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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: 15

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Learning objectives

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

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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.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

drugs and behaviour--> Ethical issues

Jul 12th, 2011

5 Star

This is ideal to teach students science and ethics while helping them to develop and evaluate value systems and how to debate topical issues.


GCSE Biology

Dec 5th, 2010

4 Star

Tried this with a year 10 group - they enjoyed discussing the points and enabled them to develop opinions that actually had reasoning. We took a vote before & after and the activity swayed about 1 third of the class.

Reviewer: Vicky Strohmaier

Cannabis review

Oct 28th, 2010

3 Star

quite useful stuff and good links

Reviewer: Jeannette Simpson

Science core

May 14th, 2010

5 Star

I have downloaded it to use with Y10 pupils i find it useful and will give feed back after the lesson.


Biology Core

Jul 31st, 2009

3 Star

Just downloaded for use in September will give more comprehensive review after session. Thank you UPD8.

Reviewer: Hazel Butterworth


Jul 3rd, 2009

3 Star


Reviewer: nighat shahzad

Cannabis review

Dec 11th, 2008

4 Star

Resources were very good- prompted good classroom discussion, pupils could see there was no one correct answer,it enabled them to look at it from different perspectives and that they had to make their own judgement backed up with their own reasoning based on fact.
Pupils enjoyed the task.

Reviewer: Loraine Robinson


Oct 8th, 2008

3 Star

A good exercise in thinking skills, students enjoyed it very much but didn't consider it science!

Reviewer: jane downing


Jun 17th, 2008

5 Star

Really useful for getting discussion going for casestudies.( as many of our students chose to do this topic).

Reviewer: kantha choudhury

Good ideas for my drug teaching

Jun 8th, 2008

4 Star

Though cannabis is not a common drug issue in my city, the activity suggests good ideas for implementing my drug topics in my daily teaching

Reviewer: Alex Wong

Cannabis review

May 11th, 2008

4 Star

Enjoyed the activity, made my year 9s think.

Reviewer: Deborah Bradley


Apr 18th, 2008

4 Star

There wasn't enough arguments only ba one's and they weren't even good arguments becaus they didn't even have reasons, but I think it was quite good because it gave more reasons on the task to keep it illegal. It also got my brain to work

Reviewer: Iman Abdullah

pdf files and ppt files

Feb 27th, 2008

1 Star

The former pdf files were easy to download. the new ppt files are good that they can be edited but our local servers are weak and take a long time to download. so why don't an option be made either one can download pdf version or ppt version.
Joozar Sharafali
Head of Science dept
Yemen International School
Sanna - Yemen.

EDITOR'S RESPONSE: We recognise this is the drawback - if you have a slow connection. We are investigating whether it's possible for us to post a pdf version as well. We will let subscribers know.

Reviewer: joozar sharafali

Cannabis review

Feb 26th, 2008

1 Star

This is a good activity which I used with a class of 4 boys in the PRU where I work. They found it interesting but it only lasted for about 20 minutes due to their preference for kinaesthetic learning! I combined it with a video about drugs and would recommend this acitivity as one which could be used at many levels.

Reviewer: Anne Andrews


Feb 25th, 2008

4 Star

Very good source of websites for students to use as part of their research.

Reviewer: M Clark


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