Dispatches – Cannabis: Time To End The Ban? The Volteface View

by Liz McCulloch



Last night’s episode of Dispatches saw the former head of the Metropolitan police travel to Colorado to see if the UK should follow in their footsteps and legalise cannabis.

Hogan-Howe’s conclusions were mixed, citing concerns around the availability of highly potent cannabis and the prevailing black market, but a landmark recommendation that came off the back of the documentary was his call for the UK Government to establish an expert commission that examines the North American evidence and reports back within two years.

“If I was home secretary, I would have an urgent commission of experts, to look at the evidence about what’s happening about cannabis in North America. And we already know from the evidence around the world that where people use it for medicinal purposes, it slides into recreational.  Surely it’s better that we get ready for that potential change.” – Lord Hogan-Howe

One deciding factor of success will undoubtedly be the extent to which legislation reduces the illicit cannabis market, but it remains unclear if two years is enough time for any meaningful conclusions to be drawn.

All US states that have legalised recreational cannabis border a state where it remains illegal, making it easy for organised criminal gangs to grow cannabis cheaply in the state where it is legal and export it to the neighbouring state at an increased price. The conflicting policies in the US and the fact that cannabis still remains illegal at the federal level will make the evidence difficult to evaluate.

On the 17th October 2018, Canada was the first G7 country to legalise cannabis and therefore will be the country that is under the most scrutiny in the coming years. Canada will be the global player that decides if the rest if the world should follow suit.

So far, only fresh, dried cannabis, oil, plants and seeds have been made available, with edibles and concentrates not coming into the market until October 2019. Whilst consumers wait for edibles and concentrates to become available, they will continue to go to the black market. Even when products do become legal, the Canadian experience suggests there will be a ‘flash sale’, where dealers will try to sell their remaining stock on the cheap. It will also take time for the emerging cannabis industry to build up the capacity to meet Canadian demand.

Teething problems are unavoidable and Hogan-Howe’s recommendation does not take this into account. The window of opportunity will only open once and a hastily put together commission could see it firmly closed for a generation.


Lizzie McCulloch is Director of Policy at Volteface. Tweets @mccullochlizzi1

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