A group of MPs have come forward in support of a study conducted by the Adam Smith Institute in conjunction with Volteface, entitled ‘The Tide Effect: How the World is Changing its Mind on Cannabis Legalisation’. It analyses current drug policy in the United Kingdom and concludes that it is failing, calling the legalisation of cannabis in the UK “overdue and imperative”.
Some of the arguments for legalisation include the economic benefits, with the report estimating a staggering £1 billion annual tax revenue. Previous barriers, such as the lack of precedent set by other countries, have been overcome following decriminalisation in countries such as Canada and Germany.
The Adam Smith Institute has also recently published research on solar panel use, UK rail, border security and fishing. These reports focus heavily on questions such as the workings of particular public policies, public perception, involvement and economic effects.
While the report dedicates much attention to economic policy, politicians who came out in support of cannabis focus more on the regulatory potential of legalisation. Nick Clegg spoke of “taking back control from criminal gangs”, whilst Norman Lamb characterised current policies as “filling the pockets of criminals”.
However, it is unclear whether the impetus to legalise is based on the crackdown on gangs or re-routing money from criminals to the government. This study makes the case in stark economic terms, but ethical considerations and medicinal utility must also be taken into account.
Medical research on marijuana has thus far been impractical whilst it is still considered an illegal substance. The report compares marijuana to tobacco and alcohol. While these substances have well-documented health effects, we are unsure of the potential long term threat posed by marijuana because of its illegal status. This is portrayed as a positive, but there are some who would question whether legalisation is an appropriate way to test potential consequences. Cannabis Skunk Sense (CSS), a UK-based advocacy group aimed at preventing marijuana use, points out that “to many children the word legalisation equals ‘safe’”, suggesting that not only would legalisation allow a group of adults to legally partake in something that may have unknown risks, but it would indicate to children who are on the fence about smoking that marijuana is innocuous.
The report also advocates a changing of the language people use about marijuana, suggesting that specific health terms related to known risks should be used instead of vague, blanket terms like ‘dangerous’ or ‘risky’. In general, the use of specific medical terms that highlight accurate issues seems better than words with diverse connotations that could confuse or mislead people. However, in instances where the specific medical risks are unknown, this could be an especially dangerous recommendation.
The counterpoint to the moralist’s public health concerns is the argument of a reduced crime rates. Legalisation would substantially reduce crimes associated with drugs, which account for 60 per cent of offences.
This aspect is also multi-faceted. Whilst the report argues that, “the incarceration of more than 1,000 people is a blight not only on the lives of those in jail but on the lives of their families too”, CSS argues that “dealers would not become upright citizens overnight”. Their websites point to places where cannabis is legalised, showing how dealers continue to sell, undercutting the prices of legal dispensaries and depriving the state of the taxes which are predicted to raise so much money.
Several politicians such as Michael Fabricant and Paul Flynn emphasise the dangers of ‘hard drugs’ which often come in tandem with marijuana when it is sold illegally. However, if CSS is accurate, the dangers of people seeking only marijuana but eventually moving on to consuming more addictive drugs will continue as illegal dealers continue to offer competitive prices.
As more and more countries and municipalities debate and decide about decriminalisation, one way or another, the UK will have to make up its mind whether it wants to join the tide of those adopting new drug policies or hold the line.
Image: West Midlands Police, flickr.com