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.