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  • Key Stage 3
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Case study
Topic: Drugs

New Zealand and UK scientists have found that smoking just one joint of cannabis a day puts people at a much greater risk of lung cancer compared to smoking 20 cigarettes a day. In this activity students become MPs. They consider ethical arguments and decide whether or not to completely legalise cannabis.

This activity is designed to be used in conjunction with Simpletons: a tool for teaching ethical thinking. We suggest using Simpletons to teach students how to think from different ethical perspectives. Legalise cannabis then allows students to practise the same ethical styles in a different context.

This activity is in powerpoint. The text on page 2 is fully editable so that you can adapt it to the needs of your students.

11-14 How Science Works:
• 4b consider how and why decisions about science and technology are made, including those that raise ethical issues.

Published: 20th February 2008
Reviews & Comments: 16

Learning objectives

Students will learn to apply different ethical approaches to making a decision about whether or not to legalise cannabis in the UK.

Try the activity

You will need Acrobat Reader installed to open the activity sheets.

14 – 16 How science works: data, evidence, theories and explanations
• 4b consider how and why decisions about science and technology are made, including those that raise ethical issues.
14 – 16 GCSE specifications
Please see downloadable teachers notes for details of individual specification curriculum links

Running the activity

Display page 1. This gives the context and sets the task: decide whether the UK government should legalise the recreational use of cannabis. Tell students that, some forms of drugs are legal, such as alcohol and tobacco, even though they have associated health risks. They are commonly used and are a source of revenue for the government – in the form of taxation (although it can be argued that this revenue does not cover the costs associated with the use of these drugs). Now, ask whether the government should fully legalise the use of cannabis. This legislation raises ethical questions. Today's activity focuses on the ethics of legalising the recreational use of cannabis.
Pages 3, 4, 5 and 6 are posters that summarise one ethical approach each. Photocopy these onto A3 and display in different (accessible) parts of the classroom.
Page 2 gives 12 ethical arguments. Use the arguments in one of the following ways:

EITHER: Copy page 2 two or three times and cut into cards. Give each student – or pair – a card. Tell them to associate their card with an ethical approach and move to the relevant poster. Once there, discuss the arguments with others by the same poster and decide if they are in the right place. Repeat at least once, having given each student a different card.
OR: Ask more able students to devise their own arguments, one or two associated with each ethical approach. Then continue with the activity as described in 'either' above.
Then use page 7 to conclude the activity and assess learning:

EITHER: Students fill in one of the forms/boxes. They display their completed form next to the appropriate poster, and stand by it. Lead a class discussion to decide whether or not the UK government should legalise the use of cannabis.

OR: In groups of 4, each student fills in a different box. The group then decides whether or not the government should legalise cannabis.

OR: Ask students to fill in all the forms/boxes. Lead a class discussion to make the decision.

News links

BBC news
A discussion of the recent research that cannabis is more likely to cause lung cancer than smoking tobacco alone.
BBC science and nature
A series of four web pages giving an informative background into cannabis and its use and legislation in the UK. Why not have your pupils take part in the on-line vote?
BBC news
A report of research in 2007 that indicates that Cannabis users are 40% more likely than non-users to suffer a psychotic illness such as schizophrenia.
BBC news
A report of research in 2007 that indicates that teenagers as young as 14 are using cannabis every day, according to a study by Queen's University Belfast. The researchers found about one in 10 cannabis-smoking teenagers they surveyed were using the drug daily.
BBC news
A report of research in 2007 that indicates that men who smoke cannabis could be damaging their fertility, research carried out by Queen's University Belfast has suggested. The study by the university's Reproductive Medicine Research Group examined the direct effects on sperm function of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis. The group found that THC made sperm less likely to reach the egg to fertilise it.
Utah University
A Flash program from the University of Utah's Genetic science Learning Centre that can be viewed on-line to understand the physiological effects of cannabis and other drugs. Simply grab the desired mouse and examine the effects. This is an amusing slant on a serious problem.
Know Cannabis
A website for those wishing to cut down or stop their use of cannabis.

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