Andrew Boff is a member of the London Assembly and has applied to be the next Conservative candidate for Mayor of London.
The images of Billy Caldwell and his mother struggling for the right for him to use cannabis to control his epileptic seizures has prompted senior figures in the Conservative Party to highlight how inadequate Britain’s prohibitionist drugs laws are.
When I proposed the legalisation of cannabis at a Greater London Young Conservatives Conference in 1975, I was one of the few voices in the Conservative Party calling for drug reform. Today, things are very different; there are party activists, councillors, and even MPs coming out for legalising cannabis. There is now a growing consensus on drug reform: the Adam Smith Institute, the Taxpayers Alliance, the Police Federation, and the British Medical Journal have all recently called for legalisation.
One of our closest Commonwealth allies, Canada, is currently legalising cannabis, with its stated aim to “make it easier to keep it away from young people, to deprive organised crime of drug money, to reduce the burden on police and the justice system, and to improve public health.”
The “war on drugs” has simply not worked in the case of cannabis. That “war” has not protected young people from the harm that can be caused by using cannabis, nor has it shut down the vicious criminal networks that supply it. The latest Crime Survey of England and Wales reveals that drug laws are largely ignored in the UK: 34.2 per cent of adults surveyed admitted to taking an illegal drug within their lifetime, this equates to over one in three of adult population. In the preceding year, 8.5 per cent of people admitted to taking an illegal drug, which is one in eleven.
Adult cannabis users don’t want to fuel violence or put money into the hands of criminals and terrorists. The policy of prohibition has prevented them buying a product legitimately and ethically, so they turn to the black market. Surely a criminal law ignored by a third of the population is a bad law? One of the often repeated arguments by those who back the failed “war on drugs” is that the “war” was never really fought seriously. The US, which went all out in its war on drugs, has the largest prisoner population in the world (2,121,600), with hundreds of thousands criminalised. Jailing drug users to the same degree would break our prison service (increasing the prison population five fold) and criminalise millions of normally law-abiding, functioning members of society.
The recent Home Office Serious Violence Strategy linked violent crime with the supply of drugs. Under recent questioning from myself about the growth in violence, the Metropolitan Police’s Martin Hewitt said, “There is no doubt that there is a link between the drugs trade and drugs activity and the violence that is undertaken.” If cannabis was legalised, it could be regulated to be in its less harmful state. We already do this with alcohol: when you buy this from a shop, you know it’s ethanol, not methanol (which can kill or cause blindness) and that it tends to be under 50 per cent volume. While alcohol can be dangerous, very dangerous, regulation has prevented far worse harm from occurring.
So how do we move forward? One of the first things we need to do is to recognise that drug use is a health issue and move control of drug policy to the Department of Health. This will start the process of implementing a drugs policy based on evidence rather than the need of a Home Secretary to look ‘tough on crime’. The evidence for regulating cannabis is strong.
So why not just decriminalise cannabis rather than have it regulated? This is effectively the case in many parts of the UK where the Police treat possession as a misdemeanour. (To quote the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, when I asked her how seriously she treats possession, it’s not a “high priority”). The weakness of this approach is that decriminalisation keeps the demand high, but does not stop the supply of cannabis via the criminal networks that have fuelled the recent increase in violent crimes. This year in London, 75 people have lost their lives to violent crime and the inactivity of our do-nothing Mayor is endangering Londoners. Many of those crimes, however, have been fuelled by the prohibition of drugs.
I’ll be putting my name forward as our candidate for Mayor and will use my mandate to argue with Government to change the law to save the lives of young Londoners. You need to ask all candidates: “If you aren’t going to propose concrete measures for ending the violence and the misery brought about by prohibition, why are you standing?”