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First-Ever London Drugs Commission To Consider Legal Cannabis

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By Nina Zdinjak

Several months after London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan announced plans to stop prosecuting adolescents and young adults caught with cannabis, he set up a commission with the task of decriminalizing cannabis in the United Kingdom. The first-ever London Drugs Commission will be chaired by ex-justice secretary Lord Charlie Falconer QC, reported the BBC.

While the mayor was impressed after visiting a cannabis dispensary in California, Home Secretary Priti Patel said Khan’s efforts are pointless as he “has no power to legalize drugs. They ruin communities, tear apart families and destroy lives.”

cannabis
Photo by 2H Media via Unsplash

RELATED: London Mayor Plans To Decriminalize Cannabis Among Teens & Young Adults

Khan responded: “We need to have an honest, open conversation about the evidence in relation to the history of cannabis and our laws in the UK and our experience of the health consequences in relation to crime and the community. The best way to do that will be with the drugs commission we’ve now set up.”

“You can hear from the experts, that’s one thing, but seeing it for yourself … hearing from those who cultivate and grow this plant has been fascinating.”

Once the commission researches everything it can, it will offer its recommendations to City Hall, the government, the police, the criminal justice system and public health services. In the event of any policy changes, the University College London would provide an analysis of the impact of the proposed amendments.

Though medical use of cannabis was legalized in England in 2018, marijuana remains classified as a Class B drug, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison for possession. Cannabis possession was the most recorded drug offense in England and Wales in 2021, as per a parliamentary report.

Khan’s Party Says Not Your Job

UK’s Labour Party has stated that it does not support Khan’s initiative to change the law regarding drugs. “Drugs policy is not devolved to mayors and under Labour would continue to be set by the national government,” the party stated.

On the other hand, Steve Rolles of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation told BBC Radio London that it would be good if the UK could look to Mexico and Uruguay and other countries that have decriminalized marijuana and learn from them.

“Clearly as the mayor has pointed out, our cannabis policy is not working. It is not deterring youths and we can always smell it off them. It is criminalizing lots of people – particularly young black males – and it costs the criminal system a lot of money,” Rolles said.

“We need to look at it. Other places in the world have decriminalized it and hopefully, we can learn from these experiences.”

This article originally appeared on Benzinga and has been reposted with permission.



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Is London really going to decriminalize cannabis?

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Last spring, when London Mayor Sadiq Khan began to feel the heat in his re-election campaign, he realized he needed to differentiate himself from Conservative challenger Shaun Bailey. So Khan announced that, if he were re-elected, he would examine the benefits of decriminalizing cannabis. 

On May 6, 2021, Khan handily defeated Bailey to win a second term. 

Nine months later, it has emerged that the second-term mayor, a high-profile Labour politician, is planning to divert young people caught with small amounts of marijuana in parts of London away from the criminal justice system and into traffic speeding course-style classes and counseling.

A leak of a report captured the news cycle in the UK on Tuesday; The Telegraph headlined a story claiming that Khan’s plan would effectively decriminalize cannabis in London. 

Khan’s team scrambled to clarify the mayor’s intentions. The plan, they said, was to roll out a limited three-district trial program for 18- to 24-year-olds. Such a program has yet to be approved by city hall and would be “robustly evaluated” before any capital-wide rollout. 

Under the early outlines of the proposal, the classroom-and-counseling outcome would be offered to those caught with less than 14 grams of cannabis (roughly half an ounce). It could be implemented as soon as May 2022 in the south east London boroughs of Lewisham, Bexley and Greenwich—which host some of the poorest neighborhoods in the capital.

“Reducing crime is the mayor’s top priority and he will continue to explore and implement the most effective solutions to help to divert young people away from drug use and crime for good,” a spokesperson for the mayor of London said, adding that Khan did not have the power to decriminalize. 

They added that the scheme—set in motion by the mayor of Lewisham, Damien Egan, who commissioned a report by the nonprofit drug reform organization Volteface—would provide help and support rather than punishment, and has been shown to reduce recidivism. Egan’s spokesperson told local media: “We know that we’ll never be able to simply arrest our way out of the problem.” 

What’s the problem, exactly?

