By Caroline Davies
Cannabis should be legalised in the UK, according to a report that has the backing of several cross-party MPs including the former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.
Current cannabis policy in Britain is a “messy patchwork” of legislation intermittently enforced by regional police and an embarrassment, says the report by the free-market thinktank the Adam Smith Institute.
The government must recognise that legalising the Class B drug is the “only workable solution to the problems of crime and addiction in the UK and modernise and legalise”, the report says.
Politicians and the public should recognised the UK’s drug strategy “has failed in its core aims to prevent people from using drugs, manufacturing drugs, and to put a stop to the crime, corruption and death that is taking place on an industrial scale around the world”.
The report, The Tide Effect: How the World is Changing Its Mind on Cannabis Legislation, says legalisation would ensure the drug meets acceptable standards, remove criminal gangs from the equation, raise revenue for the Treasury and protect public health.
A legal cannabis market could be worth £6.8bn annually, providing up to £1bn to the Treasury. It would also lower criminal justice costs, with 1,363 inmates currently in prison in England and Wales for cannabis-related offences at a cost to the taxpayer of £50m a year, the report says.
Legal regulation would also allow long-term studies of the drug’s health effects that are not currently possible, it says.
California is among the latest US states to legalise the drug. The Netherlands has in effect decriminalised it since 1976, and Portugal since 2001. Germany is on the brink of fully legalising cannabis for medicinal purposes and Canada is paving the way for full legalisation and regulation, says the report, which was compiled with VolteFace, a policy innovation hub that explores alternatives to current public policies relating to drugs.
Clegg said: “British politicians need to open their eyes to what is happening in the rest of the world. Cannabis prohibition is being swept away on a tide of popular opinion and replaced with responsible legal regulation.
“Now is the time for ministers to start writing the rules for this new legal market, including age limits and health warnings, so that we can finally take back control from the criminal gangs.”
The former home secretary Jacqui Smith said: “Knowing what I know now, I would resist the temptation to resort to the law to tackle the harm from cannabis. We must overcome the prejudice and the negative language surrounding cannabis to create a new drugs strategy that actually works for the UK.”
The World Health Organisation agrees that prohibition has led to policies and enforcement practices that entrench discrimination and propagate human rights violations, contribute to violence-related criminal networks and deny people access to the interventions they need to improve their health, the report says.
It adds that the British Medical Journal has come out in support of legalisation, stating that the ban on the production, supply, possession and use of certain drugs for non-medical purposes is causing huge harm.
Sam Bowman, executive director at the Adam Smith Institute, said: “As Canada becomes the first G7 country to legalise cannabis for recreational use and more and more big US states do the same, Britain needs to re-evaluate its own drugs policies to make sure this growing market is in the hands of legitimate, regulated businesses – not criminal gangs.
“Cannabis is enjoyed by many otherwise law-abiding people and making criminals of them makes an ass of the law – the only sensible approach now is to legalise and regulate.”
Caroline Lucas, the Green party’s co-leader and only MP, welcomed the report and said government ministers should “urgently take a fresh look at our drugs laws”.
“The war on drugs has been an abject failure, and the continued criminalisation of cannabis users is deeply counterproductive,” she said.
Labour’s Paul Flynn said: “The UK’s 45 years of harsh prohibition has multiplied use and harm.”
The Conservative MP Peter Lilley said: “Currently cannabis can only be obtained from illegal gangs who also push hard drugs. So we are driving soft drug users into the arms of hard drugs pushers.”