Launch of the Evening Standard Special Investigation into Cannabis Legalisation

by Liz McCulloch


The Evening Standard have launched the first day of their special investigation into cannabis reform, a deep dive into cannabis in the UK and across the globe. In a series of special reports the Evening Standard will travel to Colorado, California and Canada to understand the different models of legalisation and the impact it is having.

The investigation will initially look at the situation here in the UK, using a new poll commissioned in partnership with Volteface the Evening Standard. For the first time in the UK, we examined which arguments compel the British public to support the legalisation of cannabis and which deter them.

It’s been assumed for some time that arguments of taxation would have less salience here in the UK compared to North America. Our poll shows this is not the case. The British public found that bringing a lucrative market into a legal economy is most compelling reason to legalise cannabis. Taking such a position makes a great deal of economic sense, last year a report by the Institute for Economic Affairs found the value of the illicit cannabis market to be around £2.5 billion, and should it be legalised here in the UK would create tax revenues of £1 billion. 

  • 72% of the British public felt that taking an estimated £2.5 billion a year out of the hands of criminals and the black market was the most compelling reason to legalise cannabis
  • 68% of the British public think that creating tax revenues of £1 billion – which can be spent on public services – is a compelling reason to legalise cannabis

The growing uncertainty of Brexit and years of austerity may have played a critical role in pushing these arguments to the forefront of the public’s mind.

The potency of cannabis has been of concern in the UK for years and this was reflected in the public’s responses. A widely reported 2018 study showed that 91% of the cannabis available in the UK is a high potent variety, more commonly known as ‘skunk’. Use of high potent cannabis has been known to increase the risk of cannabis addiction and cannabis-related mental health problems. In the current illicit market it is criminal gangs rather than the state who control the potency of cannabis, which increases the public health risk of using the drug.

  • 68% of the British public found the following argument compelling; legalise cannabis to allow authorities to strictly regulate and label the strength of cannabis sold and limit the potency. 

The joint Volteface and Evening Standard poll also explored which arguments against the legalisation of cannabis the public found most compelling. At the top of the list was the concern that legalisation would increase the numbers of people driving whilst under the influence of cannabis, potentially leading to more car accidents (65%).

Overall the data showed that a majority of the British public support the legalisation of cannabis.

  • 47% of respondents support the legalisation of cannabis
  • 30% of respondents oppose the legalisation of cannabis
  • 20% of respondents neither support or oppose cannabis the legalisation of cannabis
  • 3% of respondents ‘don’t know’

The key take away from this is that just 30% of the British public oppose the legalisation of cannabis. Canada, Uruguay and 11 US states have all legalised cannabis, with Luxembourg set to follow and New Zealand holding a referendum on the issue in 2020. With so many countries taking steps to reform their cannabis laws it looks as though resistance to do so here in the UK is rapidly falling.

If you would like to read more about the polls findings, a comprehensive briefing can be found here. 

The investigation also gives a sneak peek into a new policing briefing written by our Senior Writer and Researcher Hardeep Matharu. The Volteface report ‘Means to an end, the policing of cannabis’ is released next Wednesday (10.07.19) and our work with the Evening Standard will continue throughout the campaign.


Liz McCulloch & Paul North

Tweets: @Liz_McCull   @Paul_North

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