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Legalize Marijuana, Says Britain's Leading Cannabis Researcher

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #649)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

More than 30 years ago, British neuropharmacologist Roger Pertwee co-discovered THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Now, Britain's leading expert on cannabis says it should be legalized with regulations similar to alcohol and tobacco.

Roger Pertwee (courtesy
Such a move is necessary to take marijuana out of the hands of criminals and justifiable because marijuana is not "any more dangerous" than alcohol or tobacco, he said.

"In my view, we don't have an ideal solution yet to deal with recreational cannabis," the Aberdeen University cannabis expert said. "We should consider licensing and marketing cannabis and cannabis products just as we do alcohol and tobacco. At the moment, cannabis is in the hands of criminals, and that's crazy. We're allowed to take alcohol, we're allowed to smoke cigarettes. Cannabis, if it's handled properly, is probably not going to be any more dangerous than that."

The former Labor government down-scheduled cannabis from a Class B to a Class C drug in 2004, but then up-scheduled it back to Class B last year against the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The council's chairman, Professor David Nutt, was fired after criticizing the government's drug policy, leading five other council members to resign in protest.

Possession of Class B drugs, a category that lumps marijuana in with amphetamines and barbiturates, is punishable by up to five years in prison, while selling pot can garner up to 14 years behind bars. More than 158,000 Britons were convicted of marijuana possession last year, according to the Home Office.

Pertrwee said he wanted to reopen the debate on marijuana and that he favored legalization if there were sufficient regulations in place. Prohibition forces users to either grow illegally or buy the drug from a criminal drug dealer, he said, and that carries its own problems.

"They have no idea what the composition is, what has been added to it, and they are at risk of being invited to take other drugs," he said.

Citing concerns about the link between marijuana and the onset of schizophrenia in a small sub-set of the population, Pertwee suggested that marijuana users be licensed after they see a doctor for an assessment of any potential mental health problems.

"You would need a minimum age of 21, but I would go further: that you have to have a license. You have to have a car license, you have to have a dog license; why not a cannabis license, so you can only take it if it's medically safe for you to do so?" he said.

Pertwee's remarks won a positive response from Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, London. "I welcome this attempt by the UK's leading expert on cannabis to bring rationality to the debate on its legal status," he said. "As cannabis is clearly less harmful than alcohol, criminalization of people who prefer this drug is illogical and unjust. We need a new regulatory approach to cannabis. The Dutch coffee-shop model is one that has been proven to work but some of Professor Pertwee's new suggestions may well have extra benefits and should be actively debated."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Cactus (not verified)

The time is now send whatever money you can to Prop 19.


Wed, 09/15/2010 - 10:46pm Permalink

While I support Professor Pertwee's objective, rarely has an argument been communicated so badly.

Thu, 09/16/2010 - 1:36pm Permalink

While I agree that cannabis should be totally legalized and regulated due to its general harmlessness and high potential for helping many people with medical problems, I must question this "Roger Pertwee discovered THC over 30 years ago" business. THC was isolated in 1964 (well over 40 years ago) by two Israeli scientists.

Thu, 09/16/2010 - 8:22pm Permalink
The Heftman (not verified)

The details can be thrashed out later. The main thing is to get cannabis removed from the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, even if you have to have a license for every spliff you smoke. History will indict all the politicians and powerful people who have prevented these legal changes, even by doing nothing. But for now, they continue to hold up the inevitable re-legalization of cannabis, and this has lead to the criminalization of millions of British people over the past 40 years alone. These politicians know full well that that they sold this pervasive mythology about the inherent 'badness' of cannabis to the general public through their media mouthpieces, and now none of them is willing to admit that they got it wrong, that it was all propaganda. Cowards, fools, and pathetic human beings that they are, I would be vomiting in their faces were it not for the anti-emetic effects of THC. Beam me up Scotty, there's no intelligent life among our 'leaders'.

Fri, 09/17/2010 - 2:11pm Permalink
Buzzby (not verified)

There is far more of a connection between alcohol use and psychosis than there ever was for cannabis.  In fact "cannabis psychosis" is unknown outside the UK and former Commonwealth countries - it's the Brits' version of the 1930's "Reefer Madness", somewhat updated for the 21st Century.

If the sanity of cannabis consumers needs to be tested, the sanity of tobacco smokers and alcohol drinkers needs to be tested.  They are, after all, committing slow suicide by pursuing their unhealthy habits.  Cannabis users, on the other hand, are not putting their lives at risk.

Mon, 09/20/2010 - 5:26pm Permalink

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