On today’s episode of Thinking in English, let’s take a look at a very controversial debate – should cannabis be legal? Let’s look at both sides of the argument, think in English, and eventually decide what you think is the correct answer!
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To derive (v) – to get something from something else
Many people derive pleasure from work
To cultivate (v) – to grow a crop
They cultivate beans and corn on their farm
Psychoactive (adj) – a psychoactive drug affects your mind
THC is the psychoactive component of cannabis
Consensus (n) – generally accepted opinion or decision
There was no consensus reached at yesterday’s meeting
Possession (n) – the fact you own or have something
He is in possession of a very valuable watch
Confiscate (v) – to take possession away from someone, usually as a punishment
The teacher confiscated my phone
To legalise (v) – to allow something by law
Same-sex marriage has been legalised in many European countries
Cost (n) – something that is given, needed, or lost in order to get a particular thing
I thought about changing jobs, but the costs outweigh the benefits
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What is Cannabis?
What is cannabis? While you might think you already know the answer to this question, some of the uses and history of cannabis may be surprising. Cannabis is the scientific name for a plant that grows naturally in parts of the world. The plant, and the products derived from it, have an incredibly long history.
Evidence suggests that cannabis was being cultivated in parts of China and central Asia over 4000 years ago. Before new materials were invented in the past few centuries, the cannabis plant was used for a large part of the world’s rope supply. The plant has also been used as animal feed, medicine, and even today as an alternative to milk.
However, cannabis is best known as a drug. For thousands of years cannabis has been used recreationally and contains a psychoactive ingredient called THC that causes people to get high. As a drug, cannabis famously has many different names – over one thousand English nicknames exist for the drug!
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Why is cannabis controversial?
Cannabis. Marijuana. Weed. Whatever you call it, it’s controversial. The approach towards the drug varies widely across the globe. And despite thousands of years of history and use, the world seems no closer to reaching a consensus on the issue.
At one end of the scale, the drug is highly illegal in some countries, and if you are caught with the drug in your possession you could be facing years in prison. Last year, a British football coach in the United Arab Emirates was found in possession of CBD oil. CBD is derived from cannabis, but without the plant’s psychoactive properties, and has become a legal and common health product.
Unfortunately for the football coach, the four bottles of CBD oil he purchased had small traces of the psychoactive substance THC which is also found in cannabis, and he was sentenced to 25 years in prison (later reduced to 10 years). A product that is completely legal in the UK is considered so dangerous in the UAE that it warrants a 25 year sentence.
The UAE is not alone in criminalising cannabis. In Singapore, you can be imprisoned for up to 10 years and fined $20,000 for possession. South Korea treats cannabis the same as any other drug, and punishes those found with the drug in their system (so people who took cannabis in a country where it is legal, then travelled to Korea, could be arrested if traces are found in blood or hair)! Harsh punishments are also tolled out in many Middle Eastern and Asian countries even for possessing small amounts of the drug.
In most countries, recreational use of cannabis (so for fun or pleasure rather than medical needs) is illegal. However, many places have decriminalised or reduced punishments, especially for possession of small amounts. In these countries, a small fine would usually be issued or the drug would be confiscated.
Some places have legalised cannabis for medical use. The plant has actually been used in medical treatments for thousands of years, and recent research suggests it has a number of beneficial properties for certain illnesses or medical conditions. Countries including Argentina, Germany, New Zealand, Malawi and Israel all allow medical cannabis use to some extent!
And, some countries have legalised cannabis use completely. As of 2022, Canada, Georgia, Malta, Mexico, South Africa, and Uruguay have legalised recreational use of the drug. Moreover, 18 US states and the Australian Capital Territory have similarly legalised possession in their territories. Uruguay and Canada have even allowed the national commercial sale of the drug.
As you can see from this brief recap, the world is incredibly divided over how to deal with cannabis. Some countries will imprison you for over 10 years for possessing the drug; others will sell it to you legally from official stores.
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Should cannabis be legal?
So, Should cannabis be legal? Today, I want to look at some arguments surrounding the legalisation of cannabis. In particular, I’m going to focus on the legalisation of the recreational use of cannabis. As always, I’ll present both sides of the debate without bias – it’s up to you to decide your own opinion! It’s up to you to Think in English.
Importantly, this isn’t a debate over your personal opinion about the drug – you can like it or hate it for all I care. But it’s a debate over whether it should be legal or not. There are plenty of legal things that are dangerous, and that I don’t like or never want to do (like skydiving), but it doesn’t mean I think it should be illegal! The same is true with debates about drugs – ignore your own opinion on whether you like or hate cannabis, and approach the topic logically and without bias.
