Cannabis, once one of the primary focuses of the war on drugs, is seeing an unprecedented image transformation. While the drug remains illegal in the majority of the world, a slow movement towards decriminalisation, and in some cases legalisation, is being seen.
Cannabis is now legal in Colorado, Washington and the city of Portland, Maine, and other US states and cities are likely to follow. The drug was also recently legalised in Uruguay, with the law set to come into effect in 2015.
In the UK the Liberal Democrats, one of the leading political parties, has suggested legalisation of cannabis will be a key part of its next election manifesto.
While an undoubtedly cynical move aimed at re-attracting young voters disenfranchised by the party’s recent change of heart over university tuition fees, the proposal is unprecedented and shows how far the movement for legalisation has come.
It is easy to attribute this entirely to a shift in thinking about the medical value of cannabis, and that certainly has had an impact, but under the surface has been a myriad of social changes in cannabis use that have undoubtedly played a role.
Silk Road’s legacy
Technology has had a remarkable impact on how cannabis is bought and sold, with the most famous example being the now-defunct darknet site Silk Road.
For those of us who used Silk Road or one of its alternatives, it felt like something out of a utopian future. While street purchases are fraught with risk, Silk Road operated as a kind of Amazon Marketplace for drugs.
Users from around the world were faced with a myriad of cannabis options, rivalled only by legal vendors in Amsterdam. A rating system ensured that dodgy vendors were quickly rooted out, and at the site’s heyday, next-day delivery was more or less expected for domestic vendors in many countries.
You really could place an order for a few grams of cannabis at lunchtime and find them sitting on your doormat the next morning.
When the FBI took down the site in 2013, many users for the first time experienced the feeling of a technology regressing; a rare experience in today’s ever-improving world.
“Silk Road’s demise has certainly had an impact on public interest in legalising cannabis“
While later iterations of Silk Road and its alternatives appeared, none have reached the scale or functional perfection that Silk Road managed; in the time it was active the site hosted transactions totalling an estimated $1.2bn.
The drugs marketplace has undoubtedly had an impact on attitudes towards to legalisation of cannabis. While users previously accepted its illegality, when faced with the loss of such a simple purchasing system many started to question the value of keeping it that way.
It might be impossible to prove, but Silk Road’s demise has certainly had an impact on public interest in legalising cannabis.
Clearly the growing body of research about cannabis’ potential use in healthcare has had an enormous impact on its level of acceptance.
There is an enormous variety of conditions cannabis has been found to benefit. Among these are treating and preventing the eye disease glaucoma, controlling epileptics seizures, slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and reducing tremors from Parkinson’s disease.
Recent studies have also found evidence that cannabis can prevent the spread of cancer, and can prevent the remission of incurable autoimmune disease Crohn’s.
It’s safe to say that if cannabis was discovered for the first time today, the media would call it a wonder drug.
For politicians looking to change the law, the drug’s medical benefits are an acceptable public reason for support: politically speaking the grandmother with cancer is a far better publicity image than the deadbeat stoner.
Death of tobacco
Cannabis is often associated with its legal smoking cousin tobacco, however the two are seeing very different shifts in use and image.
In many countries tobacco has been the subject of a wildly successful social engineering project, with the eventual aim of removing it from sale due to the number of smoking-related deaths each year.
Despite cannabis being the illegal one, there is also some evidence that it is overtaking tobacco in use.
In the UK 30% Brits have used cannabis, while in the US the number is slightly higher, at 38%. By comparison only 19% of Brits and 20% of Americans are smokers.
“Their only warning to cannabis users is to stay away from joints and instead invest in a vaporiser“
In the UK, in the privacy of the consulting room many doctors will encourage patients to continue using cannabis to treat certain conditions, whilst simultaneously telling smokers they must quit immediately.
Their only warning to cannabis users is to stay away from joints and instead invest in a vaporiser, advice that will almost certainly become the subject of a public health campaign at some point in the future.
It is entirely plausible that some decades from now vaping cannabis will be acceptable legal behaviour, whilst smoking tobacco could land you with a prison sentence.
Featured image courtesy of Theo via Flickr/Creative Commons licence.