Justin Zehmke: The time to legalise marijuana in Estonia has come

cannabis-plant


Justin Zehmke advocates the complete legalisation of marijuana in Estonia, with licenses similar to the liquor trade needed to sell it commercially. He argues that at the very least, consider legalising the medical use.

If I were to tell you about a miracle drug that has been scientifically proven to relieve chronic pain and spasticity, specifically the common, disabling and painful after-effects of a stroke or brain injury as well as the pain common in those suffering from multiple sclerosis, would you assume it was freely available to those suffering these conditions?

What if I were to tell you this same medicine provides relief from nausea and vomiting, especially during chemotherapy; and is extremely successful in the management of anxiety?

If I went on to say there is also evidence of usefulness in sleep disorders, for appetite stimulation (in HIV, for example), fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder, severe childhood epilepsies, bladder problems and even for control of some cancers, would you trust that you’d have access to it should you ever suffer from any of those conditions?

If I told you that its first documented use dates back to 4000 BC in ancient China and that it has been central to the medical practise of every civilisation in human history and was used by royalty and peasants alike, would you wonder what it was? Would you know?

“If I told you that its first documented use dates back to 4000 BC in ancient China and that it has been central to the medical practise of every civilisation in human history and was used by royalty and peasants alike, would you wonder what it was?”

What if I were to tell you that the reason this drug works so well is because your body already, naturally, produces its active ingredients and that taking it is, in effect, simply giving your body’s natural system of coping with pain a boost?

Now for the kicker. If I were to tell you that, due to a potent combination of capitalist greed and racism this medical wonder was first banned in the USA during the 1950s, where after the Americans used their international clout to force the rest of the world’s nations to follow suit, against the best interests of their citizens, would you be outraged? Would you feel angry about the fact that this drug, which has no serious negative side effects and a fatality rate of 0%, was still banned in Estonia?

Would you agree that continuing to ban this medicine is not only a sign of pig-headed obstinacy but a wilful act of immorality? Would you agree that denying relief to cancer patients specifically, in a country where 25% of the population is set to suffer from the disease before the age of 75 is morally reprehensible?

“Would you agree that denying relief to cancer patients specifically, in a country where 25% of the population is set to suffer from the disease before the age of 75 is morally reprehensible?”

Now ask yourself this: Do I really think marijuana should be illegal? If I choose to never smoke it, eat it or drink it, do I really care what other people are doing? Do I feel comfortable living in a society where someone seeking relief from chronic pain could go to prison for using the one medicine that actually relieves that pain?

If you answered yes, you’re an asshole, and not even marijuana will cure that.

Why can’t we use it?

One key point is to bear in mind that the so-called war on drugs is a massive global business in and of itself. It is estimated that hundreds of billions of dollars generated by the global drug trade pass through the City of London, where it is effectively laundered. The industrial prison system that exists in many countries is also heavily reliant on the war on drugs, and is something our generation will be eternally shamed by. In 100 years, people will view this generation’s war on drugs in a similar way we view the Spanish Inquisition and the burning of witches at the stake. Barbaric and ignorant.

“In 100 years, people will view this generation’s war on drugs in a similar way we view the Spanish Inquisition and the burning of witches at the stake.”

But again, the tale of how the 1% have profited from the misery generated by the incarceration of a generation of non-violent criminals is one for another day or for your own research.

As someone who knows several people who have previously been treated successfully with medical marijuana and now have to go without in Estonia, I’m interested in the places where people have been courageous enough to buck the international trend of unscientific scaremongering. I found this article by Pipedrive founder Urmas Purde (in Estonian) particularly pertinent, and I should also state for the record that my wife suffers from multiple sclerosis, a condition she successfully treated with medical cannabis while we lived in South Africa.

The case of Portugal

There is an interesting parallel history of places that have relaxed drug laws in general and the huge reduction they saw in petty and serious crime, addiction in general and anti-social behaviour. Everybody knows about the Netherlands but the case of Portugal is particularly potent. This country decriminalised all drugs 14 years ago and the following happened:

  • Drug use declined overall among the 15- to 24-year-old population, those most at risk of initiating drug use.
  • There has also been a decline in the percentage of the population who have ever used a drug.
  • Drug-induced deaths have decreased steeply.
  • HIV infection rates among injecting drug users have been reduced at a steady pace, and has become a more manageable problem in the context of other countries with high rates.
  • A decrease in imprisonment on drug-related charges alongside a surge in visits to health clinics that deal with addiction and disease.

One of the key arguments against the relaxation of marijuana laws goes something like: “Will someone please think of the children?!”

In every single country, state or region that has legalised the use of marijuana, the trends are clear. Usage among teenagers and young adults drops. The most valid theory for this occurring is that, once legalised, marijuana is no longer seen as cool or rebellious, while the availability of information also increases the likelihood of young people abstaining.

“In every single country, state or region that has legalised the use of marijuana, the trends are clear. Usage among teenagers and young adults drops.”

So there’s a powerful argument to be made for a severe examination of Estonia’s approach to all drugs. History shows that once people realise they can legalise marijuana without the four horsemen of the apocalypse saddling up, the rest usually follow in due course.

Instead, in an effort to change opinions about the legalisation of medical marijuana, let me make an appeal to something that most people hold dear above all else – their pockets.

The ones who broke it might just fix it

We’ve heard the moral argument for legalising medical marijuana and frankly, it should be enough to convince anyone other than a complete psychopath or sadist. But what about the money?

Oddly enough, the USA is leading the world in legalisation, just as they led the world in criminalisation. Medical marijuana has now been legalised in 25 US states and many have also legalised the recreational use of cannabis, most recently California, Maine and Massachusetts.

