(Formerly “The Bud that Grew from Concrete”)

Thursday, June 23, the people of the UK voted 52-48 to leave the European Union (in the so-called “Brexit”, or British exit). A majority of Britons say they have had enough of the current political landscape and are ready for change.

The sky’s still up there

Of course, supporters of the EU are ducking the falling sky. But the UK and Europe existed long before the union, and will continue long after. The markets took a hit, then turned back up the high road the following week. So the real question isn’t whether Europe or the UK will be OK—but, rather, how they can make the best of this.

The EU provides all of its members with certain privileges, like free movement across member-state borders. However, it also requires members to adhere to certain regulations regarding goods and people, which can be more liberal or conservative than individual member states might otherwise be comfortable with.

With regard to cannabis, for example, bureaucrats in Belgium decided that all EU member states must classify the herb as a narcotic drug, regardless of how repugnantly ignorant that is. EU regulations therefore require members to deter the use, cultivation, and distribution of cannabis; and to violate the human rights of individuals who are harming no one, by punishing them over a plant.

Uneven law enforcement


But, enforcement details are left up to each member state. As a result, the EU looks like a checkerboard of lenient areas and danger zones, all sharing a common, underlying theme: Cannabis use is illegal and must be discouraged.

Sadly, the UK is generally an adherent of draconian cannabis policy. For example, a first offense of simple possession could result in up to 14 years in prison. (That’s almost enough to make some southern U.S. state lawmakers “green” with envy. —Ed.)

Thankfully, in reality there are multiple stages of warnings and cautions that police and prosecutors can use to slow the process down, but this still leaves cannabis consumers at the mercy of the enforcers. All Britons can really do is hope that every police officer, prosecutor, and judge involved has already met their quota that week.

The irony of the British having to seek independence from someone ELSE seems lost in the Brexit hubbub. Regardless, in reclaiming the reins from a bloated Brussels bureaucracy making most of their top-level decisions for them, the country has stepped outside EU and the warm, (s)mothering embrace of its protections. This, predictably, put people on edge. The markets, all skittish and jittery, detest uncertainty.  

Opportunity to make green into gold


World markets being what they are, things do resolve—and one hot commodity in particular could accelerate that more than any other. Here is where the UK has stumbled onto a golden opportunity: Legal cannabis could be the UK’s key to a smooth, successful divorce from the EU, and a bright economic future.

Taking advantage of the new-found independence they so desperately wanted, Great Britain and Northern Ireland should lead Europe by example. They should acknowledge science—and the common everyday experience of millions of ordinary people—and relax the cannabis laws. Stop treating the innocuous herb like heroin, and extend compassion to an anxious people. The region is ripe for sensible regulation based on harm reduction instead of punishment.

Legalizing cannabis in the UK would put into action all the messages the international community has been dancing around lately. It would underscore a belief in a birthright of  independence and self-determination, not only for the nation, but for each individual. The UK would show Europe and the world that they are ready to face the future in an informed, modern manner. In a country where drinking alcohol has been enshrined into the culture for centuries…and where heroin addiction and prescription opioid abuse are rampant…people deserve an alternative that’s healthier, more energizing—and non-lethal.

Turn the tables on fear

Those who believe the status quo should have been maintained regarding EU membership are openly fearful for their own economy and the global economy. The fear may be totally unnecessary and unhelpful, but that’s how fear works, and they feel it nonetheless. Those in the UK who believe they were on the overall losing end of the EU paradigm voted to exit. They say it’s worth some temporary turmoil and refer to June 23 as “British Independence Day”. And they could quickly turn their nervous neighbors’ fear into excitement by embracing the budding global industry lying at their feet. The scale of POSITIVE economic impact the UK will have on the world if they do this is absolutely staggering—more than enough to offset the upset caused by the Brexit.

So go ahead, UK. Step out of the EU’s shadow and into the warm sunlight. Show Europe how much more fun they could be having outside their judgmental little club. In this case, the grass might be greener on your own side of the fence.

Born in Arizona and raised in Maryland and Guinea, West Africa, Zach Brown claims the D.C. metro area as his home turf. He is currently back in Africa writing, teaching English as a second language, and making music in Bamako, Mali. Zach is an Eagle Scout who earned a B.A. in English from the University of Maryland. He was also president of the UMD chapters of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and SSDP (Students for Sensible Drug Policy).