The UK remains in the Stone Age regarding cannabis policy. However, London Mayor Sadiq Khan hopes to take the first baby steps in the right direction by launching a limited decriminalisation scheme.
Yet to be approved, the initiative would do away with criminal punishments for young people caught possessing small amounts of cannabis in three different London boroughs.
Will Cannabis Be Decriminalised In London?
Announcing the scheme, the Mayor’s Office said it has neither the authority nor the intention to decriminalise cannabis in London but is interested in trying alternative approaches to drugs. “This limited trial, which is still in development and has yet to be approved by City Hall, would involve three of London’s 32 boroughs and would only apply to 18 to 24-year-olds found in possession of a small amount of cannabis. It would not apply to any other drug,” said a spokesperson.
“The idea of the scheme, which is already used by other police forces across the country, would be to divert young people who are found with a small amount of cannabis away from the criminal justice system and instead provide help and support. This has been shown to reduce reoffending.”
During his successful re-election campaign last year, Khan promised to establish a commission to review the potential harms and benefits of cannabis decriminalisation in London. Should the commission recommend the cessation of criminal punishment for cannabis possession, a mayoral endorsement could help to put the issue at the forefront of the political agenda. However, it would not be enough to formally change weed’s legal status.
Unfortunately, the prospect of any change to existing cannabis laws in London or elsewhere in the UK appears slim, with both the Prime Minister and the opposition leader voicing their disapproval of this small yet essential positive step. A spokesperson for Boris Johnson said the government has “absolutely no intention of decriminalising” cannabis or any other drugs, while Labour leader Keir Starmer said he is “not in favour of changing the drugs laws.”
Demand Grows For Legal Cannabis In London
Despite the determination of the UK’s political leaders to continue to drag their heels on cannabis, the appetite for reform is growing among the general population. A recent national poll commissioned by the Evening Standard and Volteface found that 63 percent of London residents support the legalisation of cannabis, with only 19 percent opposing the idea.
Nationwide, 47 percent of respondents said they wanted to see recreational weed made legal, with 30 percent claiming to be against such a proposal.
These views are mirrored by drug policy experts such as Professor Alex Stevens, professor of criminal justice at the University of Kent, who says that Sadiq Khan’s pilot scheme doesn’t go far enough. “I think the Government should follow the advice of the Health and Social Care Committee and the Royal Society of Public Health, which is that drug possession in small quantities should be no longer be a criminal offence,” he said.
Meanwhile, Martin Powell of drug policy reform group Transform said that diversion schemes such as that proposed by Khan are already employed by numerous police forces around the UK. There is no reason to delay the adoption of this approach in the capital. Speaking to the Evening Standard, he explained that “[Diversion] is rapidly happening across the UK based on the clear evidence, both from within the UK and from other countries like Australia that have long done this sort of thing, that not only do you not wreck young peoples’ lives through giving them a criminal record, you have better health outcomes, and it also reduces reoffending.”
As the reaction to Khan’s proposal proves, there is now overwhelming support for cannabis decriminalisation in London among academics, policy experts and the general public. Now we just need the politicians to come to their senses and actually start governing by the evidence.