Why We Should Regulate Cannabis by Norman Lamb

"If we accept that many people will use cannabis – whether for recreational or medicinal purposes – then we must be pragmatic in how we minimise those harms." - Norman Lamb

In the autumn, the Liberal Democrats set up an independent panel of experts to look at how a regulated, legalised cannabis market could work in the UK.

That panel has now been published their report, and it sets out how a legal cannabis market could work in the UK.

It is the first of its kind - and if adopted would mean the UK would join other countries around the world that have successfully regulated cannabis markets.

I support the recommendations of this report. We now have to be ambitious about reform.

It is not good enough to continue pretending that everything is ok, or that the current system is working. We should be ambitious in our new approach. Millions of British citizens are using cannabis with no idea of the potency of what they are taking and too many are still being criminalised, which blights careers. At the same time huge sums of money is put into the pockets of organised crime.

The current system is doing untold harm: on health grounds and on justice grounds. Several states in the US have now introduced a regulated market and now the new Liberal Government in Canada is set to follow suit. We should lead the case for reform here.

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Today sees the publication of a ground breaking report setting out how a regulated market for the production and sale of cannabis could work in the UK.

I’ve argued for a long time that our laws on drugs are outdated, harmful and well overdue for reform, so I was delighted that this group of leading campaigners, academics and senior police officers agreed to come together and develop these recommendations. 

I fully accept that cannabis, like any drug, can pose harms to individuals who choose to use it. But if we accept that many people will use cannabis – whether for recreational or medicinal purposes – then we must be pragmatic in how we minimise those harms. That is why I will be making the case for introducing a fully legal, regulated market at our spring conference this Saturday.

No drug is made less harmful when you buy it from criminals. Drug dealers have no interest in your welfare. They never ask for proof of age, they won’t refuse to serve you if you’ve taken too much and you may have no idea what strength of cannabis they are selling to you. Criminal dealers also have every motivation to encourage people who buy cannabis from them to move on to far more dangerous and addictive substances. 

But this is not the only devastating social cost of the current law. Thousands of people each year receive convictions for possession of drugs for personal use, which will blight their education and employment opportunities for the rest of their lives. 

While my primary motivation in arguing for a change in the law is the human cost of prohibition, it is also worth mentioning the economic case for reform.

Currently, the illegal drug market is worth billions to criminal gangs, while the ‘war on drugs’ costs the UK tax-payer billions more. Conversely, a regulated market could generate savings (particularly in the crime and justice system) and the taxation of cannabis has the potential to raise significant revenue.

Finally, there is the compelling law and order case. It is shocking when you think how many police hours are spent targeting people carrying small amounts of cannabis for personal use. Hours which could be better used tackling far more harmful crimes. 

The Liberal Democrats have a proud history of developing our policies based on evidence, liberal principles and informed debate. I think this report is an incredibly valuable contribution to this process.

While I think our existing policies on drugs are already far more forward-thinking than those of the other parties, I sincerely hope we will go one step further on Saturday and vote for motion F7. 

Amendments to Motion F7: Regulatory Framework for Cannabis can be submitted until 1pm on Thursday 10th March:

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