The United Kingdom still has ways to go before the conversation of recreational cannabis legalization is on the table. Cannabis’ history in the UK dates back to the 10th century and remains the most popular illegal substance for people of all ages. Still, there’s limited access to medical cannabis because there are a limited number of qualifying conditions that include patients dealing with nausea from chemotherapy, those suffering from spasms due to multiple sclerosis, and children and adults diagnosed with severe epilepsy.
Most would agree of the benefit of expanding the medical cannabis programs in the country or, better yet, launching a legal retail market. London Mayor Sadiq Khan admittedly doesn’t have the power to legalize any substance. However, he’s optimistic about introducing a new program that would decriminalize cannabis and attempt to push minors away from using marijuana.
According to The Guardian, there’s concern surrounding Khan’s proposed program inspired by Thamas Valley police. Instead of pursuing charges against those caught with small amounts of cannabis, Khan wants to provide people under 25-years-old with either classes or counseling. So, those who end up caught with 7-gram bags wouldn’t face any penalization for possessing or consuming cannabis.
Downing Street has already expressed its disproval surrounding the project, specifically in decriminalizing cannabis. Khan’s office said that the plan is still in development, confirming that they would need the mayor’s office for policing and crime’s approval before implementing the program in specific boroughs.
The pushback, however, seems overpowering. Along with Downing Street offices, Labor Leader Keir Starmer denounced the idea of decriminalizing drugs. Though he’s stern on his position of changing laws surrounding cannabis, he said that he would “look at” the plan that Khan intends on putting on the table. “I’m very clear that we’re not in favour of changing the laws,” he told the Telegraph.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Boris Johnson continued to tout anti-cannabis propaganda in response to Khan’s proposition. The rep explained that there’s no intention to decriminalize “dangerous and harmful substances for recreational use.” Johnson’s representative said that this would only lead to an infiltration of organized crimes that would, in turn, increase substance abuse numbers and drive violent criminal activity throughout London.
However, the office of the Mayor of London loudly expressed how this would be a “limited trial” subject to City Hall’s approval. There are 32 boroughs across London, but only three of them would be subject to the pilot program and would only apply to people between 18 to 24-years-old found in possession of small amounts of cannabis.
Khan says he took inspiration from other police forces who’ve approached the use of cannabis among young people in the same manner. The point of the program “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,” the office said. Stats have shown that this has helped bring down crime, a priority for Khan, and reduce drug use among young people.
Khan might not have the support of Downing Street or other offices in the UK, but he’s making sure that his plan includes the input of experts. He commissioned independent experts to review the program and understand the possibilities of decriminalizing cannabis. Regardless of the review’s outcome, Khan’s willing to put his full endorsement behind any recommendations towards his proposal, even if it includes fully decriminalizing cannabis. Additionally, he’s sought requests from City Hall, the police and the justice system at large, the NHS, and the federal government to approach decriminalization.
Laws surrounding drug abuse remain tight in the UK, but other countries have created a blueprint for approaching decriminalization and, ultimately, reducing drug use and addiction. Of course, states across America have implemented cannabis reform laws, even if decriminalizing marijuana isn’t on the table. Khan and his team have studied evidence from Portugal, a country that decriminalized the possession and consumption of drugs since 2001.