Civil Liberties & Justice

The Green Light: How legalising and regulating cannabis will reduce crime, protect children and improve safety

A new paper by Daniel Pryor, a Research Economist and the Head of Programmes at the ASI, and Liz McCulloch, Director of Policy at the drug reform advocacy group Volteface, makes the case for legalising cannabis:

  • Britain is falling behind the rest of the world on recreational cannabis legalisation. Canada, ten US states and Uruguay have already legalised the drug for recreational use. Other US states and countries are close to legalisation.

  • Legalisation is supported by MPs and Police & Crime Commissioners from across parties, and a majority of the UK public. 

  • The UK’s current approach to cannabis is generating misery, fuelling gang violence and increasing knife crime. It is now easier for children to get cannabis than alcohol, and most often dangerous skunk that dominates the illegal market. One-third of Brits have used the drug at some point in their life. Drug law enforcement depends on where you live and your ethnicity, undermining the rule of law.

  • The evidence for legalisation is overwhelming. It would protect children, eliminate the criminal—and often violent—market, encourage safer cannabis consumption, and educate people about the effects of cannabis, leading to more informed choices. By contrast, decriminalisation would fail to tackle many of the harms associated with the prohibition of cannabis.

The ASI has developed a Six Point Plan for Cannabis Legalisation: 

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Consumption: Edibles and vaping cannabis products should also be allowed to help people move away from tobacco joints.

  4. 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. 

  5. Education: Users should be presented with the latest evidence on the health effects of cannabis at point-of-sale - like in Canada.

  6. 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.

Safeguarding Progress: The risks of internet regulation

A new paper by Matthew Lesh, the ASI’s Head of Research, and Sam Dumitriu and Philip Salter of the The Entrepreneurs Network, makes the case for a free, open internet:

  • Technology is improving our lives, connecting people, creating communities and contributing to Britain’s economy to the tune of £170bn a year.

  • The policy environment is becoming increasingly hostile to technology, undermining the free exploration of ideas and innovation that is essential to economic progress.

  • If policymakers want to encourage entrepreneurship they should embrace a culture of ‘permissionless innovation’.

    • Permissionless innovation means allowing entrepreneurs to experiment with new business models and technologies, and only intervening when there are clear, demonstrable harms to the public. 

    • Growing calls to regulate the internet risk undermining progress and threaten the future of the internet and the digital economy.

  • Platform liability exemptions are essential to the fabric of the internet, and promote free speech and enterprise.

    • The exemption of platforms, such as Google and Facebook, from liability for the activity of their users was essential for the development of the internet, and digital innovation, and has delivered massive benefits for consumers.

    • Laws forcing platforms to be liable for user content to restrict hate speech have prompted social media companies to engage in excessively risk-averse moderation, threatening freedom of expression. Further measures such as the EU’s new Copyright Directive threaten the capacity of ‘creators’ to remix copyrighted content and share memes, while the Online Harms White Paper is a serious threat to free expression.

  • Internet red tape undermines small business, competition, and entrepreneurial activity

    • There is intense competition within the technology sector, including between large online platforms and from startups and small businesses. Platforms help stimulate entrepreneurial activity by providing Corporate Venture Capital and opportunities for exit.

    • Controls such as excessive data regulations, by creating barriers to entry and excessive costs, are particularly harmful to startups and small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) that have lesser financial capacity for compliance.

The report also explains that if the Government wants to achieve an open, competitive and entrepreneurial online space they would do well to follow these Five Principles for Permissionless Innovation:

  1. Identify and remove barriers to entry and innovation;

  2. Protect freedom of speech and entrepreneurship by retaining immunities for intermediaries from liability;

  3. Rely on existing legal solutions, the common law, and competitive pressures to solve problems. 

  4. Push for industry self-regulation and best practices.

  5. Adopt targeted, limited legal measures for truly hard problems based on evidence.

Room for improvement: How drug consumption rooms save lives

A new report by Jarryd Bartle, a drug policy consultant and university lecturer, calls for Britain to introduce life-saving Drug Consumption Rooms:

  • Drug consumption rooms are an evidence-based harm reduction intervention which allow people who use illicit drugs to do so within a medically supervised environment.

