A Tax Windfall For London?

by Henry Fisher

Seven days until the London mayoral election, and £200 million has just entered the equation. Lee Harris, CISTA’s mayoral candidate, has put on the table an argument that is unlikely to leave Londoners indifferent: in a video posted on taxbonanza.london, Harris states that London could accumulate up to £200m in tax revenue on cannabis if the Class B drug was to be decriminalised.

A Populus poll has recently shown that 900,000 Londoners are cannabis consumers. Should the city follow the lead of American states such as Colorado, it could rack up enough money to build three copies of the London Eye. Harris is keen to point out that this ‘tax bonanza’ would benefit all Londoners, and that it is not just a ‘smokers’ issue’.

In order to regulate the sale of cannabis, it would be necessary to issue licenses to premises; cannabis would be available to buy under the same strict regulations that are applied to tobacco and alcohol. This would also entail severe quality controls, and would deal a dramatic blow to the black market. “The general public should be pleased to know that criminality would be reduced almost instantly, as would gang warfare,” says Harris.

Colorado’s example shows that tax revenue from cannabis has been higher than that of alcohol.
What would London do with an extra £200m? Harris says that some would certainly be reinvested in treatment centres for users of harder drugs. He states that it would take about a year to see the results, once the tax from licensing premises starts to flow in.

Lee Harris (Source: Alastair Moore)

Lee Harris (Source: Alastair Moore)

A point Harris is keen to emphasise is that of the close work that should be done with the Met police and the crime commissioner. He notes that there have been various reports of cannabis-related arrests falling by a considerable percentage in a sign of “decriminalisation by stealth.” “There needs to be a conversation with the police, who by and large share our point of view, and who have a thorough understanding of the shortcomings of the current policies.”

Harris is also particularly bothered by the ‘stop and search’ practice that, he says, is outdated, and more often than not causes deep embarrassment to the targeted individuals and bystanders. The issue is closely linked to the cannabis debate, he says, as it wastes precious police time and resources.

‘We’ve come so far from the 1960s – we have tackled gay marriage, abortion, divorce… Cannabis is the only issue that’s been left behind’.

Harris’ ‘tax bonanza’ idea will be a difficult one to ignore, which is exactly what he’s aiming for: “I challenge the other candidates to talk about where they stand on the issue of legalisation. They are all scared to talk about it. It can’t and shouldn’t be ignored any longer.”

With only one week to go until the election, it is unlikely that Harris will climb to the top of the polls and be elected Mayor of London; but it is hoped that his ‘tax bonanza’ plan – and the possibility of reduced criminality with a £200m bonus – will strike a chord in Londoners’ hearts.

Harris isn’t disheartened by his slim chances to win the election: he sees as role for himself regardless of who will be elected mayor. “I would absolutely push the next mayor to consider creating a cannabis advisor position to deal with the police and the youth communities that are most affected by the issue.” Who would be good for the role? Harris laughs. “Me, of course!”

Words by Laura Gozzi

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