Will cannabis ever be legal in China?

Legalization Debate: A Golden Age for Cannabis

The cannabis industry has been booming since the pandemic, and with it business from small dealers to large corporations and states. More and more US cannabis companies want to expand their marijuana production in Europe. And hemp cultivation is also flourishing in your own four walls. According to the first interim results of an international study, 16 percent of globally surveyed cannabis growers said they only started cannabis production during the pandemic, 18 percent said they planted more during the lockdowns.

While policewomen, social workers and addiction experts are already increasingly struggling with the consequences of private consumption - be it in the form of more advertisements or advice - corporations, some governments and advocates are already seeing a liberal hemp age approaching: One in which cannabis in medical and private area becomes the standard. On the one hand, hemp drugs could increasingly help with diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis or chronic pain in the future. On the other hand, cannabis should also be sold in a regulated manner for "recreational use", according to proponents. The question of legalization has been dividing for decades. Do we have to face them again now?

Against drug cartels

The cannabis debate has picked up significantly in some countries in recent months. Mexico, for example, is about to legalize cannabis. This would make the country the third in the world, along with Uruguay and Canada, where cannabis is allowed in certain quantities for personal use. According to the government, the move should help contain the drug cartels in the country. And cannabis could soon be legalized for private use in some US states such as Pennsylvania and New York.

The debates even reached France. The country has one of the strictest cannabis laws in Europe. Cannabis has not been allowed in the medical or private sector since 1970, and there is no legal distinction in penalties between personal use and the sale of marijuana. At the same time, despite the bans, the French are among the largest cannabis users in all of Europe.

Now the debate about legalization in the country is getting louder: According to a poll recently launched by Parliament, the majority of French are in favor of legalizing cannabis for recreational use. Private cultivation and consumption should therefore be allowed up to a certain limit. At the end of last year, the government approved a test program that will also examine the medicinal benefits of the plant in more detail.

Medicine and leisure

The distinction between medicinal and "recreational" cannabis is critical. The plant contains more than 113 different active substances, the psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is just one of them. Studies have shown that cannabis can help treat chronic pain. Cannabis could also be useful for multiple sclerosis, tumor pain as well as vomiting and nausea during chemotherapy - but this has not yet been scientifically proven and qualitatively proven. The fact that cannabis is often classified as illegal has severely limited previous scientific studies.

Most cannabis is grown as a medicinal product under state supervision, in Austria for example by the Agency for Health and Food Safety (Ages). In this country, however, the use of medical cannabis is severely restricted. The possession and sale of cannabis with a THC content of more than 0.3 percent is prohibited. Only the non-psychoactive substance cannabidiol (CBD) can be legally bought and consumed. The arguments against the continued use of cannabis in medicine are mostly similar: there are still too few conclusive studies examining the effects of cannabis. In addition, there is a risk of mental illness and psychosis.

Cannabis as an everyday product

Many corporations do not see the much larger market in the medical, but in the private use of cannabis, that is to say, in the consumption of marijuana in leisure time, for relaxation and enjoyment. Large US cannabis companies like Curaleaf are already investing hundreds of millions of dollars in expanding the market in Europe and are speculating on further liberalization in many countries. Their hope is that cannabis will increasingly become an everyday product in the future.

Quite a few governments, economists and social workers are on their side. A decriminalization of cannabis should prevent the illegal drug market, which should also reduce crime, regulate sales better and generate additional tax revenue, so the proponents. In addition, there could be better age and quality controls within a regulated market.

Not necessarily more consumption

In addition, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs has stopped classifying cannabis as one of the most dangerous drugs since December last year. It follows a recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Proponents of legalization also argue that cannabis is not a gateway drug and that few people later switch to harder drugs. Legalizing cannabis does not have to lead to an increase in the number of users. Because while cannabis use is extremely high in France despite strict drug policy, it is significantly lower in comparatively liberal Portugal. Overall, however, there is a lack of studies and sufficient data here too.

Higher THC content

In any case, addiction experts warn against underestimating the addictive potential of cannabis. According to a Dutch study from 2017, there is a connection between the THC content in cannabis and the number of people undergoing addiction treatments.

"Cannabis is much more potent today than it was fifty years ago," says Andreas Prenn, head of the Supro addiction prevention center in Vorarlberg. While the THC content at that time was around five percent, today it is often 15 to 20 percent. "We're seeing more young people with psychoses and mental illnesses in hospitals." The effects on the brain of adolescents from cannabis should not be underestimated. However, these effects have not yet been clearly proven scientifically - precisely because studies of this kind are extremely difficult to carry out.

Black market despite legalization

In any case, Prenn is not happy with the general legalization. "Then more and more companies are entering the market that market cannabis in the same way as they did with tobacco, alcohol and gambling." In any case, clear regulations are needed, regulated cultivation and sales in which the THC content is kept low, as well as special protection for young people. Synthetic cannabinoids in particular have to be brought under control through better regulation, since the effect of these substances is usually completely unclear.

In addition, legalization will not remove the black market because consumers will look for other prices and qualities again, says Prenn. In fact, the black market is booming in California, where cannabis is legalized, because marijuana is much cheaper there due to the lack of taxation. Too much taxation and regulation could therefore be counterproductive in legalization, say some experts.

At least in Austria, full legalization seems to be a long way off at the moment. But there is much to suggest that the topic will be discussed more and more in this country - not least because of the changes abroad. In the end, the discussion could perhaps decide more society than science. (Jakob Pallinger, March 16, 2021)