A future regulated cannabis market in the UK needs to incorporate guiding principles to repair historical injustices, says a group of campaigning organisations and charities. With more than half of the British public supporting legalisation of cannabis for recreational use and widespread legislative change in countries from Germany to Canada, cannabis reform in the UK is now ‘inevitable’, states a new report published by Release.
‘The question is not when but how cannabis will be regulated in the UK,’ the charity states. While change may be ‘a few years away’ it should be guided by 14 social equity principles to be incorporated into any future legal market. These include investing tax revenue in communities that have previously been over-criminalised as well as in wider drug treatment, and the automatic expungement of past convictions for cannabis-related offences. Decriminalisation also needs to go ‘hand-in-hand with regulation’ by removing all criminal or civil sanctions for possession – whether the cannabis is of legal or illegal origin –and allowing people to cultivate cannabis domestically in the same way they are allowed to brew their own beer.
Thousands of people every year – predominantly those from ethnic minority communities or living in poverty – continue to be subject to life-changing criminal penalties for cannabis-related offences, says Release. So far 15 organisations including the Green Party, LEAP UK, International Drug Policy Consortium, Transform, the Beckley Foundation and Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform have pledged support for the principles, which outline an ‘evidence-based roadmap to prioritise and protect those most vulnerable to the harms of prohibition’.
“The UK government’s new drug strategy regurgitated a “tough on drugs” rhetoric, despite the Home Office’s own research concluding that the estimated £1.6bn spend per year on drug law enforcement is not impacting levels of drug use,’ said Release policy lead Dr Laura Garius. ‘Change is inevitable – cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in the UK and the world, and it is simply too lucrative a market for politicians to ignore. However, we must make sure that cannabis will be regulated right. The legal renaissance of cannabis is a vital opportunity to address the harm that cannabis prohibition has caused to Black and Brown communities and to people with lived experience of cannabis policing.’
‘The legal regulation of cannabis markets is no longer a theoretical discussion – it is being debated and implemented in jurisdictions on every continent,’ added senior policy analyst at Transform, Steve Rolles. ‘The inevitability of change creates a responsibility on policy makers to ensure that reforms serve the needs of the whole community, not just the profit-seeking priorities of big corporate actors. This means hardwiring a clear social justice agenda into legislation from the outset, in particular making sure that the marginalised communities who carried the greatest burden of the drug war’s failure are able to share in the peace dividends.’
Regulating right, repairing wrongs: exploring equity and social justice Initiatives within UK cannabis reform at www.release.org.uk