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George Mitchell: Taking cannabis… legally

George weighs up the pros and cons of legalising cannabis.
George weighs up the pros and cons of legalising cannabis.

“Drugs”. Such a scary word. What images spring to mind when you hear the word “drugs”?

Homeless people lying in doorways with needles hanging out of their arms? Drug-infested dens? Organised crime? Wasted lives? Stoned teenagers? Or high-flying city types snorting cocaine after closing another million-pound deal?

Possibly all of the above.

But of course, the word “drugs” can and should also include the following – alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and prescription medicine.

Tobacco causes the deaths of countless people worldwide every single year, yet it is a legal product and consumed daily by millions. If tobacco was discovered today, I doubt it would be made legal and sold. I gave up almost 10 years ago – best thing I ever did.

Smoking is legal yet tobacco causes many deaths every year.

Let’s take alcohol. I enjoy my red wine, it’s all part of a European culture for me, especially when paired with good food. But alcohol can and does cause many social problems. Yet, it is legal, advertised, taxed and dare I say, “encouraged”.

Often people fight in the street after lots of alcohol has been consumed. I’ve seen Aberdeen’s Union Street on a Saturday night resembling a war zone. But alcohol is legal.

Cannabis is illegal in the UK and most of the world, but millions in the UK take cannabis regularly.

But cannabis is not all about smoking. That’s old hat. More and more are turning to a far less damaging way to consume cannabis. Cookies, biscuits, soups, butter, you name it.

Cannabis can be mixed into numerous foods, or simply infused with tea.

In Canada, where I am writing this column, cannabis is now legal. Yes, you read that correctly. Legal to buy, legal to smoke, since October 2018, with edible cannabis becoming legal in 2019.

The purpose of legalising it, they say, is to prevent youths from accessing it and to stop the illegal cannabis market.

Some of the cannabis products George saw in Canada.

The shops that sell it are strictly controlled by the government, and people can only buy a certain amount. Any sales or production of cannabis outside these shops remain illegal and come with hefty prison sentences.

Each state has its own age requirement, some 18, 19 or even 21.

According to Stats Canada, as of July 2019, cannabis contributed $8.2 billion to the country’s gross domestic product.

“Why even take it?” you may ask. I guess, the same reason you may well have poured yourself a glass of wine or a dram last night – it’s enjoyable and makes us feel good.

But cannabis these days is much more than a simple pleasure. It is now widely accepted that cannabis provides health benefits, most importantly associated with pain management.

And if it is taken orally in what is know as edibles, it does not have the health danger of lighting a product, burning it and smoking it.

The town of Owen Sound, where I’ve been based, population of 22,000, has at least six cannabis shops. After deciding I was going to try it, I walked up to the door of my chosen one. I had no idea what to expect. What would await me inside? A bunch of junkies in a smoke-filled drug den? Nothing could be further from the truth.

Very professional, very impressive indeed. And of course, no smoking allowed inside the shop.

Take your pick. Well-stocked shelves in the cannabis shop.

I told the helpful lady I wanted to try some chocolate.

“First time? OK, start low and go slow,” she said.

“When smoking cannabis, the hit is instant, within seconds, and the feeling may be gone after 30 minutes. With edibles, you’ll feel nothing for possibly two hours, but most do within 45 minutes. So please, do not make the mistake of, say, after half an hour thinking this has done nothing for me then go take more. Don’t do that. Wait for it to take effect then see how it feels, and take it from there.”

“What kind of people do you get in here?” I asked.

“All sorts. Young adults who want to smoke for pleasure, but also a growing amount of older people who prefer edibles, or want to make tea. Some even make it into creams and rubs for pain relief.”

Of course, it needs to be pointed out that heavy prolonged use can cause addiction, mental health issues and anxiety. But doesn’t alcohol, which is legal, do all that?

Answer:  Yes, it can.

George argues alcohol causes many problems, but is legal.

Surprisingly it’s not expensive to buy. I paid $5, around £3, for a four-piece chunk of dark chocolate, which has a legal maximum of 10mg of THC in it. THC is the natural drug in cannabis that gets you “high”.

Andy and the boys were away for the day, so I stuck Classic FM on the radio, took a recommended 2.5g of chocolate and sat down. And if you’re thinking it turned me into a drug-crazed zombie, again nothing could be further from the truth.

I think I started to feel it after half an hour. A warm wave washed over me and my breathing slowed. I lay down and enjoyed the moment.

I never felt “stoned” as they say. I didn’t want to. I’m not a teenager looking to get high. Nor did I feel sleepy or out of it. Quite the opposite. My brain became very focused, while at the same time, my body became totally relaxed.

I have pain in my shoulders due to a frozen shoulder earlier in the year. The pain was gone. As was the pain in my right thumb.

George’s cannabis chocolate.

The lady was right, it took its time and lasted many hours. When Andy came home, he observed me and said: “You look well chilled.”

“I am,” I said, and explained the experience.

Did I take it again? Of course. I enjoyed a bite occasionally, always when the boys were not there, and I had no chores to do. And I slept very well after it.

Numerous neighbours of Andy’s, often in their 60s, smoke cannabis. I’ve seen them. I even met one lady in her 70s who doesn’t even go to a shop, she grows her own cannabis plants. Up to four are allowed by law. No selling on is allowed. Personal use only.

Growing cannabis for personal use is legal in Canada.

In the UK, this lady would be arrested and charged, simply for growing a natural plant which can and does bring huge benefits to many who use it for pain management, Parkinson’s, cancer, MS and a plethora of other ailments. All at a time when alcohol, and all the misery it can bring, is totally legal and encouraged. Something’s not right here methinks.

Strong prescription painkillers can often cause awful side effects, yet we pop these chemically made pills by the bucketload as a nation. Is it so bad, that some choose to take a piece of chocolate, bake a cookie, or infuse tea with cannabis to help relieve pain?

Should cannabis be legalised in the UK? In my opinion, yes it should. I’ve felt this way for many years. Legalise it, tax it, sell it in licensed shops. And by doing just that, you may well take the criminal gangs out of the picture.

Who is going to buy cannabis from some dodgy guy on the street corner, a guy who may well be selling you bad stuff you have no idea what it has in it, when you could buy it from a licensed, safe and controlled shop?

Some prescription drugs can cause addiction issues.

I’m not encouraging anyone to take cannabis. Especially not where it is illegal to do so. I just want us to get over the mental block that some “drugs” equal bad, whilst other “drugs” like alcohol and big pharma painkillers are totally acceptable.

Is it right that people should be branded criminals for taking cannabis in the privacy of their own home while big pharma and the alcohol industry are “encouraged” to sell their products?

Where do you stand on the cannabis debate?

You may well and probably do have a different opinion, ie you are against legalisation of cannabis. Fair enough, I respect that. But I would ask the question, how is the current law working? Does it deter people from taking it? No, it doesn’t. Millions take cannabis be it for pleasure or pain management. Should these people be criminalised, while others can go out and legally down six pints of lager?

For the record, just in case anyone thinks I was tempted to stick a few bars of “chocolate” in my bag and take it home for a Christmas treat – absolutely no way.

Cannabis is illegal in the UK. That would be a very stupid thing to do.

I hope you all had a relaxing Christmas, and let me take this opportunity to wish you all a positive and most importantly a Covid-restriction-free 2022.

Cheers, George.

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