London Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced that he is looking into the logistics of decriminalising cannabis. The announcement comes as Khan and other mayoral candidates lay out their policies and plans ahead of May’s elections.
If Khan is re-elected on May 6, he says he will set up an independent London drugs commission to explore the potential health, economic and criminal justice benefits of decriminalising the class-B drug.
Unsurprisingly, decriminalising class-A drugs like heroin and cocaine has been ruled out, but Khan has said he will follow the judgement of the commission if they conclude that decriminalising cannabis is safe and beneficial to the capital.
“It will be for the commission to look at the evidence in the round, but nothing is off the table in the context of what is best for public health and keeping Londoners safe,” said a source close to the Mayor told The Guardian.
To back up his claims, Khan has cited polls that show more than half of the UK—and nearly two-thirds of those in the capital—support legalising cannabis for adult recreational use.
The decision comes in the wake of a rise in organised and violent crime as well as a growing number of young people being punished for their use of drugs.
According to the Mayor’s office, the UK’s illegal drug trade is estimated to cost society £19bn per year. On top of that, just under 42,000 people across England and Wales were charged with drug-related crimes in 2020. According to the Institute of Economic Affairs, legalising and regulating cannabis would raise upwards of £1bn in taxes for the Treasury.
If the commission were to be set up, they would look at the effectiveness of various models in Portugal, where the drug was decriminalised in 2001, as well as Canada, Uruguay, Amsterdam, Spain and a number of US states where cannabis has been legalised for recreational use.
However, Khan’s commission is unlikely to set a nationwide example as Labour leader Keir Starmer has described current drug laws as “roughly right” and said he is opposed to decriminalisation. Although, he did tell Sky News that there was “always room for a grown-up debate about how we deal with these cases”.
While the London Mayor does not have the power to introduce new laws, he does have the power to found the commission and hopes that by officially endorsing their findings they’ll be able to push the commission’s findings into Parliament.
“It’s time for fresh ideas about how to reduce the harms drugs and drug-related crimes cause to individuals, families and communities,” Khan said. “The commission will make recommendations focusing on the most effective laws to tackle crime, protect Londoners’ health, and reduce the huge damage that illegal drugs, including cannabis, cause to our communities and society.”