Legalisation of cannabis
I was pleased that this week the Home Secretary announced a review into the use of cannabis for medical treatment. I wrote earlier this year about the need for the drug to treat six-year old Alfie Dingley, whose parents I met. The heart-wrenching case of Billy Caldwell, whose cannabis treatment was confiscated by Border officials, further drove home the need to update the law.
The former Foreign Secretary, Lord (William) Hague, called for a radical further step - the decriminalisation of cannabis. In remarkably strong terms, he said that “so far as … cannabis … is concerned, any war has been comprehensively and irreversibly lost. The idea that the drug can be driven off the streets and out of people’s lives by the State is nothing short of deluded.”
The Government has rejected this, saying that the penalties for unauthorised supply and possession will remain unchanged, and that their review is in no way the first step in the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use.
But I think the dam has burst. In March I argued that the issues of medical and recreational use were indeed distinct, but the question of decriminalisation was worthy of debate.
This week the Canadian Parliament passed legislation to legalise the recreational use of cannabis, fulfilling an election pledge made by the governing Liberal Party.
Canada will be the first of the G7 advanced industrial nations to allow the cultivation, purchase and consumption of the drug nationwide. This isn’t mere decriminalisation - it’s legalisation, although with strict controls.
Licensed sellers will be tightly regulated with all sales tracked, and will only be permitted to supply cannabis through authorised channels, with tougher sentences for selling to teenagers and no relaxation of laws against other drugs. In many provinces, local government will run retail stores and there is even expected to be revenue to Canada’s exchequer.
There are important arguments against decriminalisation, including concerns about the strength of modern forms of cannabis and the harmful effects which it can have. I have made these points myself in the past. The case for reform should not be a trite one, and I don’t think that a decision should be made lightly.
But I think the time has come for a proper, evidence-led debate, perhaps through some form of independent inquiry, about our current criminal approach to recreational cannabis use, and whether alternative measures would be more effective.