than the US death tallies for guns, car crashes, and drug overdoses. Not only is liquor the leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S., but it also costs the country hundreds of billions of dollars each year. In Ireland, where I come from, alcohol is responsible for over a thousand deaths annually at a cost of over two billion euro to the taxpayer.
These lucrative liquids are all good taxable drugs in the eyes of the governments that allow their sale. The river of money these taxes generate — as well as the cool, glamorous ad campaigns — often deflect people’s attention from alcohol’s destructive side.
Alternatively, there is cannabis. Although regularly demonized, cannabis has a very different story. So different that it’s impossible to comprehend why any government would be fine with one dangerous drug being completely legal and then cannabis set as illegal. Truly, one kills thousands annually and the other, cannabis, has no attributable deaths.
Cannabis is Not Illegal Because it’s Dangerous
THC is the main psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis and is responsible for the resulting feelings of euphoria. About nine per cent of people who regularly consume cannabis become addicted to this euphoria and then become entangled in a powerful mental addiction. These are facts that must not be brushed under the carpet. But, these facts do not diminish the potential wellness benefits of cannabis.
Alcohol, on the other hand, has no healing qualities. Importantly, several studies have indicated that there is no safe amount of alcohol. Perhaps it has benefit in cleansing wounds, but alcohol can never be said to be something a person consumes to improve health.
The approved medical uses of cannabis-based pharmaceuticals include: nausea and vomiting relating to cancer treatment, epilepsy, lack of appetite, and pain. Further, it is under investigation by pharmaceutical companies for the treatment of cancer, including tumor reduction in the case of glioma, and prevention of metastasis. GW Pharmaceuticals, alone, as over 100 patents approved or pending.
It is worth noting, however, that whole plant medicine, from the cannabis plant, is not yet an FDA-approved. It remains a Schedule I substance with no accepted medical value. The double standard is something that confounds cannabis advocates the world over.
In Ireland, as in many American states, recreational cannabis consumption is still a crime. And if you require the plant for medical purposes you must have one of a very limited list of conditions. For Ireland, these are treatment-resistant epilepsy, intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, and spasticity associated with MS. While this trio of conditions represents legal cannabis having its foot in the door, it’s still infuriating that the door is only ajar.
The End of Prohibition in Canada
As an Irishman living in Canada for the last decade, I’ve witnessed legalization and the end of cannabis prohibition. For Canadians this came in October, 2018. People with chronic pain and anxiety can now choose cannabis instead of prescription drugs. Even more, the plant is talked about positively in a public setting and people grow their own medicine in the back garden.
My home province is Ontario and it expects to earn C$420m from cannabis tax. Further, Canadians with a medical cannabis prescription can claim over C$2,000 back from their yearly medicine bill. Since legalization there also appears to be a heightened awareness of cannabis and addiction issues with youth. On top of this, greater efforts have been made by the Canadian government — in the form of ad campaigns and harsher sentences — to thwart those drugging and driving.
It is by no means a perfect model but it beats allowing gangsters to profit from selling unfairly-priced cannabis with question marks over its quality and safety.
End of Prohibition Protects Migrants
A 2014 report by The Migrant Rights Centre points to another dark side of Ireland’s illegal cannabis industry – migrant casualties. With Irish and foreign criminal gangs in charge of Irish cannabis, human exploitation is routine. Trafficking and slavery victims are taking the fall by regularly doing time in Irish jails for the gangsters behind the grow operations. Sadly, the report says these victims account for 75 per cent of convictions in Ireland for large-scale cannabis grow ops.
These news stories have grown tiresome. You know the ones “Arrest made after police seize cannabis worth €100,000”. Every second day there seems to be a new one in the news. If cannabis were legalized and regulated there’d be less innocent people sitting pointlessly and unfairly in cells.
Prohibition History Repeats Itself
History has a tendency to be repetitious. Just like the Great Depression of the 1930s, the COVID-19 pandemic of the 2020s also has a prohibited, yet increasingly popular, substance. And one that I imagine many struggling people might like to see legalized and taxed. These monies can be put toward their well-being and financial benefit. While Canada and many of America’s states have made cannabis legal recreationally and medicinally, Europe — and more specifically Ireland — is lagging behind.
A recent poll suggests that the Irish population are more in favour of legalization than the Irish government might assume. Conducted by journal.ie the results of the poll were emphatic with a whopping 93 per cent surveyed in favour of legalizing cannabis for medicinal purposes. Additionally, 40 per cent were in favour of legalizing cannabis entirely, recreationally and medically. Poll figures like these make you wonder when the Irish government is going to cut out the criminals and put the medical needs and safety of the Irish people first. And let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later.
The COVID-19 pandemic has opened our collective conscious to issues of freedom and government oversight. People call for freedom. Entire governmental party platforms are now based on this rally cry. The Great Depression was also the catalyst for societal change in a country that needed the legal alcohol revenue from taxes and the jobs it promised. This time we want legalization for a plant that has potential healing properties instead of a liquid that more frequently destroy lives than helps them.