Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2020-21/Power in the legalisation of cannabis

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Introduction to the Legalisation of Cannabis[edit | edit source]

On the 2nd December 2020, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, from the United Nations Economic and Social Council reclassified cannabis as a less harmful drug[1]. Cannabis was before on the list of the most dangerous drugs under the Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This decision sets an unprecedented turn. From now on, international law recognises the medical benefits therapeutic cannabis can have.[2] This decision was taken by a political organisation based on the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations and thus highlights that different disciplines come into play in this issue. The problem however, is not solved because while the UN decision has an internationally symbolic dimension to it, each country has their own legislation. Therefore, the use of cannabis is twofold as it is not only therapeutic but also recreational. The different disciplines involved including medicine, politics, law and economics have significant power here, which makes the legalisation of cannabis an issue that cannot be solved by a monodisciplinary approach[2].

The Medical Discipline : a Decisive Power in the Legalisation[edit | edit source]

Medical power plays an essential role in the legalisation of cannabis and has a great pressure on its control. A therapeutic use of cannabis is not a new practice, however the question of legalising its use recently appeared in the medical discipline[3]. According to numerous international researches, marijuana is an effective solution for pain control[4] and could become a much safer treatment than opiates which currently account for 70% of drug associated deaths[5]. Moreover, the use of cannabis as a muscle relaxant has been positively experienced with Parkinson’s disease and its use as a treatment for PTSD has been promising.[4]

On the other hand, although certain researches have proved wrong some of the negative assumptions on marijuana consumption, for instance a lowered IQ as a consequence[6], the use of cannabis can still cause harm. Despite the political and economic advantages of its legalisation, the power of medical research could not have been ignored in the UN decision since it highlights the dangers of cannabis use for individuals including Cannabis Use Disorder, harmful effects on teenagers’ brain development and cognitive dysfunction[7]

However, these negative effects are comparable to those of alcohol which is on the contrary legalised, so it may raise potential misunderstandings of cannabis users about its prohibition[6]. Indeed, cannabis would cause less harm than alcohol[6], but the hypothesis of regulating cannabis as little as alcohol, allowing hemp recreational use is firmly countered by scientific research as it aims to prevent normalisation of cannabis consumption[3]  ·[7].

Thus, the scientific profession is definitely challenging the legalisation of cannabis without its therapeutic criteria which has been decided by six governments so far[8] for political, legal and economic benefits. On the other hand, the legalisation of a controlled distribution of cannabis strictly for medicinal use is increasing as it is more and more supported by the medical power.[7]

Governmental Power[edit | edit source]

The consequences of the legalisation of cannabis are significant in politics and law. These disciplines, although distinct, are intertwined in this issue, under one organ: the government[9]. Being the decision-maker, the government has a major power on the outcome of this issue.

Part of the political and legal power promotes the legalisation of cannabis. Their main arguments are the following: legalising cannabis and putting it under government control will allow the dismantlement of the criminal market of cannabis[10]. The police are overwhelmed with cases of people who smoke marijuana, while other more serious cases require their time. According to FBI data 500,000 arrests were made in the United States for cannabis possession in 2019[11]. The power held by the judiciary, lobbying for more financial means and time, is an incentive for the legalisation of cannabis. In addition, marijuana being one of the most consumed drugs[12], dismantling its black market would be a major win for any government. This results in tensions between parts of governments that push for the legalisation, seeing it as a political driver[13] and the medical power.

Yet, drawing on the examples of states and countries that legalised marijuana, some governments pointed out that there is no guarantee that the black market will be dismantled[14], or that its legalisation does not make way for other, more harmful drugs[10]. Moreover, the legal power highlights that it is not because a law is not efficient that it should be changed to the opposite, otherwise arm trafficking and tax evasion should be legalised too[15]. Conflicts within the law lead to cases such as the United States where cannabis is prohibited federally but legal in some states[16].

Thus, the legal and political disciplines have tremendous power in solving such an issue through governments. However, due to the tensions within their perspectives and the power struggle, a unique outcome has not yet been cleared.

Economic Power[edit | edit source]

Legalising cannabis is very impactful for the economy. It not only can create a new revenue source, but it can also reduce the costs associated with law enforcement measures. In Canada, around $70 million is earned yearly through levies on legal hemp sales whereas, police, prison and court associated costs accounted for more than $600 million in 2009[17]

Black markets are underground markets, whereas legalisation is a synonym for transparency and control. A market controlled by the government allows production to be done in better conditions to ensure a higher quality production. Certain economists argue that an official marijuana market would make it easier to control sales to the underage population that cannot purchase it[18]. Thus, economists sometimes side partial with the political and legal power.

On the other hand, the total costs of cannabis legalisation are highly subject to how the consumption changes. This means that if hemp consumption surges dramatically, social costs will outweigh economic benefits[19]. These social drawbacks mainly include health care costs, traffic accidents, fire damage costs and economic loss of income (both in terms of cost of marijuana and loss in productivity) [17].

