As the debate about cannabis legalization continues in many places around the world, politicians in the United Kingdom are inserting new angles that could shake up the current rhetoric. While many cannabis advocates have stressed the money that could be raised by tax revenue, some Liberal Democrats in the U.K. have also started to point to the enormous time cost of trying to restrict the drug. In total, those backing new legislation to legalize marijuana assert that the U.K. police officers waste as many as one million hours a year enforcing cannabis laws, a trend that could provide a new foundation for ending the longstanding prohibition. But even with a changing sentiment around cannabis, law enforcement still remains a hot button topic with global implications, creating confusion at international borders as the legality of the unevenly enforced drug remains as complicated as ever.
Although there has been a hesitation to legalize the Class B drug in the U.K., cannabis advocates also seem to be just breaking into a fairly new frontier at a crucial time. Tax revenue has been a central part of the legalized debate for years at this point, yet the U.K.’s Liberal Democrats are also eager to point out that the excessive public funding that goes into enforcement is wholly illogical given the ease of obtaining marijuana in the U.K. According to data publicized by the party, U.K. police officers not only wasted more than a million hours in 2015 but also spent more than £2,200 (nearly $3,000 in the U.S.) for each of the 87,247 cases that year. With the eye-opening numbers hitting the mainstream debate, it could prove to be a potent talking point when coupled with the expected tax revenues from legalization and regulation.
As progressives look to win over more conservative factions with a fiscal responsibility platform, public health policy is also starting to become central to the debate. According to former Liberal Democrat Julian Huppert, an associate of Liberal Dem leader Tim Farron, it’s time to accept the reality that organized crime controls the market, which allows increasingly potent cannabis to hit the streets without any form of regulation whatsoever. “The honest and pragmatic response is to take responsibility for this situation and regulate the market,” Huppert said, adding that cannabis can be much more safely used with age and THC limitations. Building on the way that Colorado and Washington created such a system in the U.S., Huppert’s party hopes to implement very similar legal framework to help sculpt the industry as it transitions out of prohibition.
The ongoing question of cannabis’ legal future in the U.K. also is a part of a larger situation that has started to come to light with the current legalization push around the world. As close allies the U.K., U.S. and particularly Canada all edge closer to national legalization, border enforcement is sure to be an increasingly complex situation. On the West Coast of the United States and Canada, travelers heading into the United States can be denied entry simply by admitting cannabis use, once again bringing up the difficulty when there are conflicting state and federal laws. While Canada could be poised to fully legalize cannabis in July of 2018, enforcement will likely remain complicated even when traveling into a state like Washington that has legalized recreational use.
But as Liberal Democrats in the U.K. are starting to see, they have a terrific vantage point for approaching the potential legalization of cannabis nationwide thanks to test models in both the U.S. and Canada. Being able to add new aspects of fiscal responsibility to the platform could provide a pragmatic, dollars and sense avenue to shape the issue in the U.K. Additionally, a nationwide legalization would avoid many of the problems that the U.S. faces in terms of balancing conflicting state and federal laws. If Canada does move forward with legalization in the summer of 2018, the U.K.’s progressive wing will be sitting in a strong position to potentially turn changing public opinions of cannabis into the end of a costly and ineffective prohibition.
Liberal Democrats want cannabis to be legalized in the UK.
Soon to release their official manifesto, the Liberal Democrat party of the UK continues to speak out on the topic of cannabis legalization. Their reasoning doesn’t differ much from other countries in the world regarding legalization. Criticizing its current illegal status, members of the Lib Dem party point out the unreasonable prices people pay to use it and the risks involved.
Reasons For The Push Towards Legalization
In essence, the argument posed by those in favor of legalizing cannabis is that by regulating it, everyone benefits. Under the current law in the UK, those found possessing cannabis face a possible 5 year prison sentence, a fine, or both. Penalties increase to 14 years behind bars with a likely fine if caught growing or supplying it. It is a hard pill to swallow when other countries allow or ignore cannabis use, especially in progressive places like the UK. Recognizing the need for change, the Lib Dems have proposed their plan and expect the backing of the people.
Concern over where people get their cannabis is also an issue. Because it’s illegal, “criminal gangs” that have no interest in the health or safety of consumers, are the only way for people to obtain it. Without the regulation that legalization would provide, Lib Dems address their concern over the unintended consequences of consuming cannabis without knowing what’s in it or where it comes from.
Norman Lamb, health spokesperson for the Lib Dems, proposed the bill for legalization and so far it moves forward. His stance is that the law banning cannabis has been a complete failure and he’s confident that change will come soon.
Suggested Benefits Of Legalization
One of the main reasons the Liberal Democrats in the UK are pushing for legalization is to free law-abiding citizens from facing criminal charges relating to cannabis. Because it’s considered a Class B drug, those prosecuted for possessing it face criminal charges that could linger throughout their lives, adversely affecting job prospects, among other things. They also take into account the amount of time and energy it would save the police force, allowing them to focus their efforts on actual crime.
Lib Dems are also hopeful that with legalization, regulating where and how cannabis is obtained will provide a level of safety, knowing its free from harmful additives and not coming from the hands of organized crime. People would have a sense of security knowing they can obtain it legally and use it knowing it meets standards. Legalization, in the eyes of the Lib Dems, is the only way to ensure health risks are minimized. In a report from a study endorsed by the Lib Dems, their findings are pretty straight forward:
It claims the health risks associated with cannabis use can be more effectively managed and minimised by through a “responsibly regulated market and public health interventions rather than an unregulated criminal market and punitive criminal justice response”.
