A new paper from the free market, neoliberal think tank the Adam Smith Institute recommends a six point plan to legalise cannabis to reduce crime, reduce health risks, raise revenue from tax, and increase consumer awareness of risks.
Britain has fallen behind the rest of the world on recreational cannabis with Canada, ten US states and Uruguay having legalised and New Zealand organising a referendum to decide whether to legalise the drug.
One-third of Brits have used the drug at some point in their life, and nearly a fifth having done so in the past year
Support for cannabis legalisation continues to rise rapidly, from 43% in May 2018 to to 59% in October 2018
Bring in £2.26 billion in tax revenue, and free up as much as £100 million in taxpayer funds and 1.04 million police hours
UK’s cannabis providers should follow the takeaway delivery app market to compete with black market dealers that can provide at any time to anywhere.
There now is a clear appetite for recreational cannabis reform in the UK, a new paper by the Adam Smith Institute argues, saying legalisation could result in £2.26bn of revenue for the treasury but only if a competitive market is created that can undermine the power of black market players.
Far from being the fringe concern it once was, the debate over cannabis has moved into the mainstream following revelations of previous drug use by tory leadership candidates, and in the aftermath of high profile cases of Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley, who needed cannabis-based medicines to alleviate their frequent and dangerous seizures last year and medical cannabis’ subsequent legalisation.
Over the last year support for the legalisation of cannabis has skyrocketed. An October 2018 poll by Populus showed that the general public are now almost twice as likely to support the legalisation of cannabis than they are to oppose it. This is a significant shift in opinion since May 2018, with those supporting the legalisation of cannabis increasing from 43% to 59%. Just a third of Brits now think that the sale and possession of cannabis should be a criminal offence.
Recreational cannabis is unlawful to use and supply in the UK. The Misuse of Drugs Act, introduced in 1971, stipulates that the possession of cannabis can result in a five year prison sentence for users, an unlimited fine or both. Police can also issue a warning or an on-the-spot fine of £90 if a person is found with cannabis. Supply-related offences are treated much more harshly, with offenders facing up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.
The first section of the paper, written by Liz McCulloch from the drugs policy advocacy groupVolteface, has looked into the evidence from the UK and around the world and concluded that “the evidence supporting the introduction of a legally regulated cannabis market in the UK is vast.”
She argues that “as the evidence builds that a legally regulated cannabis market would protect children, eliminate the illicit market, education people on the effects of cannabis and encourage safer cannabis consumption, that the debate should move beyond whether cannabis should be legalised and onto how”.
The Adam Smith Institute’s Daniel Pryor has done just that, creating a six point plan for cannabis legalisation:
Private enterprise: The free market should be responsible for cannabis production and retail to ensure providers are responsive to consumer-wants and to avoid shortages driving a persistent black market. Recreational cannabis could be sold in dedicated licensed stores, behind the counter by trained staff in pharmacies like Boots and mobile apps to compete with drug dealers.
Advertising and branding: Some forms of advertising and branded packaging should be allowed—as in many US states—in order to signal quality, consistency, and safety, giving legal products another advantage over the black market.
Consumption: Edibles and vaping cannabis products should also be allowed to help people move away from tobacco joints.
Taxation: The taxation of cannabis must be low enough to ensure the final product is as cheap as illicit cannabis, or risk continuation of the black market like in California. High potency cannabis (skunk) should be taxed more than lower potency varieties, encouraging consumers to switch to safer products.
Education: Users should be presented with the latest evidence on the health effects of cannabis at point-of-sale — like in Canada.
Criminal justice: Those currently or previously involved in the illegal cannabis industry should have pathways to transfer in to the regulated, legal market. The Government should also expunge previous cannabis convictions, where appropriate, in order to limit the damage that criminal records cause to the life chances of low-risk offenders.
The government has to be careful during any form of legalisation, the report argues, as the way in which cannabis is regulated in a legal market is almost as important as the debate over its legalisation in the first place.
The Adam Smith Institute suggests that it should be a core aim of reform to: reduce underage and problem use of cannabis; reduce the size of the illegal cannabis market and the various harms it causes; encourage cannabis users to switch to less harmful patterns of consumption; reduce the negative impacts of public cannabis consumption on local communities; inform the general public about evidence of cannabis use.
In order to undermine the power of players in the black market, legal providers will have to be able to compete in a free and competitive market. With drug dealers across the country sophisticated in use of technology and delivery on demand. To keep up, the free market think tank suggests that licensing restrictions on sales should be kept to a minimum, and we should expect delivery on demand and advertising to form part of the legal cannabis economy.
With a commitment to protect young people, improve public health, crack down on violence in our streets, promote social justice, boost tax revenues, and let responsible adults choose whether to use a regulated consumer product; the Adam Smith Institute says it’s time to give a green light to cannabis legalisation.
Daniel Pryor, report author and the ASI’s Head of Programmes, said:
“With most Brits in favour of legalising recreational cannabis, the UK is likely to do so in the next few years. When we do, it’s vital that we learn from other countries who have taken back control of their cannabis markets.
“We should avoid the mistakes of Uruguay and instead involve the private sector: preventing shortages and snuffing out the criminal market through competition between regulated products and different licensed business models. We should embrace Canadian-style efforts to inform people about the health effects of cannabis at point-of-sale and through public information campaigns. And we should shift people towards less harmful ways of using cannabis: taxing high-potency cannabis at a higher rate and making safer alternatives like edibles available as many US states do.
“If we seize the opportunities of legalisation, we can protect children, cut crime, boost the economy, and help adults make safer cannabis consumption choices. Politicians should catch up with public opinion and give the green light to a legal, sensibly regulated cannabis market.”
Notes to editors:
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The Adam Smith Institute is a free market, neoliberal think tank based in London. It advocates classically liberal public policies to create a richer, freer world.