Although discussed in British politics for many years, the prospect of decriminalising or legalising weed has only appeared within the mainstream media in the last decade. During this time the UK has never reached a position of true decriminalisation, let alone legalisation.
Although the arguments for legalisation and decriminalisation have often been conflated, they generate many different and separate social and economic outcomes, with most of the benefits coming from legalisation as the arguments for decriminalisation still suffer from its quasi-legal nature.
Although counterintuitive, the most obvious benefit for legalisation rather than decriminalisation is the positive difference it will make to society. Those who choose to use cannabis will always choose to use cannabis so why not regulate the market and make it safer for all?
Without regulation a large percentage of the population (and an even larger proportion of young people) are doomed to rely on the broken morals of drug dealers and risk consuming a product potentially far different to that which they intended to purchase.
Regulation would facilitate control of the market and allow the government to police the percentage of tetrahydrocannabinol (a psycho-active chemical in cannabis, known as THC), as they have in Uruguay (where they have limited it to 15%), making the product as safe as possible.
California has similar regulations combined with much needed controls on advertising as well. Both circumstances have resulted in the creation of a far safer drug with fewer social consequences and less danger to the individual user.
Legalisation has not only resulted in a safer product; it is also evident that murder and violent crime have decreased in areas which have pursued this policy. That’s right, decreased.
The prime example of this is California, where violent crime has reduced significantly, as the production and distribution of cannabis has been taken out of the hands of the gangs and cartels by the licensing of local Californian farmers.
When given the choice cannabis users will go for the legally safer option every time and nobody could argue that taking power away from gangs and cartels is a move in the wrong direction. So why does it matter if this is achieved through a progressive policy?
Yes, it is undeniably true that there are health risks linked to cannabis use. Yes, it would be dangerous to have an unregulated market. But this does not mean we should succumb to the highly emotive arguments of traditionalists like Peter Hitchens whose reasoning seems to completely ignore the facts?
Today, in nations like the Philippines where there is an almost genocidal attack in the name of removing drugs, a large drug problem remains. What is actually created is a market with less regulation, less control and less safety.
There are countless examples throughout history, such as prohibition in the US, where successive nations have tried to wage aggressive wars on drugs and in most cases they have failed or have caused far worse problems for society. The only difference in all of these cases is who controls the market and the varying degrees of danger for the ordinary citizens. The war on drugs has failed and it is time to recognise that.
Economically there are also huge benefits to the legalisation of cannabis. Whether you like it or not, cannabis is a huge part of the UK’s economy, albeit the underground economy at this time. It has the potential to be not only a huge job creator, but ultimately a new industry creator.
Not only could legalisation create jobs but it could potentially raise a large amount of revenue through tax, with reliable estimates suggesting £900 million per annum - enough to fund 180,000 hip operations under the NHS each year.
There is also the economic question of whether it really is worth directing limited police resources towards pursuing cannabis producers and users. In a period where the police force is enduring more and more cuts (currently set to lose £700m by 2020) is it really justifiable for the police to spend their precious resources on the prosecution of minor drug offenders?
Instead wouldn’t those limited resources be put to better use on rehabilitating those addicted to drugs and making a positive impact to people’s lives. Could that same money not be used to establish rehabilitation services or support networks for those who have historically abused drugs?
We have to ask ourselves what kind of society we want to live in. Do we want to be a progressive forward-thinking society that looks at evidence, and wants to make a positive difference to people’s lives? Or do we want to continue with the status quo and remain in the dark?
Legalising cannabis shouldn’t just be a policy propagated by those on the far edge of the liberal spectrum, but should be a policy for all not only because the facts indicate the social benefits to those who use the drug, but because of the economic benefit of legalising the drug and what it can do for our economy. It’s time to stop fearing progress and instead act to make positive changes for our society.
Read James Strachan's 3 April response to this article here.