The biggest obstacle of all is personal prejudice on the matter.
On the 12th October this year the UK parliament will debate whether or not they will “Make the production, sale and use of cannabis legal.” As of writing this the petition that resulted in this debate has received over 214,000 signatures. At first glance this seems like quite a lot, and it is likely to put pressure on MPs, but the reality is that we still face a very real and thick block to progress. The debate is going to be led by Paul Flynn, the Labour MP for Newport West. He has been a long standing advocate for the legalisation of cannabis going back as far as 25 years now, but even then expectations remain low for any real progress towards legalisation.
The biggest obstacle of all is personal prejudice on the matter. This culture of moral disapproval to cannabis is what is stopping us from being able to use the science behind the issue to move us forward. In recent years many developed countries have already started their path towards legalisation, but we in the UK have made no such move.
214,000 signatures is more than double what is needed to force a debate in parliament, and we can all hope that that figure is far too high for government figures to simply ignore. At the very least, they have to accept that the support for this particular issue is substantial. We can all hope that they will take this into account, but the truth is we all know what the outcome of this debate will be.
With 330 seats the Conservative party currently enjoy a majority in Westminster, and there is little hope of a topic as controversial as this getting past them in their first year of majority. They will push back at this petition, and they will likely win due to their sheer size. While there is lingering support for this issue at parliament, there is nothing like enough to actually see any real change at the top here. As I wrote in a previous article, there is substantial support, but there is nothing like enough to tackle a hardline Conservative agenda. The outcome will almost certainly be a rejection of the proposal, but I think the debate itself will reveal some quite telling truths behind the whole issue.
Judging by the poor quality response we received from the government earlier, we can expect to see a dangerous amount of subjective narrative enter this debate, when really we should be focusing on the facts behind it all. There are groups with considerable influence that back the legalisation of cannabis, such as the United Patients alliance which lobbies for the legalisation of cannabis for medical use. Groups like these produce can push the scientific research into the public eye and show politicians the objective view of the entire issue. The political editor of the United Patients alliance, Jon Liebling had this to say about the parliamentary debate:
“We urge all of our MPs to participate in an informed, pragmatic, evidence-based, compassionate debate resulting at the very least in allowing sick people a legitimate, effective medicine that vastly improves their quality of life without fear of criminalisation.”
But here we run into a problem. If politicians won’t take heed of the evidence based arguments, then the whole debate becomes unstuck. I don’t think anyone truly believes that we will get a positive outcome from the debate, but the most frustrating thing that could happen is for us to be simply ignored, and it is a real danger. Quite recently there was a petition on the government e-petition site to call for the government to take in more Syrian refugees. The petition broke all records and ended up being gaining over 430,000 signatures in no time at all, yet the petition is also being dismissed (with considerably more respect and an evidence based counter argument to their response to the decriminalisation of cannabis petition I might add). If the government is willing to ignore 430,000 voices all crying out in unison on a matter where human lives are at risk, it reveals a great deal about what lies in store for us in October.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing of all that could happen would be a lack of attendance to the debate. This is something the generally gets under my skin anyway, since it is their jobs to represent us and if they won’t attend then aren’t representing anyone but themselves, but in this debate it will reveal who is prepared to actually listen to the evidence. This is where we all can play a part, and call out anyone who just refuses to even turn up. It’s worryingly likely that the Conservative whips will be putting pressure on their MPs to not attend the debate, and we can use this as fuel. Politicians not doing their jobs makes for a fiery reaction, and it’s up to us to make sure that they know we are taking this matter seriously, even if they aren’t. But this may not be the end of the debate if they do chose to abstain.
Without a Conservative voice acting against the proposal in unison, the pro decriminalisation MPs will face a much quieter House of Commons, in which their voices will be heard far more easily. 330 voices acting as one can easily drown any evidence in a sea of morally driven disapproval, but without them it becomes a more even fight. Outrage often conceals the truth, but their silence may actually allow the evidence to come to light, and project their argument further by helping to convince those MPs that do actually bother to turn up.
At the end of the day we can all be pretty certain in our belief that this debate will not suddenly result in the total decriminalisation of cannabis, but we can predict that there may well be positive outcomes from it. The pro decriminalisation argument will reach a much wider audience, and there is a chance that an evidence based argument may well speak to those MPs that are on the fence with the issue and chose to back us rather than bow down to public disapproval. Whatever happens on the 12th October, we can be certain that getting this far has been a success, and we can look forward to future victories to come, however far away they may be.
- Petition to decriminalise cannabis and Government response.
- Petition to call for the Government to take in more refugees.
- Independent article on the upcoming cannabis debate.
- Breakdown of party views on the issue of cannabis decriminalisation.
- Guardian Article on the upcoming debate.
Cover photograph: PA/Alamy/Guardian montage