The issue of cannabis law reform dominated the news yesterday. The Liberal Democrats kicked off the day by announcing that they will set up an expert panel to look into how a legally regulated cannabis market could work in the UK. The panel will be chaired by Transform's senior policy analyst, Steve Rolles, and will include others from the drug policy reform world, including:
- Professor David Nutt, former chairman of the government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and founder of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs;
- Tom Lloyd, former chief constable of Cambridgeshire police, and chair of the National Cannabis Coalition;
- Niamh Eastwood, the executive director of Release;
- Harry Sumnall, professor of substance use at Liverpool John Moores University; and
- Fiona Measham, professor of criminology at the University of Durham.
The Lib Dems' announcement got a fair amount of media coverage, making the front page of the Guardian and prompting a few opinion pieces, all of which were supportive of the party's move. Transform's new report on cannabis regulation in Colorado also got a couple of mentions, including from the tabloid the Daily Star.
Later in the day, MPs gathered in Westminster Hall for a debate on cannabis legalisation, which was triggered after an online government petition generated over 200,000 signatures. Given the extent of the response to the petition, the turnout at the debate was a bit underwhelming. But despite the poor showing, there were some strong arguments made in favour of reform. For an overview of who said what during the debate, see this useful article from Jason Reed at Law Enforcement Against Prohibition UK.
The day culminated in a Newsnight exclusive, which revealed that the Treasury had produced a detailed analysis of the potential fiscal benefits of legalising and regulating cannabis in the UK. According to the Treasury's report, which was commissioned by the Lib Dems while they were in government earlier this year, a regulated cannabis market would raise somewhere in the region of half a billion pounds, depending on levels of demand.
The report also found that there would be savings of around £25 million a year from cannabis possession cases no longer being processed through the courts, and a further £18 million saved in police costs currently incurred through issuing cannabis warnings, carrying out arrests and preparing for court. This would translate into roughly 672,000 hours of police time freed up to pursue other crimes.
The Newsnight coverage featured a good piece from Nick Hopkins, followed by a debate between Niamh Eastwood and Kevin Sabet of the US-based group Safer Approaches to Marijuana. The adversarial set-up of the debate, and the limited time allocated for it, meant it generated more heat than light, but it at least exposed a relatively wide audience to some of the key arguments for regulation. The story has now been picked up by nearly all major UK news outlets, hopefully helping to normalise the idea of cannabis legalisation and regulation, showing that it's not an abstract thought experiment, but in fact an entirely workable and politically viable policy.
You can watch the episode of Newsnight on the BBC iPlayer here: