UK campaigners call for ‘sensible’ cannabis reforms as legalisation continues in other countries

Could the UK thrive from adopting a different approach to cannabis use and possession, taking inspiration from other parts of the world where the drug has been legalised?

This is the suggestion of drug policy experts who have said the UK Government’s new drug strategy simply reuses familiar ‘tough on drugs’ messaging, amid indications that drug use might actually be on the up in the country, instead of coming down.

An “inevitable” transition towards deregulation

To sketch out what an alternative philosophy on cannabis law could look like in the UK, the drugs charity Release outlined 14 “principles” for guiding what it considers the country’s “inevitable” move towards deregulation.

Those principles, as reported by the i, include the removal of criminal sanctions on the use and possession of cannabis, as well as the establishment of cooperative models for distribution.

The charity’s proposal, which considered equity and social justice initiatives within UK cannabis reform, also put forward such ideas as allowing cannabis to be cultivated at home – akin to the homebrewing of beer or wine – and the “automatic expungement” of previous cannabis-related convictions.

Have communities been “over-policed and over-criminalised” on cannabis?

This is certainly the position of Release in its report – entitled Regulating Right, Repairing Wrongs – which suggested that any new regulatory system should incorporate cannabis “social club” models like those in Malta, where the drug was legalised last month.

The charity stated that the resultant tax revenue could be invested in communities and support treatment initiatives and harm-reduction interventions.

Release’s policy lead, Dr Laura Garius, said the UK Government’s latest drug strategy “regurgitated a ‘tough on drugs’ rhetoric, despite the Home Office’s own research concluding that the estimated £1.6 billion spend per year on drug law enforcement is not impacting levels of drug use. We need a new approach.”

Pointing to the other countries around the world that were “progressing with drug law reform”, she said the UK was trailing behind.

The context of an increasingly ‘left-behind’ UK

Uruguay was the first country to make the personal use of cannabis legal in 2013; Canada followed suit five years later, and it is also now possible to use the drug recreationally in 18 US states.

By contrast, in the UK, cannabis is still controlled as a Class B drug in accordance with the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The possession, growth, distribution or sale of cannabis is illegal for individuals or companies that do not hold a Home Office licence; fines and imprisonment can await those convicted. Medicinal cannabis, however, has been legal in the country since 1 November 2018.

Meanwhile, the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar also recently legalised medical cannabis, and hopes to become a European hub for cultivation and manufacturing in the near future.

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