New study reveals shameful failures in UK’s drug strategy and calls for legalisation and regulation of cannabis in the UK

  • California among latest US states to legalize cannabis
  • Major western democracies taking pragmatic policy decisions, leaving UK floundering
  • UK cannabis market worth £6.8bn a year, and as much as £1.05bn to the Treasury
  • Cannabis related offenders in UK prison hits 1,363, costing taxpayer £50m a year
  • World leaders, international institutions and medical bodies all calling for legalisation over political posturing

The government must acknowledge that cannabis legalisation is the only workable solution to the problems of crime and addiction in the UK and modernise and legalise, says a new report released this morning by the Adam Smith Institute and Volteface.

The current policy around cannabis in Britain is a messy patchwork of legislation intermittently enforced by regional police forces. The Home Office, which is responsible for developing and enforcing the UK’s drugs strategy, has been accused of trying to alter Whitehall reports that show no link between tough laws and the levels of illegal drug use, putting political posturing above real outcomes. 

The report urges politicians and the public to recognise that the UK’s drugs strategy has failed in its core aims to prevent people from using drugs, manufacturing drugs, and to put a stop to the crime, corruption and death that is taking place on an industrial scale around the world. More than half of the British public and three quarters of MPs believe that Britain’s current drug policies are ineffective and a new approach is needed.

The time for a root and branch reform of UK cannabis policy is long overdue. Following the lead of the USA, who legalised recreational marijuana in a further four states in November, we must start discussing ways to regulate cannabis in the UK. The UK should legalise cannabis to ensure that the product meets acceptable standards, remove criminal gangs form the equation, raise revenue for the Treasury and protect public health.

The legal UK cannabis market could be worth £6.8bn annually, and produce benefits to the government of between £750m and £1.05bn in tax revenues and lower criminal justice costs. The numbers of offenders in prison for cannabis related offences in England and Wales would also be likely to drop from the current 1,363 inmates, costing the taxpayer £50m a year.

The World Health Organisation agrees that prohibition has led to policies and enforcement practices that entrench discrimination, propagate human rights violations, contribute to violence related criminal networks and deny people access to the interventions they need to improve their health. The British Medical Journal has come out in support of legalisation, stating that the ban on the production, supply, possession and use of some drugs for non-medical purposes was causing huge harm.

More than 90 countries have at least begun to introduce harm reduction policies alongside those aimed at enforcement and punishment. The Netherlands has effectively decriminalised cannabis since 1976 and Portugal since 2001.Germany is on the brink of fully legalising cannabis for medicinal purposes and Canada is paving the way for full legalisation and regulation.

Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has said: “Knowing what I know now, I would resist the temptation to resort to the law to tackle the harm from cannabis.” We must overcome the prejudices and the negative language surrounding cannabis to create a new drugs strategy that actually works for the UK. 

Liberal Democrat MP Nick Clegg said:
“British politicians need to open their eyes to what is happening in the rest of the world. Cannabis prohibition is being swept away on a tide of popular opinion and replaced with responsible legal regulation. Now is the time for Ministers to start writing the rules for this legal market, including age limits and health warnings, so that we can finally take back control from the criminal gangs.”

Co-Leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas MP, said:

“The ‘War on Drugs’ has been an abject failure, and the continued criminalization of cannabis users is deeply counterproductive. Britain needs an evidence-based drugs policy, rather than continuing the expensive and ineffective prohibition regime. I welcome this study and urge Government ministers to urgently take a fresh look at our drugs laws.”

Labour MP Paul Flynn said: 
“The UK's 45 years of harsh prohibition has multiplied use and harm. A legal market would destroy the drug's attraction as forbidden fruit and encourage users to ingest cannabis, of known strength and quality, in ways that will the avoid deadly dangers of smoking.”

Conservative MP Peter Lilley said:
“It is time we legalized cannabis.  Currently cannabis can only be obtained from illegal gangs who also push hard drugs.   So we are driving soft drugs users into the arms of hard drugs pushers.”

Conservative MP Michael Fabricant said:
“While recognising the harm that can be caused by enriched and artificial drugs based on cannabis, I do support the legalisation of natural cannabis and would welcome an independent inquiry into the effectiveness of drug policy in general. There can be no doubt that just as Prohibition – on the sale of alcohol – failed in the United States and encouraged gangsterism, the banning of drugs has promoted a wicked and lucrative black market which pushes illegal drugs on the innocent. The argument that excessive amounts of even natural cannabis might do harm just doesn’t wash. The same can be said of alcohol or even sugary drinks; both of which can eventually lead to death. We need a grown up debate on this whole issue and a national education programme on the use and abuse of drugs.”
Steve Moore, Director, Volteface, said:
“The global movement towards legalisation, regulation and taxation of cannabis is now inexorable. Today in the UK there is capricious policing of cannabis and no regulation of its sales and distribution.  This quasi-decriminalisation of cannabis leaves criminals running a multi-billion dollar racket and exposes teenage kids to criminality. The evidence is now clear that regulated markets for cannabis cut crime and protect vulnerable children. The Government's current policy vacuum is untenable in the face of this evidence.”
Sam Bowman, Executive Director at the Adam Smith Institute, said:
“As Canada becomes the first G7 country to legalise cannabis for recreational use and more and more big US states do the same, Britain needs to re-evaluate its own drugs policies to make sure this growing market is in the hands of legitimate, regulates businesses – not criminal gangs. We have a growing body of evidence from abroad that legalisation and smart regulation are much better ways of curbing the harms cannabis can cause to users and their communities, and that straightforward bans just push users into the hands of criminals. Cannabis is enjoyed by many otherwise law-abiding people and making criminals of them makes an ass of the law – the only sensible approach now is to legalise and regulate.”