But many people in the UK do not believe cannabis use is a serious problem. “Cannabis is seriously misunderstood in the UK, and this scheme doesn’t achieve anything and simply delays the inevitable legalisation process,” said Marwan Elgamal, founder of THC, a leading cannabis lifestyle brand, who has organized events at annual 4/20 celebrations in London’s Hyde Park, attended by tens of thousands. 

“The UK has the opportunity to introduce a process of labeling cannabis potency to help adults make informed choices, take billions out of the hands of criminals, and stop tarnishing people’s life opportunities while freeing up police resources,” Elgamal added. “Now is the time for our government to place trust in adults to make their own decisions, rather than condescendingly offering to counsel us.”

Related

How Close is the United Kingdom to Legalizing Cannabis?

Commonly consumed, but still illegal

Cannabis is commonly smoked on the streets of London and is easily obtainable in parts of Camden, Hackney, Notting Hill, and elsewhere. Consumption is so common that it sometimes can feel like the plant is legal. Clandestine cannabis clubs, in fact, have been increasingly popping up in recent years. But regular police searches over suspected cannabis possession can swiftly deliver a dose of reality even while the number of recorded cannabis offenses in London has been declining year on year.

In September of 2020, the Independent Office for Police Conduct told the Metropolitan police, which covers London, that they desist stopping and searching people because of an alleged smell of cannabis in the vicinity. However, the justification is still used, leading to skepticism over whether the Met would enthusiastically adopt any diversion scheme.

Young Black men targeted by police

Almost half of all stop-and-search episodes in England and Wales are meted out by the Met, with young Black men in London 19 times more likely to be stopped than the rest of the population. A report published recently by the Inspectorate of Constabulary found that in four of five stops, nothing was found, and the practice contributes significantly to friction between ethnic minority communities and the police.

“Young black men that the authors spoke to feel targeted, which leads to disenfranchisement and distrust in the police,” said the report, commissioned to investigate the negative impacts of low-level drug offenses. “Putting young black men through the criminal justice system does not address root causes of why someone might be in possession of drugs, and a criminal justice footprint could blight future prospects, potentially leading to a cycle of criminality.”

It recommended piloting a diversion scheme, variations of which are already in use across 10 police forces in the UK and are considered de facto decriminalization for certain offenses due to there being no change in law. 

Related

From Stalemate to Stampede: Inside the UK’s About-Face on Medical Marijuana

Needless possession cases still prosecuted

More than 1,800 criminal proceedings were brought against young people for cannabis possession in Lewisham between 2016 and 2020, according to Volteface. Roughly 90% of these were for cannabis possession. 

Ant Lehane, head of communications at Volteface, said Khan announced the drug commission when main opponent Shaun Bailey, a law-and-order candidate, was creeping up on him in the polls in April 2021, ahead of the next month’s election, which Khan won in a run-off vote.

“He couldn’t deliver any of the promises,” Lehane said of Mayor Khan. “He had no idea what he was going to do. We came at him with this diversion project which needed funding and behind the scenes he bit our arms off for it. It’s going to tackle racial disproportionality, which should underpin any Labour mayoralty.” 

“It’s been really bureaucratic and difficult to get it to this phase,” Lehane added. This week’s Telegraph story “seems to have come out when we were very close to getting it finalized. So there is quite a big frustration there.” Lehane said he remains optimistic, though. “We don’t think it’s going to scupper the report,” he said. “The response has been really good and has driven a good conversation.”

Mayor Khan’s proposal ‘a brave move’

StopWatch, which campaigns for fair and effective policing, welcomed the mayor’s effort to remove the issue of low-level drug possession from police control but said “punitive policing measures” still had a wide scope due to the law leaving much discretion in the hands of individual officers. 

Mayor Khan’s pilot project “represents a brave move politically, as it casts the mayor of London as a figure who is prepared to run against the headwinds set by the two major parties of the day, who lack the political will to act on the evidence,” said Habib Kadiri, research and policy manager for StopWatch. 

Kadiri said cannabis consumers remained at risk of criminalization—with more than 80,000 people imprisoned across England and Wales between 2016 and 2020 for possession of a class B or C drug, according to Ministry of Justice figures. The UK has maintained a very narrow framework for legal access to medical marijuana since 2019.

Majority of Londoners support reform

Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst at Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said the pilot, due to be officially announced later this month, was long overdue. A majority of Londoners, Rolles said, have supported cannabis reforms for a number of years.

