A leading think thank has called on the Conservative Party to legalise cannabis for recreational as well as medicinal use to help reduce crime and to provide a boost to the British economy.

The Adam Smith Institute, a non-profit neoliberal think tank and lobbying group, teamed up with Volteface, a pro-harm reduction advocacy organisation, to create “The Green Light” report, which argues that the best way for the British Government to effectively challenge the rise in serious youth crime, often involving gangs and knives, is to legalise cannabis.

The report outlines how prohibition of cannabis is causing Britain to “fall behind the rest of the world,” highlighting that Canada, Uruguay, and 10 US States have already legalised recreational cannabis and are reaping the rewards:

“Based on current sales for cannabis in Canada, it is predicted that the market will grow to £3.9 billion by 2020.”

The report also emphasises the fact that legalisation is “supported by MPs and Police & Crime Commissioners from across parties, and a majority of the UK public.”

Research evidenced in the report shows significant evidence that this claim has validity:

“An October 2018 poll by Populus showed that the general public are now almost twice as likely to support the legalisation of cannabis than they are to oppose it.

“This is a significant shift in opinion since May 2018, with those supporting the legalisation of cannabis increasing from 43% to 59%.”

Given the increasingly overwhelming support to legalise cannabis from every level of society, it is becoming harder for politicians to publicly support prohibition, especially following Brexit which highlighted how important the democratic process is to British voters.

One of the key issues the report raises against prohibition is the “misery” it causes by “fuelling gang violence and increasing knife crime.”

The report uses evidence from The Youth Violence Commission to support this claim:

“There is a convincing body of evidence… that drug markets generate violence and, in particular, create a crime hierarchy where our most vulnerable young people are being groomed to enter the lower levels of drug distribution.”

According to the report, prohibition has also made it “easier for children to get cannabis than alcohol, and most often dangerous skunk that dominates the illegal market.”

The report concludes that the evidence for legalisation is “overwhelming.”

Legalising cannabis would “protect children, eliminate the criminal, and often violent, market, encourage safer cannabis consumption, and educate people about the effects of cannabis, leading to more informed choices.”

While the report recommends full legalisation and regulation of cannabis, it opposes decriminalisation, as it “would fail to tackle many of the harms associated with the prohibition of cannabis.”

After highlighting all the damages prohibition causes to British society, the report lays out a 6 point plan the Conservatives should utilise to legalise recreational cannabis in the UK:

1. Private enterprise: The free market should be responsible for cannabis production and retail to ensure providers are responsive to consumer-wants and to avoid shortages driving a persistent black market. Recreational cannabis could be sold in dedicated licensed stores, behind the counter by trained staff in pharmacies like Boots and mobile apps to compete with drug dealers.

2. Advertising and branding: Some forms of advertising and branded packaging should be allowed—as in many US states—in order to signal quality, consistency, and safety, giving legal products another advantage over the black market.

3. Consumption: Edibles and vaping cannabis products should also be allowed to help people move away from tobacco joints.

4. Taxation: The taxation of cannabis must be low enough to ensure the final product is as cheap as illicit cannabis, or risk continuation of the black market like in California. High potency cannabis (skunk) should be taxed more than lower potency varieties, encouraging consumers to switch to safer products.

5. Education: Users should be presented with the latest evidence on the health 2 effects of cannabis at point-of-sale – like in Canada.

6. Criminal justice: Those currently or previously involved in the illegal cannabis industry should have pathways to transfer in to the regulated, legal market. The Government should also expunge previous cannabis convictions, where appropriate, in order to limit the damage that criminal records cause to the life chances of low-risk offenders.

With Canada legalising and Illinois voting to become the 11th US state to legalise, we see it as a matter of when, not if, it will be legalised here.
– Daniel Pryor, co-author of “The Green Light” report

Discussing the report with The Evening Standard, Daniel Pryor, co-author of the report, said:

“It is time for us Tories to be more honest with ourselves.

“We have just had a spate of high-ranking Tory politicians admitting to drug use but we must get to a stage where politicians can express their views on cannabis more comfortably.

“If the Conservatives want to be the party of free enterprise, they should support a nascent cannabis industry that has clear public support.

“With Canada legalising and Illinois voting to become the 11th US state to legalise, we see it as a matter of when, not if, it will be legalised here. So the key question becomes ‘how?’”

Mr Pryor concluded that legalisation in the UK could be “reasonably expected within the next five to 10 years”.

Given the vehement opposition from the Conservative Party to legalising cannabis for recreational use, the report from the Adam Smith Institute signals a significant shift in opinion towards cannabis among Conservative members and voters.

Theresa May has consistently shot down previous calls to rethink her Government’s policy towards cannabis.

Responding to Lord Hague’s claims that the war on cannabis had been “lost,” a spokesperson for Ms May said:

“The harmful effects of cannabis are well known and there are no plans to legalise it.”

“In terms of decriminalising cannabis, there are no plans in that respect. The evidence is very clear – cannabis can cause serious harm when it is misused.”

However, with May’s successor about to be chosen by members of the Conservative Party, the door has opened for the next PM to be more liberal with their approach to cannabis.

Could the UK really be seeing legal cannabis on sale in the next “5 to 10 years”?

References and further Reading