Another huge advantage of legalization would be the taxation of cannabis. It’s estimated that the taxes raised from cannabis alone could reach 1 billion pounds in just one year. Norman Lamb points out that for now, this money remains in the hands of criminals while taxpayer money is wasted in police efforts to combat organized crime. In his opinion, it only makes sense to legalize it so the money can end up in the right hands and used for the benefit of the people.
What Happens Next
Overall, the idea behind the push for legalization is that cannabis should not be a criminal issue, but an issue related to education and health. Finding ways to educate the population and provide treatment for those with drug issues is the solution to the seemingly endless problem of treating it like a crime. Using cannabis is a personal choice that has the potential to benefit the UK. If the Liberal Democrats can continue to round-up support for the movement and defeat the tired notion held by opponents that it’s harmful and necessitates criminal consequences, they may just have a shot at moving legalization forward.
In just four days, more than 125,000 signatures were collected on a petition calling for the total legalization of cannabis in the United Kingdom. Only 100,000 signatures are required to force action from parliament.
James Owen, a student at Aberystwyth University, is responsible for starting the petition, which calls for parliament to “make the production, sale and use of cannabis legal.” He lists several benefits that would come as a result of legalization.
“Legalizing cannabis could bring in £900m in taxes every year, save £400m on policing cannabis and create over 10,000 jobs.”
Owen and other proponents believe that not only would the measure bring a boost to the economy, but that it would also lead to a reduction in the use of dangerous drugs. Clear warning labels and forbidding sales to minors, along with other measures, would help to prevent misuse.
Advocates for the legalization of marijuana cite the growing popularity of the product for use in relief of medical symptoms and for personal reasons. What once was viewed as a product that only a certain demographic used is now supported by people of all ages and circumstances.
A committee in the House of Commons will debate the issue, and then decide if further action should be taken by parliament. If fully adopted, the UK would join other places that have legalized marijuana for recreational use, including Uruguay and several states in the US.
Could cannabis soon be legalized, regulated and taxed in the United Kingdom?
According to a 2013 poll, more than half of adults in the United Kingdom think the plant should be legal, or at the very least decriminalized. Now that majority has gained the support of Liberal Democrat leadership candidate, Normal Lamb.
The former care minister and MP for North Norfolk, known for his bold stance on matters like mental health and prison reform, is now urging constituents to consider legalizing marijuana much like the U.S. state of Colorado did in 2012. In Colorado, anyone over the age of 21 is able to legally purchase marijuana for recreational use, and Lamb believes that enacting similar laws in the U.K. would prevent unnecessary arrests and spending.
“There has been a catastrophic failure of the war on drugs, with thousands of lives lost.”
In reference to drug laws, Lamb expressed that they are:
“…criminalizing so many young people, which blights their lives because of a decision about personal use which then affects their careers and creates a global criminal network.”
Lamb recommends immediately legalizing cannabis for medicinal purposes and further asserts that an evidence-based policy change is also necessary to allow for its recreational usage. Although he admitted to having concerns about drugs as a parent himself, he concluded that taking a rational, education-based approach to the issue would be far more effective than what is currently being done in the United Kingdom.
His sentiments will likely not come as a shock to those following the tenets of the Liberal Democrats. Known for being historically supportive of decriminalizing drugs, the party based part of their election platform in 2015 on allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana for medical use. They also urged a closer look at other countries and states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes in order to gauge the effectiveness of doing so.
Lamb faces opposition by the former Liberal Democrat president, who is widely believed to be a frontrunner thanks to fierce backing by three of the party’s eight Members of Parliament. Lamb has several key endorsements of his own, however, including one from Julian Huppert, a longtime campaigner for drug policy reform.
“This is not the first time Norman has called for bold changes based on looking at the evidence – he’s done so on mental health, on prison reform and more,” Huppert said. “I think this is exactly the bold leadership we need, and hope people who feel likewise will support Norman.”
photo credit: telegraph
A very unlikely resource has helped authorities in Northern Ireland locate and raid a marijuana grow operation less than 15 miles from the Parliament building in Belfast. Detectives were tipped off about the cultivation center thanks to a ‘Scratch and Sniff’ card campaign that began in September of this year. Authorities distributed these scratch and sniff cards to citizens of Northern Ireland, aiming to help residents recognize illegal marijuana cultivation facilities, and report them to the Irish police called gardaí.
The card is printed with a circle that apparently resonates the scent of growing cannabis plants when scratched. Writing next to the scratch and sniff circle reassures smellers that sniffing it is safe, with the statement, “It is completely safe; there are no drugs in the card, it is just the smell of the plant.” Also on the scratch and sniff card, is the following list describing what the local authorities say are typical details of a “cannabis factory”:
- A strong sickly sweet smell.
- Covered or blackened out windows around a property.
- Constant lighting day and night.
- High levels of heat and condensation.
- Constant buzz of ventilation.
- Excessive amount of cables.
Cannabis use and cultivation are illegal in Ireland under the Misuse of Drugs Acts of 1977 and 1984. Possession of a small amount of personal use cannabis does not come with as severe a punishment as possessing and cultivating a large amount that may convey an intent to distribute.
According to detectives of the Organized Crime Branch, this cultivation center raided in Millisle resulted in the destruction of 800 plants worth an estimated £400,000, and is the largest center to be shut down from a scratch and sniff campaign tip. At the current exchange rate, that amount is equivalent to about $626,660.
In response to the scratch and sniff cards distributed by the gardaí, the local chapter of NORML distributed similar cards with the headline, “Scratch and sniff to see if you can recognize the smell of hysterical propaganda.”
photo credit: The Guardian, Macleans, Substance, NORML-UK