Cannabis is Good for You - Legalise it!

Cannabis is fun, healthy and should be legalised

How many gay and HIV organisations will be marching in London on Saturday 16 June to demand the legalisation of cannabis? None I expect. No change there, then!

On last years joyful, celebratory "Legalise it!" march, queers and positives were totally invisible.

Where were the fags and dykes? I found the gay absence rather surprising, since recreational drug use is widespread on the gay scene. Surely we want to defend our right to use dope and have fun?

Moreover, cannabis has many health benefits - especially for people with HIV. Criminalisation is inhibiting access to one of the world's most effective natural drugs.

Why is it that queer and HIV organisations are apparently unwilling to work with straight groups in a united campaign to get this stupid, draconian ban lifted? Have we become so selfish and inward looking that nothing beyond our own immediate, narrow and exclusive queer world matters? Isn't there more to being gay than screwing, clubbing and shopping?

The legalisation of cannabis is both a human rights and health issue. That is why the Terrence Higgins Trust, Stonewall, and the National AIDS Trust should be on the 16 June "Legalise it!" march. But I doubt they will. It is not a respectable cause. What is more, their presence might get them into trouble with their political paymasters and benefactors, Jack Straw and Tony Blair.

New Labour is irrationally - and fanatically - anti-cannabis. I wonder why? Perhaps it is because the government is in the pockets of the big tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceutical companies - all of whom would lose out financially if cannabis was made legal. Many consumers might switch from more dangerous and expensive booze, cigarettes and prescription drugs to the safer, cheaper and more enjoyable alternative of cannabis. The profits of big corporations would nose-dive. That's the real reason why the political and business establishment is against legalisation.

Why should we collude with their greedy, selfish interests?

The arguments for cannabis legalisation and gay equality are strikingly similar. Both are about the right of people to do what they want with their own bodies. The principles at stake are personal choice and individual freedom. Unless people are harming others, no government has the right to violate their autonomy and dictate their lifestyle. Live and let live!

I support legalising cannabis for two main reasons: it's fun and it's good for you.

The fun bit is obvious to anyone who has tried it. The senses are heightened and intensified. Food, movies, sex, conversation and partying are a whole lot more enjoyable on a cannabis high. Things go better with dope!

Like everything, of course, cannabis can be abused. Being stoned all the time is not a good idea, and smoking joints does have some health risks.

When taken for recreational pleasure, it is much better to limit cannabis use to special occasions. That way you appreciate and enjoy it more. Moreover, eating cannabis is safer than smoking. There is no evidence that sensible, moderate usage is harmful.

On the contrary. Cannabis has positive medical benefits, which is an even more important reason to oppose prohibition.

Stress is one of the biggest causes of illness and death. The calming, relaxing effects of cannabis can help counter stress and enhance health.

The medical advantages are clearly demonstrable for people with HIV. Research in the 1990s by Dr Lester Grinspoon at Harvard Medical School in the US shows that cannabis enables HIV-positive people to cope better with the stress of diagnosis and, by stimulating their appetite, reduces weight loss. It can also relieve the nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea often associated with HIV illnesses and combination therapy.

Given the tangible medical benefits of cannabis to HIV-positive people, AIDS organisations should support the 16 June march.

These organisations are vociferous in demanding universal access to anti-HIV drugs, even ones with dangerous side effects like AZT. Surely they should be equally strong in their advocacy of access to safe, medically-beneficial cannabis?

It is not, of course, just positive people who can gain health-wise from using cannabis. There is a vast wealth of scientific evidence - from over 10,000 studies - demonstrating that it can also help people suffering from asthma, back pain, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, tumours, arthritis, herpes, migraine, depression, insomnia, cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, rheumatism, muscle spasms, anorexia and nausea (which is often experienced by cancer patients under-going chemotherapy and radiation treatment).

Little wonder, then, that prior to prohibition cannabis was one of the most widely used medical treatments. During the second half of the nineteenth century, cannabis was an ingredient in half the medicine sold in the USA. Even Queen Victoria used it for the relief of period pains. A report in 1839 by Dr W B O'Shaugnessy of the Royal Academy of Science hailed it as a miracle drug.

Until the 1930s, cannabis was prescribed by American doctors as the main treatment for 100 different illnesses. For these therapeutic reasons, the American Medical Association testified in Congress against the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act.

In 1976, the US government, at the bidding of the pharmaceutical giants, restricted scientific research on the medical benefits of natural cannabis. This meant that most subsequent research has been limited to synthetic cannabis compounds that can be patented and sold for fabulous profits. One of the conditions of research agreed by the drug companies is that these compounds must not give patients a "high". The sick cannot be allowed to enjoy their medicine!

After reviewing a wide variety of research studies, in 1982 the science magazine Omni concluded that, compared with the synthetic versions, natural cannabis is "superior medicine". It urged the legalisation of medical cannabis; blaming prohibition on the malign influence on government of immensely powerful drug companies who stand to lose billions if it is lifted.

This observation highlights the main obstacle to legalisation. Pharmaceutical companies are major corporate donors to political parties and anti-drug legalisation campaigns. They have huge turnovers and this generates a massive tax income to the government. Politicians rarely bite the hand that feeds them. Put crudely: the ban on cannabis is partly due to the corrupt influence of big money on government decision-making.

Despite the anti-drug hysteria, there are no rational reasons to criminalise cannabis use. On the contrary, the many health benefits justify lifting the ban and making cannabis widely available on the NHS. If you agree, join me on the 16 June march in London. Dope is hope!

Copyright Peter Tatchell 2001. All Rights Reserved.

Tatchell Talks 18, website, 30 April 2001
Published: 30/04/2001