by Henry Hill
Wednesday, 7
April 2021
Explainer
07:00

Sadiq Khan’s cannabis promise only helps the privileged

The impact would be extremely regressive — and he can't even do it
by Henry Hill
Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan walks a beat in Bethnal Green.

It says nothing good about either Sadiq Khan, his opponents, or indeed London’s devolution that he has felt able to put at the centre of his re-election pitch two policies — rent control and decriminalising cannabis — that are not in his power to bring about.

While rent controls are obviously crazy to anyone who looks into their record (“the most efficient technique presently known to destroy a city — except for bombing”, as Assar Lindbeck put it), the latter policy appears superficially sensible.

But far from being a moderate compromise between libertarian legalisation and the pointless waste of the ‘war on drugs’, decriminalisation may actually offer policymakers the worst of all words.

Why? Because it basically legalises demand for a drug whilst leaving supply entirely in criminal hands. The result: rich criminals.

According to last year’s Black Review, the value of the illegal cannabis market in the UK is around £2.4 billion. Now nobody is pretending that weed is difficult to get hold of, at least not in cities and towns, but it is very difficult to see how the visible non-enforcement of criminal penalties is going to do anything other than lift it higher still.

But if it were still illegal to supply it, then legitimate pharmaceutical companies won’t be able to bring products to market and legitimate retailers won’t be able to sell it. That immediately strikes out two potential advantages of legalisation: state oversight of safe products, and tax revenues.

In fact, the overall impact of such a move could be extremely regressive. Cannabis consumers, many comfortably off, would benefit from losing any threat of criminal penalties while low-level dealers and transporters would still face all the dangers associated with the criminal supply chain.

Decriminalisation may in fact be the best of both worlds — for consumers. Experience in Canada suggests that when a government does legalise weed, the result can be an expensive product in an onerously regulated market. Recent proposals for the legal sale of cocaine and ecstasy likewise follow a template of small, expensive doses sold via a state monopoly.

How different it is for the savvy buyer on the criminal market. Dealers offer a broad range of tax-free products for home delivery, and you can shop around between them for who has the best stuff. If none of it is up to scratch, it doesn’t take much study to get onto the dark web and buy direct from peer-reviewed wholesalers on whatever the latest black-market narcotics Amazon is.

Prices are falling, quality is rising, reliability improving. What’s not to like?

Unless you’re the State, collecting no revenue and picking up the direct and indirect costs of drugs to government and society (estimated by Black at £3.8bn and £20bn respectively); or anyone brutalised by the international criminal gangs manufacturing, importing, and distributing them.

Throughout the pandemic, progressives have attacked a system which saw white-collar workers stay safe at home, living lifestyles facilitated by an army of blue-collar delivery workers who had to take their chances. Strange for a Labour mayor, of all people, to suggest applying this logic to cannabis.

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Mike Feilden
Mike Feilden
1 year ago

No mention of the disastrous impact on the mental health of large numbers of young people brought on by addiction to cannabis – this rarely figures in debates about legalisation.

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Feilden

I’m genuinely not sure if you are making this point to support legalisation or not. Given the ‘large numbers’ of addicts seem to be around already, I guess you are for legalisation, which could then be accompanied by some more realistic messaging to discourage people from taking the drug, or at least not in ‘excessive’ doses.

Aaron Kevali
Aaron Kevali
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

Against legalisation of course, it’s not hard.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Feilden

Thank you. I wish I could give your comment 1000 upvotes.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Feilden

I can tell you that from my experience there is no more useless person than a pot head, a pot head being someone who is stoned during the course of their day rather than just during recreation.

Pot de-incentivizes people, it is fine as a youth rebellion, or occasional experience, but I think having marijuana about usually is a negative, that it is prone to be a personal vice rather than an asset. If it is currently illegal, and is not going to benefit society other than by giving up and surrendering to the criminals, I do not see the legalization argument.

Try reading on China and Opium. No one would argue that its legalization was a good thing. It caused HUGS social costs. The small business owner just wanted to get his affairs into order for his family to take over the business so he could spend his life on the pipe. People ruined their lives on it, the money it cost destroyed so many people and their dependents. I know marijuana is not opium, but it is not beer either – that is if you know the drug world, which is not pretty.

Then there is the fact of a brain forming on drugs. It has been said a single time on Ecstasy causes such a change in the pleasure receptors one can never again, in all your life, experience pleasure fully again without it.

