Amidst all the debate surrounding the potential legalisation of cannabis, few seem to discuss a pretty important factor: people are still smoking it. Decriminalisation or legalisation isn’t simply a question of economic or medical benefits, but an issue that affects a huge consumer base.
After all, around 6% of Brits indulge in cannabis, placing the UK as 26th in the world for consumption. Any policy decisions made on cannabis will determine whether these people are criminals, victims, or simply consumers.
Yet the legal status of cannabis consumers in the UK is somewhat vague. As a class B drug, possession of cannabis carries with it a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both. In a strictly de jure sense, to be a cannabis consumer is to be a criminal. In practise, however, the situation can be much different.
For instance, some members of the police, including at least two police and crime commissioners, have visited or endorsed ‘Cannabis Clubs’ – societies where members pay an annual fee to meet up and consume cannabis. While the law is clear on its illegality, many in the police no longer consider cannabis-related crimes to be among their priorities, much to the contention of the British government.
While the state may chastise police workers who choose to tolerate to cannabis, arguing (justifiably) that the drug’s illegality applies nationwide, and does not exempt clubs, it may be worth considering adopting this ‘turn a blind eye’ approach into policy.
In fact, it might represent the best compromise to the cannabis debate in Westminster. While high-ranking Tories like Lord Hague and Sajid Javid take a more progressive approach to regulation, Prime Minister Theresa May remains committed to the status quo.
All the while this is going on, however, the British taxpayer is shelling out millions each year in policing cannabis. Back in 2015, £361 million was being spent annually to combat cannabis related crimes. Police time and money is being wasted in vain attempts to keep users and dealers off of our streets. It is this failing that organisations such as cannabis clubs could remedy.
While many today find little issue in the consumption of cannabis, the fact that it must be traded within a black market has naturally led to some negative externalities. Production and trade is controlled by criminals and gangs as a result of the substance’s illegality, and consumers are not guaranteed the same safety standards that coming with a regulated surface market. It is on externalities such as these which represent that money and time is spent.
Rather than tacitly undermining the government’s authority through choosing to tolerate cannabis clubs, police officers and chiefs are simply creating a far more efficient environment in which to work. In turning a blind eye, they are effectively able to separate the two sides of the cannabis market; the non-violent, consenting consumers are left to their own devices in cannabis clubs, leaving the police free to deal with the gangs and criminals that sell the drug on the streets.
While not an ideal solution (total legalisation would be far more effective and beneficial), this approach is certainly a good compromise to the current debate. Consumers are happy because they can consume cannabis without fear of prosecution. Police are happy because they can focus their attention on more serious crimes
In fact, this is even being taken further, with some police now adopting a ‘Spanish-style’ approach in which civilians may grow and trade cannabis amongst themselves without prosecution. In doing so, police may turn a further blind eye to small scale, home growing operations and focus instead on much larger criminal operations.
In any case, we should be welcoming this approach from the police. Rather than wasting time dealing with non-violent offenders, and allowing criminals to continue dictating the wellbeing of consumers, a tolerant approach to cannabis clubs allows for a more streamlined use of police time and money, as well as a safer environment in which to consumer the drug. Let’s let the police focus on the real criminals, and leave cannabis clubs well alone.