By Emily Ledger
The Mayor of London has announced the launch of a review that will examine the feasibility of cannabis decriminalisation in the capital as part of a new approach to drug policy. The announcement comes as public support for cannabis reforms is becoming increasingly widespread.
Should London Mayor Sadiq Khan be re-elected at the Mayoral election on 6th May, he has pledged to set up an independent London drugs commission that is set to assess the potential health, economic and criminal justice effects, should cannabis be decriminalised.
A growing number of polls and studies have revealed that more than half of people in the UK – rising to two-thirds of Londoners – support the legalisation of recreational cannabis. One poll, commissioned by the Evening Standard and Voltface in 2019, revealed that 69% of Londoners would support cannabis legalisation and regulation, compared to just 19% who were opposed.
Khan has revealed that, depending on the findings of the review, he would be willing to consider decriminalising the Class-B drug.
According to the Guardian, a source close to the Mayor said:
It will be for the commission to look at the evidence in the round, but nothing is off the table in the context of what is best for public health and keeping Londoners safe.
In addition to the announcement of the commission – which will be announced as part of the Mayor’s electoral manifesto – Khan is expected to state that new ideas are needed to tackle the illegal drugs trade in the capital. Critics of current drug laws, including the Mayor, claim that too many young people are criminalised for recreational drug use – with cannabis being the most popular.
The Mayoral candidate for the Green Party, Sian Berry, has also pledged potential reforms to cannabis policy should she be elected in May. The Green Party co-leader wants to end police stop and search practises based solely on smelling cannabis as part of wider reforms to divert drug users from the criminal justice system to healthcare support.
The announcement by Mayor Sadiq Khan may risk appearing out of step with the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer. Starmer recently revealed that he believed current laws around cannabis to be “roughly right”, drawing criticism from reform advocates.
While the London Mayor does not have the power to introduce new laws or reforms, a Mayoral endorsement, in addition to positive results from the commission, would likely increase the chances of reforms.
The cannabis decriminalisation commission will likely consider evidence from other jurisdictions that have either decriminalised or legalised the use of cannabis. For example, in Portugal, where all drugs were decriminalised in 2001, improved treatment programmes and prevention measures were introduced alongside education and social support services.
UPDATE: Downing Street responds to plans for a cannabis decriminalisation commission…
According to news reports, the government believes that a cannabis decriminalisation commission would be a waste of time as the issue does not fall into the remit of the Mayor and the government currently has no plans to make any changes to cannabis laws.
While the Mayor has expressed the belief that current cannabis laws are out of step with public opinion, other major politicians have remained quiet on the subject. Further, according to Boris Johnson’s secretary, Allegra Stratton, a cannabis commission would not make any difference on the law.
The Guardian reported statements made by Stratton: “Policy on controlled drugs is a matter for UK government and there are no plans to devolve this responsibility.
“The prime minister has spoken about this on many occasion – illicit drugs destroy lives and he has absolutely no intention of legalising cannabis, which is a harmful substance.”
When asked if London Mayor Sadiq Khan would be wasting his time with a commission on the subject, Stratton replied: “That is correct. Sadiq Khan will know that the policy on controlled drugs is a matter for the UK government. It is not a matter for his office.”