Our flexibility around saying one thing but doing another informs our attitude towards cannabis. Though illegal, the drug is commonly used in a recreational setting, and increasingly for medical objectives.
The campaign to legalise it has gathered momentum, though the concerns of those who oppose that remain valid, even if the positive impact the drug may have is more widely understood.
Vera Twomey, who campaigned to get a licence for cannabis-based medication for her daughter Ava, spoke to a House of Commons committee in recent days about the benefits the drug brings.
They were also highlighted by Charlotte Caldwell, whose son Billy suffers from epilepsy.
Billy’s medicinal cannabis was confiscated recently. In the year before that he did not have a seizure but after the drug was confiscated he had five in less than a week. His medication was quickly
returned in a way that must set a precedent. That impetus has been recognised by Health Minister Simon Harris, who is considering extending access to medicinal cannabis.
In an environment where powerful opiates are everyday, as many of the former patients at Britain’s Gosport War Memorial Hospital discovered, it might be imagined these considerations might be quickly concluded.
After all, if morphine and its potential for disaster is a painkiller of choice, how can something as relatively benign as cannabis oil be outlawed?
And there’s the rub. If used as a medicine, cannabis does not usually offer the experience recreational users seek. Cannabis, no matter what its champions argue, is linked to brain damage, including schizophrenia.
Regular users are less alert than they might otherwise be and there is evidence that usage stops brain development. Cannabis is, after all, called dope for good reasons. These concerns are sharpened as stronger forms of cannabis — skunk — become common.
That cannabis drives America’s “war on drugs” adds another layer of complexity. That multi-million white elephant has failed socially and economically.
In America, it just fills prisons; in Mexico, the morgues; and in Ireland, our courts. This dynamic seems all the more bizarre when societies that legalise cannabis record a fall in crime and a lower addiction rate to more powerful drugs.
It is natural to focus on the impact drug misuse can have on individuals even if the far wider impact drugs have is all too obvious. Poor, marginalised communities are further impoverished. The Kinahan-Hutch feud is rooted in the fact that we ban some drugs.
The go-to argument against legalising cannabis is that it would be a catalyst for further addictions. This suggests a vulnerability, a weakness that the ever-falling graph of alcohol use in Ireland refutes.
The use of that legalised drug, once a destructive national characteristic, is falling dramatically, especially among young adults.
That chain-breaking was brought about by education and regulation and may offer a template for how we treat cannabis. Whether we legalise the drug or allow its regulated use is an open question but it is well beyond any debate that our current legislation, and how we barely enforce it, is well past its sell-by date.