“Oddly enough, the USA is leading the world in legalisation, just as they led the world in criminalisation.”

Although this is not an exact science, it does allow us to extrapolate. The state of Maine has 1.3 million residents. It is heavily forested and sparsely populated, with a few big cities and plenty of small towns. Sound familiar?

Maine’s medical marijuana industry found its feet in 2014, accounting for an estimated US$60 million to US$75 million in sales and generating as much as US$4 million to US$5 million in tax revenue for the state. According to estimates, this number has since almost doubled.

That’s a huge boost to government coffers, but also a great stimulus for the economy and a huge job creation opportunity. From the growers to the dispensary owners, the industry in Maine is estimated to have created 1400 jobs.

Of course, this pales into insignificance when we look at states that have also legalised recreational use. It is useful to bear in mind that these states have also seen drops in crime, lowered their spending on law enforcement and incarceration and seen improvements in social welfare. These other benefits are often harder to measure, albeit no less important.

Time magazine reports the following on states that have legalised recreational use:

“According to Oregon’s Department of Revenue, the state has collected more than $25 million in taxes on marijuana in 2016 so far.

“As KGW reports, the total revenue from January 1 to July 31 this year is far more than the $18.4 million the Oregon Liquor Control Commission anticipated for the two-year period starting in July 2015.

“A statement on the Department of Revenue website explains that medical marijuana dispensaries started collecting a 25% tax on their recreational marijuana sales in January, which spokeswoman Joy Krawczyk told KGW has contributed to the high amount of tax, the revenue of which will pay for police, addiction programs and schools in the state.

“In 2014, Colorado brought in $76 million in tax revenue from legal cannabis sales… Figures from the state’s Department of Revenue in 2015 showed that it outpaced revenue from alcohol taxes in the fiscal year ending on June 30.

“By July 8 this year (2015), Washington state’s treasury had taken in more than $250 million in excise tax since marijuana legalization began in July 2014.”

Legalisation of marijuana in Estonia

In a country the size of Estonia, the potential boost from tourism and job creation could be hugely significant.

Germany has passed a law which will see medical marijuana become legally available in that country in early 2017 and we know that in Europe, where the Germans lead, the rest will follow. For economic reasons alone, Estonia cannot afford to be left behind.

“For economic reasons alone, Estonia cannot afford to be left behind.”

I would advise the complete legalisation of marijuana, with licenses similar to the liquor trade needed to sell it commercially. Tax the production and sale in exactly the same way alcohol is taxed, but I know it may be a bit early for that. At the very least, consider legalising the medical use.

Both morality and greed say we must legalise marijuana in Estonia. That’s the sort of consensus that is very hard to argue with.

I

The opinions in this article are those of the author. Cover: a cannabis (hemp) plant (the cover image is illustrative.)

About the author: Justin Zehmke

Justin Zehmke works as a copywriter at the Estonian tech company, Pipedrive. He moved to Tallinn from Cape Town, South Africa, where he was the head of digital strategy at a marketing agency. Before this switch to marketing, he was a publisher, editor, journalist and executive producer working in digital, radio and television.

  • Annonamice

    Yes, Estonia, as well the rest of the Baltics, as well as the EU should legalize marijuana. It’s recreational use is surely less harmful than that of alcohol, and would probably cut down on disease and mortality associated with drinking. It’s use as a medicine for a myriad of problems is has been proven beyond anecdote internationally, and has zero side effects, save “feeling good”.

    On the downside, where would the cannabis come from? Estonia’s climate and latitude almost preclude any effective cultivation of drug-quality cannabis. Is the exorbitant cost of power and real estate worth growing cannabis indoors? I don’t think so.

    Legal cannabis in Estonia (and everywhere) is a good idea… the idea of producing it in Estonia is not.

    • Poeslippies

      Estonian weather may not be perfect, but in most countries where medical use has been legalised marijuana is grown indoors, under lights. Even greenhouses would be efficient during Estonia’s summer.

      • IzirAtig

        Estonia’s summer is perfect for cannabis. No need for greenhouses.

        • Teddy Smeds

          -if there’s a rainy summer & autumn, it’s not optimal outdoors at all, not even for pure autoflowers. At least an optional transparent roof to put over the plants is a good idea to have handy *if* the autumn turns out wet and cold..

  • erik

    Yes Estonia, I would definitely visit you if you legalized weed. /Swede

  • Jorma Uolevi Melander

    Marijuanas should not be legalized, because they are illegal.
    Two of my friends died injecting marijaunas.

  • Kristopher Rikken

    Well, I think it’s insane to criminalize any entheogenic substance or lock people up for it, but touting it as a panacea with no negative effects at all is also a bit over the top. Hell, even the beatniks (Burroughs in particular) knew that pot could cause sudden, intense fear (and that was in the pre-hydro era of low-THC weed). Some susceptible people do have mental problems on it, it’s not a lie that there are quite a few first-episode psychosis episodes because of pot (though obviously pro-prohibition propagandists exaggerate it). The writer presumably knows that pot tends to magnify whatever is inside a person, good or bad.

    There will have to be more research on whether the finding that use drops in young adults and teens after legalization is really universal or not. Mixing teens and pot – as the final touches are put on the adult brain – tends to be a bad idea. In my experience as a small business owner in Estonia, people that age have a major work ethic and attitude problem as it is 🙂

    Also, unclear when the golden era of use of cannabis for medicine in Russian, German and Nordic civilization was – I must have missed that one. The Nordics have taken a clear tack to being zero-tolerance societies so it’s hard for Estonia to go against the grain. The dogs at the ferry terminals are not a decision Estonia made on its own. Probably the fact that small amounts have been decriminalized in Estonia is the best we can hope for.