6 Questions that Arise When We Talk About Legalizing Marijuana
In October, Canada will become the first G20 country to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes . After the measure – one of the electoral promises of Justin Trudeau – was approved in the Canadian Senate, the sociologist and member of the State Council of Podemos Jorge Moruno has tweeted about the potential that Spain could have in the production of cannabis. “It has a privileged climate that could well export marijuana with designation of origin – like wine – to Canada, but nothing, it will be crazy …”. After this message, Pablo Iglesias has also joined the proposal of legalization .
In his tweet, Iglesias says that a state cannabis production industry “would generate huge revenues for the State that could make us have the best public health in the world.” The regularization -medicinal, recreational or both- is a proposal that from some parties ( Podemos, PSOE or Ciudadanos ) has been raised in Spain, and also from the dozens of consumer platforms that exist in our country. But what is being talked about when talking about legalizing? What does medicinal use consist of? What is being done in other countries? We answer these and other questions that arise in the debate about the possible regularization of this drug.
What is the legal status of marijuana in Spain?
In the case of cultivation, the Gag Law “sanctions cultivation for self-consumption if the plantation is in public space or is visible from the public space, regardless of the number of plants,” explains Cànaves. As with consumption, cultivation in a private space for own use is not legal, but is not penalized. Yes it is the plantation for the sale and traffic, punished with from 1 to 6 years of prison according to the size of the plantation.
The only case in which it is legal to plant marijuana in Spain is for medicinal use, but only for consumption abroad. But of the medicinal use and its status we speak in the following question.
So, what about medical marijuana?
Cannabinoids, Orgado explains, can be used to alleviate the ailments and effects of chronic diseases related to brain damage, tumor treatments, muscle stiffness, epilepsy or treatment of inflammation. However, in Spain there is only, for the moment, a medicine based on cannabinoids, Sativex, used to reduce muscle stiffness in patients with sclerosis. The next to arrive, says Orgado, could be Epidiolex, indicated to alleviate the effects of intractable epilepsies in children.
The marijuana plant, as such, is prescribed as a medicine in other countries (in the next point we deepen on international legislation), but not in Spain. “Marijuana is an easy and affordable way to access cannabinoids, but it is also very difficult to control from a medical point of view,” Orgado explains. “Each plant has different levels of cannabinoids and people do not know that amount and how much should be taken.”
Even so, in Spain medicinal marijuana can be grown, but for consumption in countries where the marijuana plant itself is prescribed as a medicine, such as Canada. “An authorization is needed by the Spanish Medicines Agency,” explains Martí Cànaves, who was the coordinator of the Rasquera, Tarragona project to create a public cannabis research company. “To get it, you have to have a contract with an authorized foreign company and that reflects the amount of cannabis they request, which is the limit you can plant,” says the lawyer.
How is cannabis regulated in the countries where it is legal?
Uruguay, Canada, the Netherlands, the United States (only some states) or Israel are some of the countries that have regulated the use of cannabis, but not all have done it in the same way. These are some of the most representative models:
- Only for therapeutic use: it is the model of countries like Israel or some states in the United States, where the production of marijuana is legal – after the acquisition of a government license – and the sale, under medical prescription, in specialized points of sale. “In Israel, even some licensed production companies can send marijuana home to their patients,” says Cànaves.
- Therapeutic and recreational use: it is the model followed by countries such as Uruguay and that, as of next October, will follow Canada. It works in a similar way to tobacco in Spain, which is legal but regulated: the sale is forbidden to minors, it can only be done in licensed establishments and, in the case of Uruguay, it is restricted to 40 grams per person per month. Production, as in countries where medical marijuana is legal, must be done with government authorization.
- Purchase and consumption in certain places: this is the case in the Netherlands, where the purchase and sale of adults is allowed only in specialized places ( coffee shops ) and with a purchase limit of five grams per person. “However, production is illegal,” explains Cànaves, “so the State turns a blind eye on how coffee shops get marijuana.”
Is marijuana a “soft” drug? What is the difference between alcohol and tobacco?
“It seems absurd to be able to buy tequila or gin in a supermarket and that marijuana is illegal,” wrote Pablo Iglesias on Twitter . The comparison with other drugs considered “soft”, such as alcohol or tobacco, is one of the arguments used in favor of legalization. “For the World Health Organization, nicotine is much more addictive than cannabis,” explains the SEIC doctor. Cànaves adds that “if we look at the level of deaths or negative consequences (violence, accidents …) linked to alcohol or tobacco, they are much higher than those of cannabis”.
Among the negative effects that cannabis produces, Orgado, doctor and researcher of the SSSI, lists “schizophrenia, psychotic outbreaks, memory problems, concentration, decreased motivation …”. So, is it a “hard” or “soft” drug? Surely you’ve heard this terminology a hundred times, alth ough it does not convince the experts. Cànaves clarifies that “this difference only exists at the penal level, to punish more harshly the trafficking and production of substances that have greater impact on the health of people, such as cocaine and heroin.” The “hardness” is not related to its effects, but to the penalties.
From the FAD they also insist on the negative of treating marijuana as a “soft” drug. “It makes that the vision of the risk that implies its consumption diminishes, what can cause that it diminishes the age of beginning of the consumption”, tells his vice-president. Currently, according to the 2017 Report of the National Plan on Drugs, cannabis is the illegal substance first tested by Spaniards.