The pungent smell of cannabis on Britain’s streets and in its parks is hard to escape. People openly smoke and share joints, or even deal it, safe in the knowledge they are unlikely to be apprehended, let alone punished.
Yet cannabis is a class B drug and possessing or selling products that contain THC — the drug’s psychoactive compound — is illegal.
Now, it seems, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, is set to challenge the status quo with his announcement that, should he be re-elected for a second term next month, he will set up an independent drugs review to examine the health, economic and criminal justice benefits of decriminalising cannabis.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has vowed to commission an independent report on the potential health, economic and criminal justice benefits of legalising cannabis if he is re-elected next month
Almost 42,000 people in England and Wales were charged with drug-related offences last year, while the illegal drugs trade costs Britain some £19 billion a year. Legalising and regulating the sale of cannabis could raise around £1 billion for the Treasury
He says there is widespread public support for legalising cannabis for adult recreational use and that fresh ideas are needed to counter the illegal drugs trade and free up the police.
Almost 42,000 people in England and Wales were charged with drug-related offences last year, while the illegal drugs trade costs Britain some £19 billion a year. Legalising and regulating the sale of cannabis could raise around £1 billion for the Treasury.
Three years ago, Khan confessed that he had smoked cannabis while in Amsterdam ‘a long, long time ago’. Perhaps that admission is meant to bolster his credibility.
I’ll go one further: in the 1980s, while in my early 20s, I was arrested and cautioned in Brixton, South-West London, for possessing a paltry lump of cannabis. Nowadays, as a science journalist, my beliefs on the subject are based on the best evidence available.
My conclusion? We need to keep the possession and sale of cannabis a criminal offence.
Thousands of people across the country believe that cannabis should be legalised
These people attended a cannabis legalisation event in London’s Hyde Park in April 20, 2014
It may be that Khan is suffering some cannabis-related short-term memory loss. It is a mere 12 years since we were last heading down this road — with ruinous results. Thanks to campaigning by liberal-thinking Metropolitan Police leaders in 2004, cannabis was declassified from Class B to Class C (the same category as bodybuilding steroids).
After five years in which possession of the drug was merely a slapped-wrist matter, the drug was reclassified as a Class B drug again.
Why? Because policymakers witnessed a serious rise in cases of cannabis-induced psychosis and other mental problems, particularly among young people. In the past decade or more, the health risks of the decriminalisation of cannabis — as many countries have learned to their cost — have not changed.
Addictive drug for teenagers
Even in medical/scientific circles, cannabis was once regarded as a non-addictive substance that, at worst, caused emotional dependence in a few susceptible individuals. But with the advent of vastly more potent strains of the drug, particularly in the past 15 years, few experts subscribe to that view today.
Research published in last month’s edition of the American medical journal JAMA Pediatrics found that 11 per cent of teenagers who start taking marijuana [cannabis] report that they are dependent a year later.
The survey of 11,000 young people by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that one in five teenagers who smokes cannabis over a three-year period develops an addictive disorder.
Major influence on mental illness
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens has warned that ‘in countries where marijuana has been decriminalised, young people often come to think of smoking marijuana as safe. It isn’t. It increases the risk of long-term psychiatric problems such as depression or psychosis.’ Indeed, a 2019 study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry of more than 23,000 people found that the risk of depression among young adults who regularly smoked cannabis was more than a third higher than normal. Their risk of attempting suicide more than trebled.
Potency hitting new heights
Researchers agree that the rapid rise in mental health problems such as addiction and depression is being driven by huge increases in the strength of street cannabis.
The compound THC has been boosted through intensive industrial propagation by illegal growers. THC produces the euphoric high users feel. It also distorts one’s sense of time. But its mind-bending properties can be much darker in the long term.
Last year, Bath University researchers reported in the journal Addiction on their study of more than 80,000 street samples of cannabis collected in the U.S., UK and Europe over the past 50 years.THC concentrations had risen by up to a quarter between 1975 and 2017.
Last year, Bath University researchers reported in the journal Addiction on their study of more than 80,000 street samples of cannabis collected in the U.S., UK and Europe over the past 50 years.THC concentrations had risen by up to a quarter between 1975 and 2017