There might be many heading home from Conservative Party Conference who were hankering to let their hair down. But if a group of Tory police commissioners have anything to say about it, it won’t be with a joint anytime soon. Instead, they want to see marijuana reclassified as a Class A drug, bringing it in line with cocaine and heroin.
This would be a mistake. And as many have pointed out before me, the benefits – in terms of health, economics and crime – of decriminalisation would be far greater than slapping more restrictions on weed.
Those in favour of amping up its criminal status will no doubt point to the health dangers of cannabis, especially to young people. They are absolutely right. But cannabis is largely dangerous because it cannot be properly regulated, and the quality of the drug is so variable.
If the government decriminalised the drug, it could ensure that it is properly controlled with rules about potency and who can use it and where. As the legalised form of cannabis displaces the unregulated variety, the market could be restricted to people over the age of 18 – just as alcohol is. Sure, you get teens illegally buying booze every now and then, but they’re not buying bathtub gin anymore. On the whole, they’re still safer.
It also represents a significant business opportunity for entrepreneurs. In countries where cannabis has been decriminalised there have been a plethora of businesses both large and small set up to sell cannabis and related products. In the UK, we would effectively create an entirely new industry. What could be more in line with the “go for growth” attitude coming from No10?
Decriminalisation would also boost the public finances. The government could levy taxes on cannabis products and the businesses set up to produce it. In California, the excise tax on cannabis has generated more than $157m. This could be put back into our ailing public services such as the NHS. It would also reduce the strain on the justice system and the health service, so money can be spent more prudently.
The most obvious impact would be the direct crimes of possession and dealing cannabis, but we would also have fewer robberies and burglaries which are often associated with cannabis users turning to crime to fund their addiction. Gangs would see there influence curbed significantly. They often use cannabis to finance more serious crimes so hitting their finances (while boosting the public purse) would seriously hamper their other criminal activities.
There is also the ideological point: it is wrong for the government to interfere with the choices of grown adults. In the same way we rightly don’t criminalise smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol, we should not criminalise cannabis consumption. It is none of the state’s business what an adult chooses to do with their own body, and cannabis should be no exception
Is this not the very premise of Liz Truss’ deregulation government?
London could lead the way with this. The mayor, Sadiq Khan has already signalled his willingness to do so, launching a commission to investigate the efficacy of decriminalising cannabis. If the capital city was given powers to decriminalise and regulate cannabis, once the benefits become clear, the rest of the country could follow example. Cannabis is a dangerous drug and people are right to be concerned about its harmful impact on young people. But rather than reclassifying it and making the problem worse, we should loosen the criminal rules and instead make it a highly regulated industry.