Commonsense on Cannabis: The Conservative case for reforming the cannabis laws

- Friday, 6th July 2001

 

Introduction

? The present law is unenforceable and indefensible when we permit consumption of alcohol and tobacco.

? Defenders of the status quo wilfully confuse immorality with illegality and hard drugs with soft, but will be in a very weak position when reform, which is inevitable comes about.

? Those of conservative disposition should take the lead in reforming the cannabis laws to better preserve respect for the law and encourage moral responsibility.

? Legalising cannabis is the key to protecting huge numbers of young people from exposure to hard drugs and criminal elements.



Current policy and how we got here

? 43% of those aged 16 to 24 say they have tried cannabis.

? Penalties just for possessing cannabis for own use are a fine of up to ?2,500 and/or 3 months in prison if tried by a magistrate and up to 5 years in a Crown Court.

? Police and courts are becoming less willing to enforce the law.

? The UK is bound by the 1961 UN Convention to control trade in cannabis but this does not require us to make its sale a criminal offence.



Arguments for Criminalising Cannabis

? None of the following arguments furnish sufficient grounds for criminalizing cannabis.

? Cannabis is addictive: cannabis is less addictive that alcohol or tobacco, the habit is easier to break and unlike heroin does not lead to crime to sustain the habit.

? Health risks: a thorough and definitive Lancet review of the medical literature concluded that "moderate indulgence in cannabis has little ill effect on health? decisions to ban or legalise [it] should be based on other considerations?.

? Changes behaviour: cannabis can undermine motivation and drive while users are under its influence but it has no lasting behavioural effects.

? Link to hard drugs: the vast majority of cannabis users never move on to hard drugs. There is no chemical effect predisposing them to do so. However, discovering that cannabis has few of the claimed ill effects may lead users to think the risks of heroin are also exaggerated. Moreover prohibition drives soft drug users into the arms of hard drug pushers making progression more likely.

? Morally wrong: Moral disapproval often leads to exaggeration of health and other risks. But large majorities in all age groups accept that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco. Many things that are morally wrong are not crimes. However, in legalising cannabis society should not endorse abuse.



Experience Abroad

? The Netherlands have permitted sale of cannabis for personal use via licensed outlets for over a quarter of a century.

? The Dutch have fewer cannabis users and substantially fewer hard drug addicts than the UK.

? Drug related crime and enforcement costs are significantly lower in the

Netherlands than in the UK or US.



Arguments and Options for Reforming Cannabis Laws

? The four main arguments for reforming the cannabis laws are:

--to break the link between soft and hard drugs

--to restore respect for the law

--to focus resources on tackling hard drugs

--to encourage freedom and personal responsibility

? Option 1: Reduce or remove penalties

This approach has been advocated by the Runciman Commission (and is piloted in Lambeth), and holds that cannabis possession and cultivation for own use should cease to be imprisonable offences, only exceptionally prosecuted, and normally result in a caution which should no longer constitute a criminal record. But non-enforcement would undermine respect for law by the law-abiding majority and still leave cannabis supply in criminal hands. Reducing penalties or decriminalisation of cannabis use would not achieve the prime objective of taking cannabis supply out of the hands of criminals who also supply hard drugs.

? Option 2: Provide legal outlets

Effective reform could only be achieved by licensing some retail outlets. A minimal scheme which insulates users against criminal elements comprises the following: off-licences could be issued by licensing justices to retail outlets with a strict ban on sales of alcohol and other drugs. Sales to minors, marketing, and consumption in a public place would be prohibited. Cannabis could be taxed and any health risks prominently displayed on packaging.

? Option 3: Legalise cultivation

Cultivation for own use would cease to be an offence if possession were decriminalised. Cultivation could also be permitted to supply licensed outlets.

? Option 4: Total liberalisation

This is not recommended. A cautious step by step approach is wiser. Even alcohol and tobacco are heavily regulated. Strict controls would signify that society does not endorse use still less abuse, of cannabis.



Conclusion

? The Conservative party needs bold new thinking on social issues, to change negative perceptions of itself and reach out to voters.

? The Conservative belief in freedom and responsibility, together with its hard-headed realism should lead it to address issues that other parties ignore.

? All parties are out of touch with young voters on this issue?a principled and sensible approach would change their perception of the Conservative party

? Conservatives should take the lead on this issue, wrongfoot the other parties and re-establish themselves as the party of freedom and moral responsibility.

 

 

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Commonsense on Cannabis: The Conservative case for reforming the cannabis laws

 

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