  • The use of drug consumption rooms in other jurisdictions has been shown to reduce drug-related deaths, reduce health burdens and decrease public injection and syringe litter.

  • Supervised Drug Consumption Rooms are effective at engaging hard to reach, highly marginalised populations with drug treatment, healthcare and other services. People in treatment use less illegal heroin and other drugs, potentially reducing the scale of the illegal drugs market.

  • Concerns that drug consumption rooms will increase drug use, attract substance users to an area or increase local crime are not supported by research.

  • A large majority (89%) of drug users are willing to use a drug consumption room.

    The UK is falling behind the rest of the world, including countries such as Australia, Canada, Denmark and France which are increasingly adopting drug consumption rooms as part of drug harm reduction strategies. 

  • This paper recommends that the UK prioritises the introduction of an integrated drug consumption room in an area identified as being of increased risk of drug-related harms.

  • Drug consumption rooms currently sit in a legal gray zone, leading to a lack of willingness by local authorities to introduce this proven harm reduction strategy. This could be addressed by:

    • 1. An explicit statement by the Home Office that the operation of DCRs is a matter for local authorities; specific rules could then be agreed by police forces, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), health bodies and local authorities; and

    • 2. The UK Parliament passing legislation that makes it explicitly legal to take controlled substances within such facilities in specified circumstances.

The War on Capitalism

According to mainstream human rights thinking all human rights are “indivisible". Therefore, this mantra insists, economic, social and cultural rights such as the right to an adequate living and the right to social security should not be treated differently from classic freedom rights such as free speech and habeas corpus. In 'The War on Capitalism: Human rights, political bias' Jacob Mchangama argues that this conflation of very different rights is a fallacy, and that it reveals a marked political bias towards state involvement in the economy, increased public spending and the limitation or even abolishment of free market initiatives.

Read it here.

 

 

Safeguarding civil liberties

This paper itemizes how recent government acts have compromised or removed many of the legal protections traditionally enjoyed under common law. These include habeas corpus, right to trial by jury, right to remain silent, freedom from double jeopardy, among many others.

It is proposed that a new judicial panel be established, independent of government, to review the effect of recent legislation on long-standing liberties, and to make recommendations as to how the impairment of liberties might be redressed. While the body's recommendations would not have the force of law, it is envisaged that it would be so prestigious that governments would find it impossible to ignore or sideline their pronouncements.

Read it here.

Taking Liberties

This paper from Peter Lilley MP outlines his concern that four fundamental pillars of freedom – jury trial, Double Jeopardy, Presumption of Innocence, and Habeas Corpus – are threatened by an unprecedented alliance between populism and modernizing zeal. He says that the net result will be to make the British people more vulnerable than ever to arbitrary action by the State. In his view, though it is important to tackle crime, sacrificing the liberties that protect the innocent will not help bring the guilty to justice.

Read it here.

Privatizing Access to Justice

Up to now, access to justice has been the privilege of the wealthy and the minority who are sufficiently poor to qualify for civil legal aid. Most other people had no access to civil justice, a factor which has brought the civil justice system into disrepute. The government is presently undertaking a major and long-overdue reform of the civil legal aid system in accordance with the Access to Justice Act 1999. Reforms enacted on 1 April 2000 abolish legal aid for most civil claims. Instead, it is expected that cases will be funded by the conditional fee system - popularly known as "no win, no fee". In this system the lawyer agrees with his client to charge an additional success fee if the claim is successful, but may charge nothing if the claim fails. It is an example of payment by result. These reforms effectively represent the privatisation of access to justice. The civil courts are increasingly accessible to anyone with a meritorious claim.

Read it here.

Silk Cut

Peter Reeve, himself an experienced lawyer, says that the whole process for selecting and appointing the UK's top barristers -- Queen's Counsel -- is both antiquated and against the public interest. The legal profession is one of the country's poshest but most effective trade unions, and its top echelons have proved skilled and successful at protecting their restrictive practices through the assaults of various governments. But their monopoly restricts the numbers of those with access to this spurious qualification, and in effect sets up a pricing ring that raises the costs of the court system and prices many people out of access to justice.

Read it here.