Sir Richard Branson, Sting (who could never really make love for eight hours), comedian Russell Brand and high profile barrister Michael Mansfield were among those who signed an open letter in 2014 inviting the government to consider decriminalising possession of cannabis. Of the main political parties, the Lib Dems made legalising cannabis an aim just before the general election of 2017. Former Conservative Party leader William Hague wrote in the Daily Torygraph that he now wants legalised cannabis because getting the police to stop people smoking dope is “about as up to date and relevant as asking the army to recover the empire.” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn agrees, the only problem being that he would be a dreadful prime minister. The Green Party also favours decriminalisation.
The think tank the Adam Smith Institute stated that it would be possible to rake in between £750 million and £1bn of taxes if we legalised cannabis and regulated it like alcohol and tobacco. A saving of £50 million a year would be the product of not imprisoning 1,363 folk for cannabis-related crimes. As Conservative MP for Reigate Crispin Blunt pointed out, organised crime groups that sell cannabis would lose much trade. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform found that tens of thousands of British citizens already flout the law and use cannabis to relieve many medical conditions; the government has gone some way to catching up here, allowing the prescription of cannabis for medical purposes since 2018. Legalising cannabis for recreational purposes would be a fantabulous idea. Some people claim that this has already come to pass in the United Kingdom, following in the footsteps of Uruguay and Canada.
The bad news
Possessing cannabis can result in as much as five years as a guest in one of Her Majesty’s prisons. Supplying or producing the drug can get you up to 14 years.
But there’s good news!
Has the United Kingdom already legalised cannabis? Arrests for possession of the drug in this country have plummeted by as much as 75 percent since 2008, despite its being the most popular illegal drug around: from 2008 to 2018, recorded cannabis offences fell by 77 percent in Greater Manchester, 70 percent in Leicestershire, 67 percent in Cambridgeshire, 66 percent in the West Midlands and 59 percent in London. Crime in general rose by 11.4 percent over the same period. Only three of the 43 forces in England and Wales reported an increase in cannabis arrests: 33 percent in Wiltshire and nine percent in Dorset and Bedfordshire. So don’t live in these places.
Some police chiefs have instructed their officers to not arrest users. Dave Thompson, the chief constable of the West Midlands force, encourages his underlings to not charge young users, so they avoid a criminal record.
MPs have accused police of having effectively legalised cannabis. Norman Lamb, the Lib Dem MP for North Norfolk and a former health minister, bewails that, since the police are not acting on government instructions, users can be prosecuted in one place but not another. In the face of “almost impossible restrictions on resources”, there has been “a de facto drift towards decriminalisation but without any debate, without any role of government, without national oversight.”
It’s already happening informally, so perhaps the government ought to have just decriminalised cannabis properly.