Can the UK decriminalise weed?

4 mins
13 May 2022
Can the UK decriminalise weed?

The Mayor of London sets up a new group to find out

words Jack Ramage

Grab your grinder and pack your bong because cannabis decriminalisation in the UK could be closer than we know it. In recent days, the subject of decriminalising weed has been a hot topic after Sadiq Khan stressed the importance of an “open conversation” around the issue.

A new group set up by the Mayor of London is set to start looking at the decriminalisation of cannabis. The first-ever London Drugs Commission will take place in the near future, chaired by former justice security Lord Charlie Falconer GC.

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The formation of the London Drugs Commission was revealed shortly after the announcement of a potential 5000 person cannabis trial - subject to approval - which could take place across the nation under a new study for pain relief medicine. The aim of this trial would be to support the inclusion of weed in the NHS - chronic pain is one of the most common uses for medicinal cannabis.

The plant is currently a class B drug in the UK, which can land you up to five years in prison or an unlimited fine (or both). In 2021, possession of cannabis was the main drug office recorded in England and Wales, according to a parliamentary report released last year. Smoking weed for medicinal purposes has been legal in the UK since 2018, however, patients must go through private and often pricey clinics to do so.

In light of the current prosecution rates, Khan noted that “we need to have an honest, open conversation about the evidence in relation to the history of cannabis and our laws in the UK and our experience of the health consequences in relation to crime and the community.”

"The best way to do that will be with the Drugs Commission we've now set up. You can hear from the experts, that's one thing, but seeing it for yourself... hearing from those who cultivate and grow this plant has been fascinating." He continued.

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“It shows the stigma against drug reform. The committee is set up to look at the evidence and the research around what we can learn from other countries that have legalised or decriminalised cannabis.”

Is this a step forward in drug policy?

It’s a step in the right direction toward a fairer drug policy in the UK, which could potentially save taxpayers thousands and meaning police time could be spent elsewhere. However, not everyone has been receptive to the news. Countering Sadiq Khan’s efforts. Home Secretary Priti Patel argued that the Mayor of London wasting his time and had “no powers to legalise drugs”.

She argued that drugs can “ruin communities, tear apart families and destroy lives” adding time would "would be better spent focusing on knife and drug crime in London”.

“This shows the inherent bias against cannabis makers that policymakers,” Katya Kowalski from the drug policy think-tank, Volteface, said. “Priti Patel was quick to say that the exercise was pointless - that they’re never going to loosen up on our drug policies.”

“It shows the stigma against drug reform. The committee is set up to look at the evidence and the research around what we can learn from other countries that have legalised or decriminalised cannabis.” Kowalski continues.

Research has routinely suggested support for relaxing cannabis laws is growing. A new survey released in April 2022 revealed 55% of Europeans support recreational cannabis use. Of those surveyed, 48% wanted a regulated cannabis retail market, 35% favoured home growing, and 32% favoured social clubs.

Another poll released in 2018 suggested that the British public supported the legalisation of cannabis, with 59 per cent strongly supporting or tending to support legalisation - opposed to just 31 per cent who opposed the idea.

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Decriminalisation Vs Legalisation

“This news is really positive and it’s great to see the Mayor wanting to open up the conversation around drug policy,” Kowalski adds, stressing the importance that Sadiq Khan does not have the power to change policy directly but can help shape the narrative around weed in society. “It’s a step forward. The Mayor wants to gather evidence and promote the benefits of moving words a more public health-based approach.”

“However, there are distinct differences between decriminalisation and legalisation,” Kowalski highlights. “Decriminalisation is a really positive step in the right direction because you stop criminalising people for consuming and using a substance. However, it doesn’t solve the issue of a deregulated supply - meaning criminal gangs control the supply of the market.

“Full legalisation would solve a lot of the issues and create a safer, regulated supply of the market - taking money and power out of criminal gangs. Decriminalisation would be better than what we're seeing in the UK at the moment. But if we really wanted to make a full-fledged change, we should just go straight to legalisation.”

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