The thing of drugs is you get the first rush, and all the rest of your drug use it trying to get that again, yet in real addiction one realizes you never will, and each time it is less and less euphoria, and more just avoiding the dreariness of being unstimulated. Normal existence is no longer a pleasure.

Marijuana, no matter what anyone says is 100% the gateway drug. It is not a good drug, and does weird things to some minds, often not reversible. Almost 100% cocaine, meth, heroin users will say they did marijuana first – it trains the brain to want the chemical stimulation and raises your tolerance to wishing to get high, you lose your fear of handing your brain and reality over to a drug high..

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

marijuana is not opium, but it is not beer either
The negative health and social effects of alcohol are very well documented, while those of marijuana are much more tenuous for the most part.
Almost 100% cocaine, meth, heroin users will say they did marijuana first
And what percentage tried alcohol first, before marijuana? If the latter ‘trains the brain’ and makes ‘you lose your fear of … a drug high’, why wouldn’t alcohol have precisely the same effect?

Last edited 1 year ago by Ian Perkins
Jean Fothers
Jean Fothers
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

Seems like you have been a user for some time. Your brain can no longer think.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
1 year ago
Reply to  Jean Fothers

I notice your outstanding ability to respond to the question. If marijuana raises your tolerance to wishing to get high, and leads you to handing your brain and reality over to a drug high, why on earth wouldn’t alcohol do the same?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

You may well be right, but your comment is whataboutery. This article is about the harms of cannabis.

Paul M
Paul M
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Cannabis causes such a high percentage of mental health problems in the UK.
– depression
– bi-polar disorders
– schizophrenia
– psychosis
I unfortunately have lots of personal experience of the effect of cannabis, among close family and close friends. All good people, low level users. It’s like taking a gun to their head. They’re pretty useless for the rest of their lives. And worse, I really have no idea what the solution is.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul M

In addition to the harms you mention, cannabis abuse also plays a significant role in gum disease, pulmonary disease, and hypertension.

John Jones
John Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

All of this is uninformed nonsense. Pot is not addictive, like beer. Nor is it a gateway drug. Of course people who tried other drugs tried pot first. They also drank beer first. Your argument is a perfect example of the confusion of correlation with causation.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago
Reply to  John Jones

You don’t have the first clue what you’re talking about. Weed is highly addictive.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

“Marijuana, no matter what anyone says is 100% the gateway drug”
Worse than being a gateway drug, it’s hugely harmful in itself, as you make plain in your excellent comment.

John Jones
John Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Feilden

Addiction to cannabis is mostly a myth. I say mostly because, like most substances, it will prove problematic for some people. The only questions are how many people and how problematic. Compared to nicotine and alcohol, for example, pot is neither addictive nor cancer causing. In Canada, after two years of legalization, there has been no noticeable increase in mental health problems r car accidents, in spite of the claims of those on the right who warned of Armageddon if pot were legalized.

The evidence has been in for years: the problems associated with the legalization of pot are far fewer than the problems associated with keeping it illegal.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago
Reply to  John Jones

..

Last edited 1 year ago by Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago
Reply to  John Jones

“Compared to nicotine and alcohol, for example, pot is neither addictive nor cancer causing.”
Simply not true.
“In Canada, after two years of legalization, there has been no noticeable increase in mental health problems r car accidents, in spite of the claims of those on the right who warned of Armageddon if pot were legalized.”
Non sequitur. Doesn’t mean it’s not addictive or non-carcinogenic.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

You’re a mong

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
1 year ago

Recently a middle aged motorcyclist in Wales sadly killed himself through reckless riding. He had been smoking cannabis and the inquest described how this impaired judgment. Of course alcohol is legal and also currently probably damages many more lives but legalise another drug? I never hear advocates begin to explain a ‘safe’ amount or how this would be measured, like the cannabis oil people who never seem to be able to explain scientifically what dosage is ‘effective’ beyond their own hunches and subjective observations.