“The reforms are far from revolutionary though,” he said. “Ten police authorities across the UK already have similar diversion programs that actually cover all drugs, not just cannabis, so this is only one step on a longer reform journey. We are obviously some way from legalization and regulation.”

National politicians won’t stand up for their own policies

Rolles said the hostile reaction from the national Conservative government and Labour opposition was confusing. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said illegal drugs “destroy lives and fuel violence,” while the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, said the party did not endorse any further decriminalization of drugs.

“They have both supported diversion programs previously, most obviously in the new government drug strategy,” Rolles added. “There appears to be a reflexive push back on anything presented as decriminalization, even when it is really just another word for policies they’ve already endorsed. Khan shows that reform is no longer a liability, it has become a political asset.”

Police leaders still resist any change

Growing resistance towards the merry-go-round of prosecuting low-level drug offenses within the police has seen senior officers in the UK increasingly agitate for further changes, but London’s Metropolitan police force leadership is notoriously conservative.

A Met spokesperson told Leafly: “The Met is committed to working with its partners to explore ways to reduce the harm drugs cause to both individuals and communities. However, at this stage and contrary to media reporting, no agreement has been reached regarding any changes to our enforcement approach for cannabis or other class B drugs.”

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Mattha Busby

Mattha Busby is a freelance writer based in Mexico. His work has appeared in the Guardian, the Observer, Vice, GQ, and other publications.

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London Mayor Plans To Decriminalize Cannabis Among Teens & Young Adults

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By Nina Zdinjak

Could the United Kingdom be next to join the cannabis legalization trend that is moving across Europe? Anything is possible.

Although there are no confirmed or announced plans for the U.K. to take this road anytime soon, news from London signals possible changes along those lines. Namely, London’s mayor Sadiq Khan has said he plans to stop prosecuting adolescents and young adults caught with marijuana, reported Metro.

smartphone marijuana
Photo by Mayara Klingner / EyeEm/Getty Images

New Scheme As Positive Intervention 

While medical use of cannabis was legalized in England in 2018, Khan now seeks to introduce a new scheme in which people under 25 caught with marijuana in their possession will be offered certain classes or counseling instead of being arrested.

The goal is to address illegal drug use by providing more positive interventions. While Mayor Khan does not have the authority to decriminalize or change the classification of cannabis, or any other drug for that matter, the newly announced measures would essentially decriminalize cannabis possession for adolescents and young adults.

A similar scheme was introduced in Ireland and a recent report noted that it rendered positive results. In 2021 fewer people were charged or issued a summons for possessing drugs and those caught with cannabis were issued a warning.

Initially, Khan’s scheme will be introduced in the London boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley, with plans to reach other areas if it is successful.

A spokesperson for the mayor said that Khan believes that drug use and connected crimes are preventable and not inevitable, which is why he decided to try with deterrence and early intervention.

RELATED: Malta Is About To Become The First Country In Europe To Legalize Weed

“A core focus of this work is investigating various ways in which young people can be diverted away from low-level drug use by being better informed about its harm, and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime is actively involved in discussions around this scheme,” the spokesperson added. “We know that we’ll never be able to simply arrest our way out of the problem, which is why we continue to work on schemes that provide young people with support and education, rather than simply putting them through the criminal justice system – with the aim of diverting them away from drug use and crime for good.”

Smoking Marijuana
Photo by Dejan Marjanovic/Getty Images

The spokesperson further pointed out that funding for the pilot has not yet received final approval from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime.

Kahn’s initiative comes on the heels of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announced crackdown on illegal substances all the while the police discovered traces of cocaine in 11 of the 12 toilets of the UK Parliament, signaling hypocrisy in the U.K. government.

RELATED: European Lessons From US Cannabis Legalization Journey

Furthermore, the news comes at a time when marijuana legalization is becoming popular across Europe in addition to the U.S.

Just last year, Malta became the first country in the EU to legalize marijuana, Germany recently announced plans to allow cannabis sales, which will result in the creation of the biggest EU market with $3.5 billion in expected annual tax revenue. Switzerland launched a legal adult-use cannabis market trial to study for future regulation.

This article originally appeared on Benzinga and has been reposted with permission.



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