Given universities' problems in dealing with drug use by students, Katrina Wishart asks: Should Britain legalise cannabis?

July 10, 1998

Drugs are prevalent on campus. Research by Heather Ashton of Newcastle University shows that 20 per cent of students use cannabis regularly and about 33 per cent use other illicit drugs. A Union of Students in Ireland survey put the figures higher. It said four out of five university students have tried illicit drugs and that three quarters of those want cannabis legalised.

There are divisions within universities about how to deal with student drug-taking. The soft approach is to give students information about safe ways to take drugs and on their harmful side-effects; the hardline approach is to crack down on offenders, including those using soft drugs. At Birmingham and Aston universities recently, cannabis offenders have been reported to the police.

Lewis Wolpert, professor of biology as applied to medicine at University College London:

"Yes, I do support the legalisation of cannabis. It is hard to understand why cannabis should be banned when alcohol, which causes such an enormous amount of damage, is freely available."

Andrew Goudie, reader in psychopharmacology, Liverpool University:

"If you look at the pattern of drug-taking among students, cannabis-taking is regarded as the norm. I regard that as very disturbing. There is increasing scientific evidence that cannabis is a drug of dependence. It is not an innocuous substance.

"I would not favour legalising cannabis. There are enough problems with drugs such as alcohol in society as it is. Why multiply them?" Johnny Rich, editor of the PUSH student guide to UK universities:

"Our drug laws are hypocritical, unenforcable and force drug abuse underground. Although I would not advocate taking on Holland's policies wholesale, anyone who denies that they have a lot to offer has not researched the facts.

I support a review of drugs policy with a view to developing a more progressive attitude that reflects risks and benefits, particularly with regard to cannabis."

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