In the midst of a global shift towards cannabis acceptance and regulation, the United Kingdom stands as a bastion of resistance to change.
With an increasing number of countries embracing the medicinal and recreational benefits of this versatile plant, the question on everyone’s lips is: when will the UK finally catch up and fully legalise cannabis?
As the nation watches its global counterparts reap the benefits of new legalisation, from economic growth to improved public health, it’s time to explore the complex web of factors holding the UK back, and consider the potential path to a greener future.
Senior Police officers are still out of touch
Senior police officers at a Conservative party conference recently advocated for the UK government to reclassify cannabis from a class B to a class A drug, which would elevate it to the same legal level as heroin or cocaine, significantly increasing the penalties for those caught using or selling cannabis.
This rather extreme proposal contrasts with the global trend of easing restrictions on cannabis.
Were they drunk?
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of September 2021, 18 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have enacted laws legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults.
In Europe, countries like Portugal, the Netherlands, and Spain have long ago taken steps toward cannabis legalization or decriminalization.
South Africa’s supreme court declared the dagga ban unconstitutional in 2018, and Canada and Uruguay were the first nations in decades to acknowledge cannabis as a legitimate commodity, legalizing it in 2013 and 2018, respectively.
Germany is also set to legalise recreational cannabis.
Thailand’s cannabis policy is way more progressive than the UK
Even Thailand’s notoriously strict government decided to lift its ban on cannabis in June 2021, releasing thousands of non-violent drug offenders and distributing a million seedlings to bolster the country’s emerging marijuana industry.
As the world shifts its stance on cannabis, it’s important to understand the historical context of the UK’s position.
In the 1960s, marijuana became a contentious issue in the culture wars, culminating in the 1967 arrest of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
While the UK’s “war on drugs” wasn’t as racially charged as in the US, the stereotype of young black men as pushers or cananbis addicts contributed to racial tensions that erupted into riots in the 1980s.
In the late 2000s, the debate over “skunk” and the influence of tabloids fueled the notion that modern cannabis was more potent and potentially dangerous.
However, there is no evidence of widespread effects on society. Schizophrenia rates in the UK have remained stable over time despite the number of cannabis users increasing.
Furthermore, psychosis rates clearly have not increased in areas where cannabis has been legalized – we would be seeing an effect in the US and Canada if this propaganda was actually based on fact. It is not.
Politicians often hesitate to support cannabis legalization, fearing the perception of being “soft on crime.” The truth is, by supporting prohibition, they are actually encouraging and preserving crime.
Keeping the cannabis industry underground can actually contribute to criminal activity, such as violence around grow-houses as well as the exploitation of workers.
The public are also at risk as prohibition ultimately means unregulated cannabis that may contain dangerous pollutants. And no option for the young to use less powerful cannabis.
Addressing racial disparities in policing is fundamental, as the “smell of cannabis” has been used to justify stops and searches, perpetuating resentment and tension for years.
The UK stands out among conservative countries for its continued resistance to cannabis legalization.
In contrast, right-wing politicians in Israel and the US have embraced the idea, with US lawmakers now discussing social equity plans to redress the harms caused by the drug war, such as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act.
Despite the UK’s conservative stance, (and a little progress in the medical cannabis sector) public opinion is changing.
A YouGov survey from 2021 found that over half of Britons now support legalization.
And let’s not forget, the UK is a leading exporter of medicinal cannabis, although it is not widely available to citizens due to dated and unscientific laws. What a farce.
The UK simply cannot afford to ignore worldwide policy changes
Although it would appear that Keir Starmer wants to keep his head in the sand despite the financial and social benefits on the table.
The US is not a 100% successful framework for legal cannabis policy, though with recent changes to federal legalization the tide is quickly turning in favour of supporting cannabis businesses, instead of fighting therm.
The Netherlands has also faced challenges, as coffee shops selling marijuana operate in a legal gray area and supply chains have been linked to criminal activity. This is now changing as the Netherlands tests out a regulated growing supply chain.
Meanwhile, Canada has faced criticism for allowing corporate monopolies to dominate the market, which has led to concerns about quality and affordability.
As the tide of global opinion continues to turn in favor of cannabis legalisation, it becomes increasingly difficult for the United Kingdom to justify its resistance to change.
With mounting evidence of the potential economic, social, and medical benefits of legalisation, the UK faces a pivotal moment in its relationship with this versatile plant.
While the exact timeline for legalisation remains uncertain, the growing momentum of public opinion and the experiences of progressive nations around the world make it clear that the UK’s cannabis policy is due for a significant reevaluation.
Ultimately, it will be up to the collective will of the nation’s policymakers and citizens to seize this opportunity and forge a path toward a greener, more equitable, and prosperous future.