Cannabis policy reform has been back in the news this week following a report published by the Adam Smith Institute and Volteface on Monday. Entitled The Tide Effect, the report highlights the fact that the three objectives of UK drug policy – reducing demand, restricting supply and building recovery in community through public health facilities – are simply not being met. With more than 2 million people smoking cannabis in the UK, and far more having tried it at least once in their life, demand remains high and supply plentiful.
The report asserts that cannabis legalisation and regulation are inevitable and criticises the UK government’s procrastination in this regard. It describes UK drug policy as ineffective, harmful and “misconceived from start to finish”. The argument is backed by a cross-party group of MPs that includes Nick Clegg, former deputy prime minister, and Norman Lamb, former health minister. Clegg told the Times: “British politicians need to open their eyes to what is happening in the rest of the world. Cannabis prohibition is being swept away on a tide of popular opinion and replaced with responsible legal regulation”.
The publication presents the economic incentives for reform, referencing a report co-published by Beckley Foundation and the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) in 2013, that revealed a potential UK tax revenue of £750 million and £1 billion through a legally regulated cannabis market. It also reveals that prisoners jailed for cannabis offences in England and Wales are currently costing taxpayers £50 million per year. In a climate of market uncertainty following the Brexit vote, this may be a particularly persuasive argument for reform.
The Beckley Foundation have campaigned for cannabis reform since 2006 when Amanda Feilding convened a team of the world’s foremost drug policy experts to form the Beckley Foundation Global Cannabis Commission. Gathering the scientific evidence surrounding cannabis and the policies controlling its use of the time, they identified possible routes forward, including depenalisation, decriminalisation and a regulated legal market. Conclusions were produced in a report of 2008, which was subsequently refined to produce the publication Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond Stalemate. This was the first publication of its kind to provide the material needed for a rational review of cannabis policy in the UK. It was followed by “Roadmaps to Reforming the UN Conventions” and “Licensing and Regulation of the Cannabis Market in England and Wales: Towards a Cost-Benefit Analysis”.
Since then we have seen significant shifts occur around the world: most recently 4 more States in the US voting for legal recreational cannabis use, Canada announcing plans to create a legally regulated cannabis market, and Germany proposing to legalise medical use. While the UK lags behind, there are some positive steps being taken that should be applauded.
Last week, the British Medical Journal published an editorial in favour of drug policy reform last week, joining a growing body of health professionals in favour of change that include The Royal Society for Public Health and the Faculty for Public Health. In September this year, an all-party parliamentary group on drug policy reform said cannabis should be available on prescription.
Although health risks associated with cannabis use are well documented – particularly with use among children and use by people with mental health vulnerabilities – for those of us advocating a regulated market, it is precisely because cannabis, like any other drug can cause harm, that it needs to be appropriately controlled and regulated. As The Tide Effect asserts, “making it illegal doesn’t make it any safer”.
While Theresa May and the UK government maintain their blinkered position for the time being, a paradigmatic shift is occurring around the world that recognises that the war on drugs has failed. The tide has finally turned, and it wont be long before policy change appears on our shores.
Words: Hattie Wells
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