Opinion: Legalising cannabis would make our country safer for everyone - Adam Smith Institute

This article was first published on the Adam Smith Institute blog.

It is less than three years since the Adam Smith Institute and Volteface jointly published The Tide Effect, making the argument that the UK should follow the path set down by its Atlantic cousins in taking steps to legalise cannabis. Since then, there has been a tectonic shift in public opinion on the issue. As of October 2018, support among Brits for the legalisation of the sale and possession of cannabis had leapt to nearly six in ten of all Brits, and over two thirds of those between those aged 18 to 24.

This week, the Adam Smith Institute joined forces with Volteface once again on a new paper, entitled The Green Light: How legalising and regulating cannabis will reduce crime, protect children and improve safety. As featured by the Evening Standard, the paper outlines in detail the compelling and growing body of evidence in favour of cannabis legalisation and sets out a series of policy proposals to guide a pro-cannabis government initiative, with reference to existing systems in Canada, Uruguay and the ten US states who have already legalised.

The resounding conclusion from the available evidence is that cannabis legalisation in the UK would be a wholly positive move. Regulation and taxation would reduce underage usage and increase revenue. Staggered taxes would also allow for a passive crackdown on higher potency, potentially more dangerous strains of cannabis, making it safer for everyone. Perhaps most pertinently of all, the report finds that the presence of a robust legal cannabis market would bring about a substantial reduction in criminal violence.

The entire British cannabis sector has been pushed underground by prohibition, which means its illegal profits tend to finance all manner of violent crime. A University College London study estimated the size of the existing illicit cannabis market at around £3 billion, the vast majority of which is likely to feed directly back into criminal activity of various kinds.

Legalisation would reduce significantly the funds criminals are able to draw from cannabis trade. In Colorado, the black market for cannabis had shrunk by over two thirds just five years after its legalisation. Comparable levels of success are easily attainable in the UK, if the government takes a similar route to legalisation. There is no good reason to continue allowing billions in illicit profits to swill around in criminal circles.

In addition to interrupting illegal income streams, cannabis legalisation has been shown to directly affect rates of various violent crimes. A 2013 study conducted by Norwegian academics in US states in which cannabis has been legalised found a strong correlation between the liberalisation of cannabis legislation and reductions in violent crime. This was especially true of homicides, assaults and robberies, with researchers able to draw causal links between the rapidly diminishing illegal drug market and these kinds of violent criminal activity. Those findings have since been corroborated by another study, this time from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia in 2017.

By following the Six Point Plan laid out in the Adam Smith Institute’s latest paper, the government can replicate those outcomes here in the UK. This policy is not a stab in the dark; these outcomes are not hypothetical guesswork. Since the British government would be far from the first to legalise cannabis, we can rest assured that major unforeseen catastrophes are unlikely to spring up in the immediate aftermath of the implementation of this policy.

Legalising cannabis is a common-sense decision. Politicians from across the political spectrum have coalesced behind calls for reform to our antiquated drug laws; from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats to the Green Party, the number of people who see the harm that the current system of prohibition is inflicting on some of the most vulnerable within our society is growing at an unprecedented rate. Now is the time to act.