The Beckley report, Licensing and Regulation of the Cannabis Market in England and Wales: Towards a Cost-Benefit Analysis, grasps of the economic consequences of a regulated market, as opposed to the current prohibitionist model. This is essential for evaluating the impacts of possible drug policy reform. The report outlines the factors which must be included in further cost-benefit analyses. The report costed 60.000 pounds and 3 years to create. Reliable data was often lacking and more evidence is needed.
In 1976 the Netherlands adopted a formal written policy of non-enforcement for violations involving possession or sale of up to 30 g of cannabis. The ‘gateway theory’ has long been seen as an argument for being tough on cannabis, but interestingly, the Dutch saw that concept as a rationale for allowing retail outlets to sell small quantities. Rather than seeing an inexorable psychopharmacological link between marijuana and hard drugs, the Dutch hypothesized that the gateway mechanism reflected social and economic networks, so that separating the markets would keep cannabis users out of contact with hard-drug users and sellers.
No serious commentator doubts that cannabis is potentially damaging to the user. Like tobacco, it is typically smoked and thus shares the potential for lung disease. Like alcohol, it affects reaction times and may raise the risk of road accidents. Cannabis has also been associated with cognitive impairment, deterioration in education performance (van Ours and Williams 2008), and psychotic illness (Arsenault 2004). Moreover, cannabis is often – albeit contentiously – seen as a causal gateway to more serious drug use (Kandel 2002). The question is what to do about it?
Cannabis is the cutting-edge drug for reform, the only politically plausible candidate for major legal change, at least decriminalisation (removal of criminal penalties for possession) and perhaps even outright legalisation (permitting production and sale). Compared with other drugs, the harms, physiological or behavioural, are less severe and the drug is better integrated into the culture. Throughout Western Europe and in the Antipodes there is pressure for reductions in the punitiveness of the marijuana regime.