Eventually, even when cannabis is legalised, the black market is not set to disappear. In California today, it is three times larger than the official market since its prices are more attractive to customers and producers do not pay taxes on their sales[20][21]. Therefore, economic power is another influence in the resolution to legalising cannabis.

The Interdisciplinary Challenge: the Seek of a Possible Agreement[edit | edit source]

In conclusion, the legalisation of cannabis raises an interdisciplinary conflict especially between the medical power and both the economic and governmental powers. Although a great proportion of the medical profession supports a controlled legalisation of therapeutic cannabis, only the hypothesis of legalising recreational cannabis highlights the economic, political and legal benefits. As these different disciplines each have significant power in the decision-making on this topic, their different conflicts of interest and views prevent a consensus from being reached. Nevertheless, several governments seem to have found a compromise: the decriminalisation of cannabis possession below a certain quantity[22]. The police would not be as flooded, which is both a legal and financial advantage. Finally, if the quantity limit is decided by the medical authority, public health would not be threatened by this type of decision.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. UN News. UN Commission Reclassifies Cannabis, Yet Still Considered Harmful. [online]. New York; 2020 [Accessed 11 December 2020]. Available from:
  2. a b Kwai I. U.N. Reclassifies Cannabis as a Less Dangerous Drug [online]. The New York Times: New York; 2020 [Accessed 11 December 2020]. Available from:
  3. a b Kleiman M. The Public-Health Case for Legalizing Marijuana [online]. Washington; 2019 [Accessed 4 December 2020]. Available from:
  4. a b Grinspoon P.M. Medical marijuana. 15 January Harvard Health Blog [online]. 2018 [Accessed 4 December 2020]. Available from:
  5. World Health Organization. Opioid overdose [online]. WHO International: Geneva; 2020 [Accessed 7 December 2020]. Available from:
  6. a b c Project M. Effective Arguments for Regulating and Taxing Marijuana [online]. MPP. [Accessed 4 December 2020]. Available from:
  7. a b c Kalant H. A critique of cannabis legalization proposals in Canada. International Journal of Drug Policy [online]. 2016; 34:5-10. Available from:
  8. Wikipedia. Legal status of cannabis possession for recreational use [online]. 2018 [Accessed 7 December 2020]. Available from: w:Legality of cannabis#/media/File:Map-of-world-cannabis-laws.svg
  9. Spetz J, Chapman SA, Bates T, Jura M, Schmidt LA. Social and Political Factors Associated with State-Level Legalization of Cannabis in the United States [online]. Contemporary Drug problems. 2019 [Accessed 3 December 2020]; 46(2):165-179. Available from:
  10. a b Hajizadeh M. Legalizing and Regulating Marijuana in Canada: Review of Potential Economic, Social, and Health Impacts [online]. International Journal of Health Policy and Management. 2016; 5(8):453–456 [Accessed 3 December 2020];. Available from:
  11. Earlenbaugh E. More People Were Arrested For Cannabis Last Year Than For All Violent Crimes Put Together, according To FBI Data [online]. Forbes. 2020 [Accessed 7 December 2020]; Oct 6; 44(1): 54–76. Available from:
  12. Winstock AR. 8th annual report. [online]. Global Drug Survey: London; 2019 [Accessed 10 December 2020] Available from:
  13. Political Issue: Marijuana. [online] The Institute of Politics (IOP) at Harvard Kennedy School: Cambridge; 2014 [Accessed 30 October 2020]. Available from:
  14. Fertig N. How Legal Marijuana Is Helping the Black Market [online]. Politico Magazine. 2019 [Accessed 7 December 2020] Available from:
  15. Cyrenne P, Shanahan M. Toward a Regulatory Framework for the Legalization of Cannabis. Canadian Public Policy [online]. 2018; 44(1): 54–76 [Accessed 1 December 2020]. Available from:
  16. Kilmer B, Riccardo Pacula R. Understanding and learning from the diversification of cannabis supply laws. Addiction [online]. 2016; 112(7): 1128–1135 [Accessed 5 December 2020]; Available from:
  17. a b Cayer, A. The ‘High’ Economic Benefits of Legalizing Marijuana in Canada. Major Paper Present to The Department of Economics of the University of Ottawa in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of the MA Degree; 2010; p96–115.
  18. 1. Stamberger J. Want to Lower Underage Cannabis Use? Develop a Controlled Legal Market. Medium [online]. 2010 [Accessed 11 December 2020]. Available from:
  19. 1. Kalant H. A critique of cannabis legalization proposals in Canada. International Journal of Drug Policy. 2016; 34:5-10. Available from
  20. Kleiman M. The Public-Health Case for Legalizing Marijuana [online]. Washington; 2019 [Accessed 11 December 2020]. Available from:
  21. Thomas Fuller. ‘Getting Worse, Not Better’: Illegal Pot Market Booming in California Despite Legalization. The New York Times [online]. 2019 April 27 [Accessed 11 December 2020];. Available from:
  22. Svrakic DM, Lustman PJ, Mallya A, Lynn TA, Finney R, Svrakic NM. Legalization, decriminalization & medicinal use of cannabis: a scientific and public health perspective [online]. Mo Med. 2012;109(2):90-98. Available from: