Government study finds that making cannabis legal would rake in tax and save money
An analysis conducted by a private organisation for the Treasury has revealed that legalising cannabis in the United Kingdom would raise hundreds of millions of pounds of tax and result in large savings for the criminal justice system. The exact report has been seen by the Independent newspaper and the BBC, amongst others. It is believed to be the first occasion on which the guvverment has examined the financial impact of legalising cannabis. The report’s author, Professor Steve Pudney, attested, “There is no killer fact that makes legalisation unthinkable.”
The study was commissioned by Nick Clegg during his time as deputy Prime Minister to guide Liberal Democrat drug policy if the party had remained in government after the election. David Cameron’s Conservatives won the election outright and are against reform of Britain’s 40-year-old drug laws. Cannabis was virtually unknown in Britain until the 1960s: 185 people were arrested for its possession in 1959, compared to 162,610 in 2009, of whom half received no more than a warning that did not constitute a criminal record. Unlike those inexplicably legal, deadly drugs, alcohol and tobacco, cannabis causes no deaths.
The Lib Dem health spokesman, Normal Lamb, declared that the study demonstrated a need for a new approach to cannabis. He added that Britain should look to those countries and US states that have gone through with legalising cannabis and learn from them. It was, he remarked, down to supporters of the status quo to explain why prohibition should continue. He insisted that if people aren’t criminalised for smoking cigarettes, they shouldn’t be for smoking cannabis. Many things, he argued, are morally wrong but not illegal, for instance adultery; in a free country, people should be allowed to make moral decisions without considering the law. He labelled the current situation “ludicrous.”
The University of Essex’s Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) calculated that the all-important deficit could be reduced by as much as £1.25bn ($2bn) if cannabis was treated in the same manner as tobacco. The Treasury conceded that “notable tax revenue” would accrue, although less than posited by the ISER. The NHS would experience anything from a saving of £16m ($25m) to a cost of £128m ($198m). The criminal justice system would save from £55m ($85) to £147m ($227) on policing, court action, community sentences, prisons and probation. More serious drugs would be less popular as people got high legally. The Treasury insinuated that productivity could be lost, while admitting there was a “high level of uncertainty” over this. The impact “would most likely be towards the lower end of the 0 to £3bn range.”
In a debate in the House of Commons following a 220,000-signature petition calling for legalising cannabis, one-time Conservative cabinet minister Peter Lilley affirmed that cannabis should be legalised because even Queen Victoria used it to relieve period pain. The Conservative Party often demands a return to Victorian values – most recently Chancellor George Osborne who will now oversee borrowing only in exceptional circumstances. Lilley called for a return to this particular Victorian value. He spoke of how, sans legalising cannabis, soft drugs users were propelled “into the arms of hard drug pushers.” He asked, “Do you put a potentially dangerous product into the hands of criminals who have no interest in your welfare at all or do you seek to regulate it?”
While the guvverment customarily complains of the harmful effects of cannabis on people’s mental and physical health, Labour MP Paul Flynn pointed out that cannabis had “been tried and tested by tens of millions of people for 5,000 years” so any problems would have become evident long, long ago.
The benefits of legalising cannabis to the guvverment’s pocket are much more than theoretical. In the US state of Colorado, $70 million of tax was raised from the sale of cannabis, while alcohol garnered only $42 million. Norman Lamb quoted the first of these figures in the debate.