Last week Chancellor Phillip Hammond said that the UK faces a budget black hole of £100 billion due to the Brexit induced economic downturn. For public services already stretched to the limit the prospect of having to absorb further cuts and privatisation is, frankly, terrifying.
Some have floated the idea that there is a simple solution to plug the gap, and Brexit could push the government to legalise cannabis.
Alluring as the idea of building a strong home-grown economy on, well, home-grown is, and it is estimated a legally regulated cannabis industry in the UK would be worth around £7 billion. This would create tax revenue of £1bn, hardly enough to make up the Brexit shortfall. Our new economic utopia, free of the shackles of the EU, doesn’t lie in fields of green.
Yes, £1billion extra in the Treasury coffers would be nice I’m sure, as Tesco like to remind us, every little helps, but this is not the reason to legally regulate cannabis. In fact, the reason to do so is more indirect, in the form of those cash-strapped public services.
Police forces when forced to continually tighten their belts, have had to be prudent about the crimes they choose to pursue - and those relating to cannabis have been right that the bottom of their list. This process, dubbed ‘depriotisation’, is of course good for those who would otherwise wind up with a criminal record under more stringent policing conditions, but also creates a postcode lottery over how police treat people under our messy patchwork of different policing policies.
Indeed, with less threat from the police, organised crime gangs running our illegal cannabis market have more freedom to operate and recruit new younger members and clients. Regulation is the only route out of such a situation, a move which would also allow safer, quality controlled cannabis products to be sold with age limits alongside public health advice - all positives that could save services money and improve the lives of the millions of people who consume cannabis in the UK every day.
In Canada, regulation is about two things - crime and children. It’s about breaking the back of organised crime gangs and preventing children from gaining access to cannabis. Creating a bespoke cannabis industry or collecting tax revenue could not be further down his list of reasons, and the same applies here, no matter how scary that deficit sounds.
No, cannabis regulation won’t save our economy from the perils of life outside the EU, but that does not make the reasons for doing it any less valid or urgent. Canada and the US are waking up to the realisation that decades of cannabis prohibition have caused far more problems than they have solved, and it is only a matter of time until such enlightened thinking washes up on shore here.
Henry Fisher is the Policy Director & Editor of VolteFace. Read there full report on why the UK should adopt the North American approach to cannabis legalisation here.