Last month, 100,000 people signed the petition to fully legalise Cannabis in the UK. Under current rules, if a petition reaches 10,000 signatures, there will be a “response” from government. If a petition reaches 100,000 signatures, the petition will be “considered for debate in Parliament”. Although we don’t yet have the debate in parliament, the government has issued a response to the petition, which can be seen in full here. The response is disappointing to say the least, yet a little too predictable. It seems that the UK government still has an outdated view on the drug, and continues to ignore the evidence.
“Substantial scientific evidence shows cannabis is a harmful drug that can damage human health. There are no plans to legalise cannabis as it would not address the harm to individuals and communities.”
Although it is true that cannabis is not harmless and does cause some damage to human health, evidence is clear that it is much less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, two drugs which are legal. If it is government policy to regulate based on harm to human health, surely substances like alcohol, tobacco and even sugar would be Class A drugs, as they cause much more harm to individuals and communities. The graph below ranks drugs based on harmfulness to individuals and others:
Interestingly, although heroin and crack cocaine are the most harmful to individuals; alcohol is the worst as it causes by far the most harm to others.
“Legalisation of cannabis would not eliminate the crime committed by the illicit trade, nor would it address the harms associated with drug dependence and the misery that this can cause to families.”
This is just completely wrong, and ignores historical evidence of prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s. After alcohol prohibition was repealed, crime rate – including organised crime, violent crime and corruption – dramatically reduced. In addition, we can point to more recent data in Colorado state after one year of retail sales and two years of decriminalisation. Marijuana possession arrests have dropped by 84% since 2010. Violent crime in Denver went down by 2.2% in the first 11 months; burglaries decreased by 9.5% and overall property crime fell by 8.9%. The statement also ignores the significant role that the war on drugs plays in creating the harms associated with drug dependency and the misery it causes to families. With the current laws, a young person that is likely unemployed or living in poverty, that is caught buying or selling cannabis, could either face lengthy jail time or a criminal record that makes it very difficult for them to get a good job and help that they need to make their way in life. And so, many of the harms that the statement refers to are a consequence of the drug laws, not of the drug itself.
“Despite the potential opportunity offered by legalisation to raise revenue through taxation, there would be costs in relation to administrative, compliance and law enforcement activities, as well as the wider costs of drug prevention and health services.”
At least the government now admits that there is potential economic benefits to legalisation. However, it is confusing for them to point out that there are administrative, compliance and law enforcement costs. Nobody is denying that. However, those costs are much higher when cannabis is illegal than when it is legal. Much more time and money would need to be spent on enforcing the drugs laws, in an attempt to suppress the drug trade when the drugs are illegal. Furthermore, Colorado, which is the fastest growing economy in the US, has created hundreds of jobs since legalisation, and the drug dispensaries contribute 10 times the tax revenue of a typical restaurant or retail shop. This tax revenue has been used for youth prevention services, education, mental health and community based developmental programs, all of which are much more effective in dealing with the drug dependency problem.
To conclude, not only is the government statement hollow, and lacking in evidence to support its claims, it also completely ignores relevant positive data from places like Portugal and Colorado, which have seen decreases in crime rate and drug use. Cannabis is, also, not as harmful as this statement makes out, and it is much less harmful than tobacco and alcohol. The public petition was a step in the right direction, it put pressure on the government to respond. Now, after this government response, there ought to be even more public pressure on the government, and the parliament debate needs to happen.