Cannabis possession laws should be repealed in a modern, liberal country - GP Taylor

There is a middle-aged woman I know who, because of her medical condition could end up with spending five years in jail or being heavily fined.

Where doctors have failed to treat her, she has found relief from years of pain and discomfort by taking the leaves of a plant in regulated amounts. That plant is cannabis, a Class B controlled drug that is illegal to cultivate, sell or possess.

This puts my friend into a position where she breaks the law, something she has never done before in her life or thought she would ever have to do.

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Like millions of people around the world, she has tried a trusted method to ease her pain and bring relief by doing what is illegal. Cannabis is taken by over seven million people in the UK alone and it is estimated that at least 1.4 million people turn to the black market to buy cannabis to treat medical conditions. This archaic law turns so many honest people into law breakers.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan walks through cannabis plants which are being legally cultivated at a licensed factory in Los Angeles. Picture: Stefan Rousseau.

The Social Market Foundation (SMF) said that the UK’s cannabis laws are “not fit for purpose” and mean that we suffer higher crime and worse health outcomes than would be expected in a modern, liberal country.

It also means that the police are locked in a war on drugs, a war that they lost many years ago and has wasted millions in taxpayers’ money. Chief Constable Richard Lewis said he believed drug use should be seen as a public health issue and not a criminal justice problem.

It was in 2001 that the Labour Party announced that cannabis in the UK would be downgraded from a Class B drug to Class C. This reduced the penalties for possession and supply. This effectively decriminalised the drug and allowed the police to focus on more serious offences.

A 2005 Home Office report estimated that 199,000 police hours were saved as a result. Ridiculously, in 2007, Gordon Brown announced cannabis would once again become a Class B substance. This U-turn went against the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

Reclassification has done nothing to help. People are now consuming stronger and more dangerous cannabis such as skunk on the black market. This market is often controlled by violent criminal gangs. No one can disagree that there is a link between drugs and crime. Now is the time for cannabis to be legalised, supplied by the Government and taxed. This would ensure a regulated supply of good quality cannabis and would take the drugs out of the hands of criminal gangs. It would also bring in much needed taxation.

I was surprised that the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, made cannabis decriminalisation part of his official election campaign in 2021 and said he would review the law if re-elected. A source close to the mayor said, “it will be for the commission to look at the evidence… but nothing is off the table in the context of what is best for public health and keeping Londoners safe”.

Recently, Mr Khan visited a cannabis dispensary in Los Angeles and was so impressed that he announced the formation of a new group to look at decriminalising the drug in Britain.

Sadly, this statement was attacked by Priti Patel who continues with her crusade against what has been described as middle class drug users. What Patel should keep in mind is that LA decriminalised cannabis in 2016, after that, arrests related to the drug use in California dropped by 56 per cent.

I am no fan of Mr Khan, but have to say that the man is right to pursue legalisation not just in London but throughout the country. Businesses in Yorkshire could benefit from such a move with some farmers being able to diversify into cannabis production and entrepreneurs able to set up cannabis related enterprises.

The 100-year prohibition has to come to an end and possession decriminalised. Public opinion demands that this out-of- date law be revoked and that people are free to choose for themselves. Politicians like Priti Patel and Keir Starmer are totally out of touch with the will of the people. Their ancient mindset goes against everything I expect living in a free society.

People should have a right to decide for themselves what substances they take. After all, alcohol, one of the most dangerous drugs available and responsible for violence, family breakdown and addiction, is readily available in pubs and shops

I look forward to the day when cannabis can be safely bought from my local chemist without the need for people to skulk around the back streets looking for a dealer. It is ridiculous that Britain is out of step with the rest of the world. As countries such as America, Holland, Germany, Canada, Uruguay, Mexico, Malta and others allow cannabis use, we do not.

In 2025, it will be 100 years since cannabis possession was criminalised. Let us hope that politicians will see sense and allow a legal, regulated and safe supply of a herbal substance that is helping millions of people overcome medical issues and cope with life.

- GP Taylor is a writer and broadcaster. He lives in East Yorkshire.

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