After a petition surpassed 200,000 signatures, the UK government has decided to debate cannabis laws in the House of Commons. Up for debate on the 12th of October , will be the penalties for production, sale and use of cannabis. This comes at a time when attitudes to the drug are changing dramatically in the west, most notably in the US, where many states openly sell medicinal marijuana and have decriminalised the drug for personal use.
James Owen, an economics student who started the petition, was surprised to see the signatures reach 125,000 in just 5 days of it being posted in August. The petition was posted on the parliamentary site, along with another recent and successful petition for the UK to accept more refugees. Owen argues that “legalising cannabis could bring in £900m in taxes every year, save £400m on policing cannabis and create over 10,000 new jobs.”
It seems that petitions like this could become the future- especially because it can provide a voice for alternative opinions to those frequently voiced by the tories, who have a particularly hardline and uncompromising view on drug laws.
However, a similar parliamentary debate on the UK’s drug policy took place last October and saw only 21 out of a possible 650 MPs attend. It is likely the Tory whip will ensure a very low turn out again, and without the Liberal Democrats in coalition (who are pro drug reform), the turnout is likely to be scarce.
The conservatives current stance on UK drug laws are that they are “working”, and so campaigners are not confident change will be achieved this time.
A government spokesperson already said in response to the petition; “Substantial scientific evidence shows cannabis is a harmful drug that can damage human health. There are no plans to legalise cannabis as it would not address the harm to individuals and communities.” This opinion of course does not address the argument that was brought in by Professor David Nutt, a psychiatrist and neuropsychopharmacologist, and former chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in 2009. He compiled a drug classification chart based purely on scientific evidence, rather than current laws- that he claimed were heavily influenced by political bias. His study suggested that cannabis, LSD, and ecstasy were less harmful than alcohol and tobacco-the latter was ranked 9th. He was then famously dismissed from his role and forced to resign after the publication of the paper, and his unashamed objection to the reclassification of cannabis to a class B drug (by Tony Blair’s administration), after 5 years of it being class C. He openly remarked that”the obscenity of hunting down low-level cannabis users to protect them is beyond absurd”.
David Nutt highlighted very clearly, the lack of scientific evidence behind the severity of drug laws in the UK. He never suggested that Cannabis was not harmful, but he did highlight it’s danger in relation to other drugs. Not a single person has died from cannabis abuse in the UK, whilst billions are spent on the NHS, saving people from perfectly legal alcohol and tobacco induced illnesses. It does’t make sense.
The Labour veteran MP for Newport West, Paul Flynn; will be leading the debate, and has been campaigning for cannabis reform for 25 years. 4 years ago, he started a campaign called Clear that set out a plan to make sense of the UK’s cannabis laws. Clear argues very strongly, that cannabis is not regulated, and that it is easier to get a gram of cannabis than 12.5 grams of tobacco. He argues that dealers only ask for a £20 note as ID.
Flynn also highlights, the huge amount of money that could be made through taxation, the vast amount of police time and money that could be saved, and the protection of young people and children, that we see through regulated substances such as alcohol.
UK parties current views on drug laws as per the BBC:
Conservatives: Opposed to decriminalisation of drug use, which they say would be the wrong approach. Want to stick to the current strategy that is “working”.
Labour: Also against decriminalisation. Would ban the sale and distribution of so-called legal highs.
UKIP: Party leader Nigel Farage has said he supports the idea of a Royal Commission on drugs policy to examine the alternatives to existing policy.
Green Party: Decriminalise cannabis and axe prison sentences for possession of other drugs.
Plaid Cymru: Encourage a debate on future of drug enforcement laws. Favours the decriminalisation of cannabis. Supports an evidence-based impact assessment of existing drug laws.
SNP: Drug policy should be devolved to Scotland to allow an “integrated and coherent approach” to issues that affect Scotland’s communities.
Liberal Democrats: Have long argued for a change in the current laws- with Nick Clegg recently calling the current laws “idiotic”.
The likelihood of change seems remote- considering the two largest parties; Labour and the Conservatives are opposed to drug reform, but democracy is about debate, and a long slow road to progress, and you would have to be a fool to believe that 87 years of policy would change overnight.
The debate can be viewed live at parliamentlive.tv
By Dominic Rickard