Reform to UK cannabis policy ‘could reduce crime and improve public health’

A cross-party think-tank has called upon the UK Government to overhaul the country’s presently “not fit for purpose” cannabis laws, arguing that ministers could learn from countries like Uruguay, where more liberal regimes have been put in place.

Momentum builds around the globe for cannabis legalisation and decriminalisation

The Social Market Foundation (SMF) has recently released a report outlining that there is an accelerating push worldwide for changes to cannabis laws.

Over the past decade, including in such countries as Uruguay, the Netherlands and Spain, steps have been made to legalise or decriminalise cannabis. The Canadian government fully legalised cannabis in 2018, and the new German government that took power in 2021 has said that it will do the same.

The UK, however, has continued to take what the think-tank has called a “prohibition approach” to cannabis, including classifying it as a class B drug. To this day, it remains illegal to possess, distribute, sell, or grow cannabis in the UK, and any person who is caught with cannabis risks an unlimited fine, imprisonment for up to five years, or both.

Meanwhile, those who are convicted of producing and supplying a class B drug in the UK also potentially face an unlimited fine, and a jail sentence of as long as 14 years.

Would the UK be best advised to follow Uruguay’s example?

Uruguay, meanwhile, has taken a starkly different route, legalising cannabis way back in 2013, and gradually putting in place associated policies since then. Today, the Uruguayan population can purchase cannabis from regulated pharmacies at heavily subsidised prices, as part of a model that the SMF has said could serve as an inspiration for Britain.

The think-tank has also said there could be “key lessons” for the UK in how the likes of Portugal and parts of the United States, such as Oregon, have handled cannabis policy.

The SMF said that in contrast to the lower crime and improved public health that a more liberal approach could bring, the UK’s present “prohibitionist stance” presented several drawbacks, such as people turning to the black market for stronger and more dangerous cannabis products.

The think-tank added that the market was vulnerable to violent criminal gangs, and the Government was missing out on the tax revenue benefits that a reformed approach to cannabis policy could bring.

SMF researcher and author of the report, Jake Shepherd, commented: “The need for cannabis policy reform is clear – public opinion on cannabis and demand for it is rapidly changing.

“By learning from international examples such as Uruguay’s, the UK can put in place the right policy framework to navigate the current system, the unregulated commercial market and balance key priorities of safeguarding public health, reducing criminal activity and delivering economic gain – to ultimately benefit society.”

Despite all of these potential advantages of a change in approach, the i newspaper cited “Home Office sources” as saying that the government had no plans to legalise cannabis.

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