On Monday, democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden revealed that he would not legalise cannabis out of fears that it is a gateway drug.
The 76-year-old frontrunner is one of very few candidates who are opposed to the legalisation of cannabis, with the economic and health benefits seemingly being overlooked by Biden.
He claims that there simply “isn’t enough evidence” to state whether cannabis is not a gateway drug, and that he wants to make sure everyone “knows more about the science behind it”.
However, there actually has been extensive research on the topic, especially in light of California, Colorado and a myriad other states that have joined the wave of cannabis legalisation in recent years.
The illusion that cannabis is a gateway drug was perpetuated during Richard Nixon’s war on drugs and more so by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.
New research states that if cannabis is used correctly it has more therapeutic benefits than it does negatives, with the majority of the negatives being confined to people with a predisposition to mental illnesses.
One way in which cannabis could potentially be considered a gateway drug is that young users could be exposed to drug dealers, who may have harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin to sell.
Murky black market
However, legalisation of cannabis would filter out the murky black market of drug dealers on street corners and replace them with well-lit dispensaries that only sell cannabis, meaning that users will avoid dealers and never come into contact with harder drugs.
Another way to avoid the connection between cannabis and harder drugs is proficient education on the subject. Competent and quality drug education has proved to have a positive impact on reducing the use of drugs for young people. By enabling teens and young adults to learn about the differences between drugs and the severity of each type, they will be equipped with the knowledge to avoid hard drugs if they choose to smoke cannabis.
America is currently in the midst of an opioid epidemic, which was initially fuelled by the well-intentioned attempts by doctors to improve the pain management treatments available alongside the aggressive marketing schemes by large pharmaceutical corporations, as well as social, cultural and economic issues that all contributed to the epidemic the country is facing now.
The UK also experienced its own ‘heroin epidemic’ in the 80s and 90s, when drug education was a poor state of affairs and tag names such as ‘heroin chic’ glamourised the negative effects of the drug into cutesy nicknames and aspirational phrases.
During the peak in the late 90s, many people wrongly believed the myth that smoking heroin was non-addictive unlike the injected counterpart, most likely due to a lack of education on harder drugs or the commonly used ‘just say no’ approach that has proved to be counterproductive in preventing drug use.
Both epidemics were and continue to be fuelled by a combination of serious factors from over-prescribing medication to substandard education, nothing to do with smoking cannabis or eating a pot brownie, and the same argument could be issued to alcohol use yet many manage to steer clear of opiates despite enjoying a few beers.
Due to a number of variables including the ongoing approach to more accurate and effective drugs education within the UK, the epidemic has since passed and hard drugs continue to be seen as an extremely negative thing for many young people.
Drug addiction is most often triggered by a complex combination of mental illness, genetic predisposition, childhood trauma and economic issues among other factors. Many sufferers may seek out weed and other drugs to self-medicate or escape reality in any way possible, while others will simply smoke cannabis for the feeling and enjoyment.
If cannabis was a gateway drug, then the 48% of all Americans who have admitted to trying cannabis would make for a huge percentage of the population who must be addicted to hard drugs, which simply hasn’t happened.
Biden fighting a losing battle
The bizarre approach from Biden has caught several democrat supporters off guard, as the majority of the youthful voters are heavily in favour of cannabis legalisation.
While other democrat candidates are utilising the popularity of cannabis by partaking in debates on how to safely approach the drug and aims to minimise public health issues, Biden seems to be caught up on the old school perspective of cannabis being a gateway drug.
Other candidates, such as Andrew Yang, have seen a huge spike in popularity due to his forward-thinking stance on cannabis, universal basic income and the taxation of multinational companies.
Yang was even photographed inside a cannabis grow house earlier this week in response to Biden’s comments, with a tweet attracting more than 100,000 likes to demonstrate his popularity.
However, Biden is still the second-favourite in the polls to become the Democrat nominee for president, only beaten by Elizabeth Warren who is strongly in the corner of cannabis legalisation.
Cannabis as medicine
Although the argument for recreational cannabis legalisation is mainly based on economics, the debate on medicinal cannabis reaches further and would help millions of people across North America.
Contrary to Biden’s comments, cannabis has actually been used to help wean people off of hard drugs, instead of acting as a gateway towards them.
Scientific studies have found that cannabis can be effective in easing opioid related withdrawal signs in some cases when the individual is experiences symptoms such as insomnia, reduced appetite and reduced energy levels during opioid detoxification.
Requests have been cited for further investigation into the use of the commonly known cannabis-based drug Sativex and how it may be useful in treating pain and spasticity for those going through opioid withdrawal.
The same study found that pre-clinical and clinical evidence suggests that cannabis has the potential to reduce overdose deaths and prevent opioid relapse once the individual is no longer actively using.
“No other intervention, policy, pharmacotherapy, or treatment paradigm has been as impactful as cannabis legislation has been on the rates of opioid consumption, overdose, and death,” the study summarises.