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Legalisation of cannabis has been a widely discussed topic, especially in the last decade with soaring levels of drug-related crime seen in both the UK and the rest of the world. With legalisation of cannabis in Canada and some states in the USA, there have been several arguments in favour of legalisation, especially on economic and social grounds.  

Stimulating the economy will be of utmost importance regardless of the decisions about Britain’s exit from the EU. A recent trend in liberal democracies such as Canada and some states in America is the legalisation of cannabis. The growing commercialisation of cannabis has led to increased purchasing freedom for the consumer as well as economic benefits for businesses and an increase in state tax revenue. California, for example, raised $300 million in sales tax from legal cannabis in 2018. According to Statistics Canada, around 50% of those previously using illegal cannabis have reported that they will switch to legal purchases, showing the potential for an increase in government tax revenue alongside a decrease in transactions within the shadow economy.

The Adam Smith Institute (ASI) has calculated that by 2025, the global market for medicinal cannabis alone is due to be worth £40 billion, and by 2021, the recreational market for cannabis in the US will be up $24.5 billion. The ASI also predicted that the legal market for cannabis in the UK could be worth £6.8bn annually. Following this trend, if the UK was to legalise cannabis, it would earn the Treasury £1.4 billion in tax revenue.  

The legalisation of cannabis could also contribute to a decrease in the black market trading of cannabis in the UK. It is estimated that the UK’s illicit cannabis market is worth £2.5 billion annually. The legalisation of cannabis will mean consumers get a safer product with clearly labelled amounts of CBD, a key chemical compound found in the cannabis plant, and THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. This would protect consumer welfare whilst simultaneously reducing the burden on the general taxpayer. For example, 1,363 offenders are currently in prison for cannabis-related crimes, costing the taxpayer £50 million a year. In sum, there are clear economic benefits that can be obtained from the legalisation of cannabis.

William Hague has claimed that the war on cannabis “has failed and the Conservatives should embrace a decisive change”, due to the recent high profile case of Billy Cadwell, who was denied CBD oil for his medical condition. Although Home Secretary Sajid Javid eventually allowed the use of medicinal cannabis, there is still a long way to go. Conservative MP Peter Lilley has also argued that cannabis can only currently be bought from street dealers and illegal gangs who push hard drugs, thus pushing law abiding citizens into the “arms of hard drugs pushers”. The drug charity Release recently wrote a letter to Parliament  stating that the current outlook towards cannabis “creates more harm for individuals, their families and societies.”

Although it may be argued that there is a link between the use of cannabis and the exacerbation of mental health issues, the fact is that people are already using cannabis: around 2.4 million people in the UK. Furthermore, according to a 2018 survey commissioned by the drug policy think tank Volteface, 59% of the British public support cannabis legalisation. Legalisation will not only derive economic benefits, but also pave the way for giving treatment to those who may need it, that currently cannot access help. By removing the criminality around the drug, the negative stereotype attached to it will start to weaken, making the possibility of treatment more accessible. 

 By vilifying cannabis and shunning those who may use it, the UK risks holding itself back. A recent report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy outlined that there should be a reclassification of drugs including cannabis and cocaine. Although the Centre for Social Justice has found that 9% of cannabis users have developed a reliance for the drug, it is vital to note that the rate of addiction for nicotine was 32% and 15% for alcohol. This begs the question – if the law and government grant autonomy to consumers to use alcohol and nicotine, then why should it be any different for cannabis?

The statistics are clear and tend to show policies of legalisation bringing about both economic and social benefits. The question now is whether consumers can be trusted to make the decisions by themselves. Prices must be well monitored and regulated to make sure that another black market isn’t formed in place of the legal one. Finally, legalisation must be paired with public education on cannabis, combined with an array of new laws surrounding the drug to make sure that the benefits aren’t outweighed by the risks. 

Shradha Badiani is a History and Politics student at the University of Warwick, Project manager for Housing at Blue and Beyond, Head of Communications and writer for The New Briton and is currently undertaking a week’s work experience at Bright Blue. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.