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Introduction

In this essay I shall try to investigate the impact that the legalisation of drugs in the UK would have on our society and culture. The argument for and against legalisation (and more recently the classification) of drugs has been openly debated since the Opium Wars in the nineteenth Century, with differing views from different groups of society. I intend to draw conclusions from what history has shown us and interpret my findings into a view of the future.

Society

One of the most important things to identify is the difference between the certain types of drugs. In the UK drugs are legally classified into three main categories, known as Class A, B or C. These drugs are classified under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The Class A drugs are seen as being the most harmful to the user (and arguably to society); these include heroin, methadone, cocaine, ecstasy, LSD and amphetamines (if prepared for injection). A conviction for possession can lead to a seven year prison sentence; a conviction for supply or intent to supply can lead to life imprisonment and a fine. The drugs categorised as Class B are still seen as highly illegal but do not seem to have the social stigma of the higher class. Class B drugs include amphetamines (in powdered form such as speed), barbiturates and codeine. A conviction for possession can lead to a maximum prison sentence of five years and a fine; a conviction for supply and intent to supply could possibly see a prison sentence of up to fourteen years and a fine. Class C drugs are still seen by the law of the land to be harmful to society even though medical studies have shown that, within reason, a lot of the drugs in this classification can help the individual and in turn help society. Class C drugs include cannabis (recently reclassified from being a Class B drug), anabolic steroids and benzodiazepines (tranquillisers such as Valium and Temazepam). However, as before with the other classified drugs, possession is still frowned upon and a conviction of possession could result in a maximum of two years in prison; and the legal system still identifies anyone supplying or intending to supply these drugs as a menace to society and the maximum prison sentence has increased to fourteen years and a fine.

It is an interesting scenario that the UK finds itself in regarding drugs, and the legalisation of drugs. There is an unambiguous black and white ruling when it comes to defining the legality of drugs (narcotics) in this country; they are illegal to possess and illegal to supply. I would like to go into great depths on the subjectivism of drugs within society but I shall focus on just one drug for this argument; cannabis. On 29 January 2004 cannabis was reclassified from a Class B drug to a Class C drug. However, Alan Buffry of the pro-legalisation action group the Legalise Cannabis Alliance states that this reclassification has clearly failed; the government’s approach of saying that cannabis is less dangerous than previously thought and reducing the maximum sentences for possession is offset against an increase in the maximum sentences for anyone growing or supplying the drug so that the penalty is actually equal to the Class B category that it was reclassified from. This confusion is widespread throughout the country. It is not hard to see why people are confused over the reclassification, and it is evident to see why people feel that the government are controlling something that many people believe sh