The illegal use of soft drugs has continued to increase in the United Kingdom, despite efforts put in place by law enforcement authorities. Storry (2007, p.158) affirms that “today, soft drug use has become fairly mainstream among the United Kingdom’s youth population, and it is estimated that more than 50 per cent of young people will have tried at least one illegal drug by the time they are eighteen.” These statistics shows that the problem of soft drugs begins at an earlier stage in life; hence, there is a need to institute legal measures that will effectively cut the problem. In this regard, several proponents have proposed for the actual legalization of soft drugs, while others oppose this measure. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the legalization of soft drugs comes with benefits as well as negative impacts, which deserves to be addressed by pursuing a balanced approach.
First, legalizing soft drugs will improve the efforts of combating illegal drug sales, because it will take away the aesthetic benefit of them being used in hidden situations and circumstances. This will especially benefit members of the younger generation, whose use of soft drugs is mostly triggered by peer pressure. According to statistics, released by the Home Office, it was revealed that the number of young people aged between 16 and 24 years who had used soft drugs such as cannabis in the past year, had actually dropped from 25% to 21%, ever since the new legislation that reclassified cannabis was passed (Travis 2007). By legalizing the soft drug, the focus of law enforcement officials on some of its offenders was decreased. As a result, the initial aesthetic value derived from attention seeking teenagers in this group was taken away leading to its declining usage.
Secondly, legalizing soft drugs will eliminate the malpractices in the justice and enforcement system, in which soft drug offenders are subjected to varying degrees of treatment. This selective treatment of soft drug offenders does not address the problem effectively at the community level. According to Trace, Klein, and Roberts (2004, p.1) there has been a growing recognition of the fact that the high number of arrests of cannabis users was having little effect on its use, while there was a wide variation in the number of arrests and prosecution of offenders across the nation. This implies that classifying soft drugs as illegal substances only served to promote their illegal use, while it provided some law enforcement officials with the opportunity to gain from it. Hence, the best approach would be to legalize the drug so that all sectors of the society are equally protected.
Thirdly, legalizing soft drugs may negatively affect that social and cultural structure of the society. Traditionally, the society has norms that govern the manner, in which people should act in the community (Hess 2009, p.66). The norms effectively classify normal and abnormal behavior. Thus, allowing soft drugs to be legalized, may promote the notion that it is right to consume soft drugs regardless of their negative effects (Twain 2006, p.49). In this case, the best method is to identify the most suitable approach that will preserve the social norms of the society. Whenever these norms are broken, the society’s value system becomes disintegrated. The younger generation’s behavior is moulded by the manner in which the society acts. Thus, with time a culture of toleration to soft drugs will establish itself in the society, which will undermine other efforts of decreasing the use of soft drugs.
Fourthly, legalizing soft drugs may lead to a physiological impact on the affected users, so that they may eventually end up using hard drugs. This arises from the increasing tolerance of the body system to the soft drugs (Kumar 2008, p.23). Increasing tolerance is an indicator of the user’s physiological adaptation to the soft drug. Gradually, as the body becomes accustomed to the drug, the pleasure that was initially derived from it will subside. Once the pleasure subsides, the victim may choose to increase his dosage. In the event the high dosage becomes unresponsive, the victim may now resort to the available hard drug options (Kumar 2008, p.24). The level of addiction of hard drugs is much harder to control than that of soft drugs. Hence, when the soft drug users finally settle on hard drugs, the problem will become more serious and this will pose more dangers to the affected society.
Finally, legalizing soft drugs may provide a temporary solution to the problem, though in the long run this will only deepen the problem to such an extent that it may no longer be manageable. This implies that the United Kingdom’s decision to reclassify cannabis should have taken into consideration all the negative impacts, especially the one’s concerning the society’s value system, in order to address the problem with competence. Soft drugs do not provide much benefit to the society because they have a capability of resulting in addiction. Controlling addiction will only add more burdens to the society, through the efforts of rehabilitation. The best solution will be to promote a combined effort, in which members of the society work together with the police and the justice system to bring soft drug offenders to justice. Strengthening the justice system in this manner will discourage illegal use of soft drugs. In essence, not legalizing drugs effectively will protect the society’s social and cultural system, while safeguarding the future of young people.