Learning to think about both sides of an argument, especially a controversial debate, is an incredibly important and valuable skill. In fact, it is very useful for IELTS and other English proficiency tests, and this question might actually come up in an exam one day!
I’ll start by introducing the pro-legalization arguments, and then introduce the anti-legalization arguments, before giving a few concluding remarks! So, should cannabis be legal?
Cannabis should be legal!
Let’s start with the arguments that cannabis should be legal.
First, one of the major arguments in support of legalising cannabis is that it will boost the economy. In 2016, the US legal marijuana industry generated $7.2 million in economic activity, and millions more dollars were paid in taxes by businesses. For example, in Colorado, cannabis actually creates more tax revenue than alcohol. Industries including tourism, food, banking, and construction could all benefit from legalisation.
The taxes collected from cannabis use could be used to fund public programmes and policies. Things like school programmes, drug treatments, housing assistance schemes, and mental health centres could all be funded from the money raised through legalising cannabis.
Another really important argument is that legal cannabis can be regulated by governments and scientists. If you buy a drug on the street, you don’t actually know what you are buying, if it is safe, or if it is what you expected. By legalising the products, governments are then able to force companies to meet certain standards and ensure their cannabis is not dangerous.
For instance, regulations could include testing products to see if there are dangerous chemicals added or if it is pure cannabis; making sure that products are labelled correctly, and packaging the product in a safe and secure way.
In fact, many people argue that cannabis is actually less dangerous or harmful than tobacco or alcohol. And, both tobacco and alcohol are legal in most countries. As you probably know, tobacco and alcohol are known to cause diseases like cancer, heart failure, and organ diseases. Hundreds of thousands of people die every year due to alcohol use, but there has never been a recorded case of death from a cannabis overdose.
If a person wants to use the product, and it is less dangerous than commonly available drugs like alcohol, surely people should be free to make their own decisions and choices?
Furthermore, proponents of legislation argue that legalising cannabis will help to take money away from criminal gangs and drug cartels. According to some sources, after the legalisation of the drug in Washington and Colorado Mexican drug cartels lost around $2.7 billion in profit. Rather than turning to illegal dealers and gangs, people should be able to buy regulated and taxed cannabis from a legal shop.
Cannabis should not be legal!
Now let’s look at the arguments why cannabis should not be legal!
First, the legalisation of cannabis is opposed by a number of leading medical organisations around the world. Famously, the American Medical Association “believes that cannabis is a dangerous drug and as such is a public health concern.” Legalising recreational use of the drug could lead to increased health problems and issues for both users and those around them.
Why would cannabis be considered a harmful or dangerous drug? Evidence suggests that smoking damages the lungs, especially if smoking unfiltered cannabis. Cannabis has also been linked to mental illnesses and the development of the brain. Opponents of cannabis legislation often point to the damaging effects of the drug when voicing their opposition.
Cannabis use is not only linked to health issues, but also has been associated with lack of motivation and increased accidents. In Colorado, workplace accidents involving employees using cannabis tripled within a year of cannabis legalisation. Long term cannabis use can also impact the parts of the brain responsible for motivation and dedication.
By legalising cannabis, there are also a number of potential social costs. More accidents could occur, increased need for medical treatment, addiction treatments, crime increases, and negative impacts on businesses. It is estimated that tax money raised from legalising cannabis would not be close to costs incurred by the country or state in general.
Moreover, cannabis production is usually not environmentally friendly. Cannabis plants require a significant amount of water to grow, and water is already a scarce resource in many places. The plant also requires expensive heating and lighting if grown indoors. All of this could be seen as harmful to the environment.
And finally, some drug cartels and gangs have actually benefited from cannabis legalisation in US states. As illegal cannabis does not require expensive testing, taxation, and regulation, the black market is able to charge less for their products. According to the Colorado Attorney General, legalization “has inadvertently helped fuel the business of Mexican drug cartels… cartels are now trading drugs like heroin for marijuana, and the trade has since opened the door to drug and human trafficking.”
On today’ episode of Thinking in English I have tried to discuss the question of cannabis legalisation. On the one side, supporters of legalisation suggest that legalisation will boost the economy, create new jobs, make the drug safer, and that people should be free to choose for themselves if they use cannabis. One the other side, opponents argue that cannabis causes health and social issues, and that its use should be discouraged. Of course, I was not able to cover every single argument in today’s episode – so if you know any other arguments or opinions please leave a comment!
What do you think? Should cannabis be legal? Or should it be illegal? What is the situation in your country?
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