It’s a step forward, but Britain only has to look at the swilling coffers of California and Colorado to see that full legalisation has great benefits
Well done, Durham! The news that police in the county in the north-east of England will no longer pursue small-scale cannabis growers nor arrest casual cannabis users is yet another sign that weed is winning the war on drugs. Ron Hogg, the PCC for Durham says that dwindling resources and a reluctance to throw people in jail over a plant (I paraphrase slightly) has led him to instruct his officers to leave pot smokers alone.
Durham police stop targeting pot smokers and small-scale growers
We already know that cannabis users aren’t criminals. Someone puffing a spliff outside the pub on a Friday night isn’t causing trouble. We also know that cannabis is an incredible plant with all kinds of medicinal uses. Israeli scientists have just published a study saying a compound found in weed helps heal broken bones faster. We also know that in America, states with cannabis dispensaries show a reduction in opioid dependence and overdose fatalities. It occurs to me that in some places the only thing cannabis can’t do is keep you out of jail.
So I applaud PCC Hogg for allowing common sense to impact on his use of scarce law-enforcement resources and allowing a sort of de facto decriminalisation to happen. Hopefully, other police departments in the UK will realise that Durham has the right idea, and also jump on the “let’s leave the pot users alone so we can go after real criminals” bandwagon.
Can Britain go further? Will there come a day when someone could pop into the local pub and get two joints and a packet of crisps? It should happen sooner rather than later. Think about the money alone. Washington state made $70m in tax revenue last year from cannabis sales. California made at least $60m in sales tax on medical marijuana. The state of Colorado made so much money last year ($53m) that they may actually have to give everyone a small rebate (around $10, but the state legislature is scrambling to find a way to hold on to the cash), because the added revenue from marijuana taxes has given the state more money than it predicted.
Cannabis-related businesses do not cause trouble and in fact can help revitalise neighbourhoods
Don’t forget about the money saved in reduced court costs. Putting someone in jail costs the taxpayers money, and there is no good reason to spend £40,000 per year to put someone in jail because they like to smoke a little or even a lot of weed. Cannabis legalisation mean more jobs, along with the ancillary businesses that go along with the industry (packaging companies, marketers and advertisers, publications etc). In short, full-scale cannabis legalisation seems like it would be very positive for the UK economy, as it has been in the US.
How to make it happen? I’m glad you asked. What happened in Durham is a bit of “Overgrow the Government” style of activism. If everyone has a small cannabis garden, can the cops throw everyone in jail? It would be almost impossible, although I will admit that there were times in the 90s when it really did seem like the cops in the USA were actually going to try. But look at us now. Marijuana is more legal than it has ever been, and profits are higher than Cheech and Chong and James Franco combined. Oh and if someone could talk Richard Branson into convincing the wealthy and influential to actively support cannabis legalisation and maybe start a cannabis garden in a posh manor somewhere (perhaps Durham?), to prove that cannabis-related businesses do not cause trouble and in fact can help revitalise neighbourhoods, Britain too could have full-scale cannabis legalisation in a matter of years.
The last time I was in England, 20 years ago, I had to score a chunk of average hash from a slightly dodgy dude somewhere in London near the Thames. Just think of all the tourism and money that could be generated from a sound cannabis legalisation plan. Smoke enough weed and even British food will start to taste good.
This article was amended on 28 July 2015. It originally referred only to Durham city but as Hogg is the PCC for Durham county, his instructions would apply to police across his force. This has been corrected.
By Ngaio Bealum