420, A Reminder That We Need UK Reform.

Liz Filmer
23 Apr 2022

Canada, Georgia, Mexico, and Malta, have all changed their cannabis laws. However, in the UK, the plant and its derivatives continue to be prohibited. We were failing to keep up with global movements and renewed thinking as a nation.

 It is still illegal to possess, grow, distribute, or sell cannabis in the UK. This is even though cannabis presents no substantial risk of death. In 2020, there were only 36 deaths connected to cannabis. Whilst any death is, of course, a tragedy. In the context of overall consumption levels, cannabis cannot be deemed a dangerous substance – especially in comparison to alcohol and tobacco.

 A large majority of Britons are now in favour of legalising cannabis. The illegal market is worth £2bn a year, which benefits crime gangs considerably. Cannabis users, meanwhile, are criminalised and given criminal records. As in many other countries, suspicion, offences and sentences are felt disproportionately by many ethnic communities.

Cannabis should be treated as a health problem, not a criminal one. There are so many examples the UK can learn from about how it is possible to regulate the market, avoiding a costly, ineffective "war on drugs". 

Uruguay's state-controlled model stands out the most of all the examples. By meticulously controlling cannabis production and selling it via registered pharmacies, Uruguay has succeeded in attaining limited consumption of a much safer end product. Uruguay has left no room for criminal gangs or corporate companies whose motive is to push consumption sky high. The country has achieved as closest to perfect in terms of prohibition and free-market commercialisation. Whilst also observing the best public health practices and lessening harm.

There can be health benefits from cannabis liberalisation. Some countries have reduced cannabis consumption or maintained their previous rates. Governments have also created additional avenues for cannabis treatment and support by adopting health-first approaches.

In Spain, closer supply and distribution regulation has allowed safer cannabis to enter the market. Canada's dedicated youth prevention programmes have decreased use among the Canadian youth.

There are criminal justice implications too. Reformist countries have effectively reduced minor drug offences and made cannabis use safer. The Portuguese use the money saved on court cases for minor offences and reinvest it into treatment services.

Legalising cannabis would also generate extra economic activity and much-needed tax revenue. In Colorado's US "legal" state, cannabis contributed equivalent to £26.4bn to its GDP within its first three years. It drummed up £9.2bn in additional tax revenue. Just think what we could do with that in the UK. Increase NHS funding, and invest in education or social care. The possibilities are endless.

The need for cannabis policy reform is clear. By learning from others, the UK could implement a modern framework. One that balances safeguarding public health, reducing criminal activity, and delivering economic gain will benefit society. When will the powers that be see this and get past the old school stigmas and stereotypes?


Liz Filmer