Mel Bass
Mel Bass
1 year ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

The motorcyclist was a sad case, but the law is already reasonably clear on drug driving. Police (in my area at least!) are proactive about stopping suspected drug-drivers and a roadside drug swipe test will give an indication of whether someone has cannabis (or other drugs) in their system (and traces can linger for several days after smoking a spliff). A positive result means blood samples are taken, and if the analysis shows that cannabis is over the legal limit, ie the supposed ‘safe amount’, the person goes through the usual prosecution, fine, loss of licence etc – just like drink driving. Obviously, not every drug driver is caught, or that Welsh motorcyclist might still be alive and simply mourning the loss of his licence, but not all drink drivers are caught in time either. Would legalising cannabis make a difference? Maybe, maybe not. Right now, the UK is so awash with illegal cannabis farms that supply is enormous, and usage is rife. Cannabis factories are hidden away in quiet houses, remote farm buildings, spare rooms and so on, and finding even a fraction of them is challenging. The UK cannabis trade isn’t even close to being controlled by police/courts, and stamping it out would be both extraordinarily difficult and horrifically expensive… so maybe legalisation is the only practical way forward, whether we like the idea of legalising another drug or not. However, legalisation must shift control of production from organised crime to sources that can be taxed and quality controlled, rather than just decriminalising possession/usage of the end result.
As for cannabis oil, there is a difference between the illegally produced ones and the legal (low THC) oils sold in the likes of Holland & Barrett or from reputable online sites, which do come with vaguely recommended dosages and which seem to be relatively harmless. Whether they are beneficial or not appears to be fairly subjective.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
1 year ago
Reply to  Mel Bass

Quality control of cannabis would be far from easy, and would probably result in the industry being dominated by huge firms who can afford such standardisation. Smaller growers whose crop varies from harvest to harvest and plant to plant might be unable to comply.

Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

This is like saying that factory farm produce is better quality than that of small-scale farms. We all know that is untrue. Why should cannabis growing be any different?

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
1 year ago

It might not, but quality control of cannabis often means having a product with specific levels of THC etc., which is hard for smaller growers to comply with. It’s not necessarily a question of better quality, but of standardised quality, which might be exactly what government regulations would require.

Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

I’m pretty sure a THC range wouldn’t be too difficult for a small-scale grower to land in with their product.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
1 year ago

I think small-scale growers in America have been finding it difficult to comply with such regulations, perhaps because it isn’t just THC levels, but those of CBD, etc etc, that need to be standardised.

Aaron Kevali
Aaron Kevali
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

Stupid comment, blood alcohol levels can be measured easily on the road-side and very accurately.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
1 year ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

Roadside BAC tests aren’t all that accurate, and drinking to achieve a specific blood alcohol level isn’t easy, just as growing plants to achieve specific concentrations of chemicals isn’t.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

I think with alcoholic drinks, 3% has to be within a certain range of 3%, and 60% similarly close to 60%! Not only that, but suppliers have to have their products tested to show that they are.
Of course, quality control, if it does figure in any future legalised cannabis, needn’t be onerous for small scale growers, but it’s considerably easier for large corporations to comply with such regulations if they do come about.  

Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

Then, by the same score, couldn’t small-scale growers just test their product and state the THC etc values for each batch?

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
1 year ago

I can’t remember how much it’s to do with the difficulty of growing a consistent product, how much the cost of testing and certifying, and how much other factors, but I gather small growers have been having trouble with the requirements.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

Having know illegal marijuana growers in places of bad insects they spray the plant with lots of insecticide. Small Growers and not organic farmers excepting a very tiny minority, very small.

William Harvey
William Harvey
1 year ago
Reply to  Mel Bass

I think the issue with legalisation is that the “illegal” non government sanctioned suppliers would still keep producing. They be at an advantage because their product wouldn’t be taxed. People still produce home made beer, wine ,cider, gin etc. I cant see weed being different, unless the suppliers can massively undercut the price of the illegal suppliers through increased scale and efficiency

Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
1 year ago

Either legalise and regulate all drugs or take a hard line approach to them. The middle ground doesn’t work and simply allows scumbag dealers to flourish.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
1 year ago

The more hard line the approach, the more hard core and ruthless suppliers flourish.

Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

A good counter-point. But I also think decriminalisation creates more customers (because there is no penalty to worry about), and therefore more dealers who could also find their way in to selling harder drugs, becoming involved in county lines etc. I think that as long as drugs are illegal, there’ll always be the big and dangerous suppliers at the top.

Aaron Kevali
Aaron Kevali
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

Ridiculous. There has not been a hard line approach in this country for over fifty years. Users have almost always been given non-custodial sentences, because only dealers are targeted with any severity. And even then, severity isn’t all that severe.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
1 year ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

There has not been a hard line approach in this country for over fifty years.
And are the dealers as violent as their counterparts in the USA? Is the illegal heroin supply as contaminated with fentanyls?

Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
1 year ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

I think things were much tighter 25 years ago than they are now. You didn’t get school kids gathering in groups for a pre-registration or post -registration spliff with absolute no attempt to hide what they are doing as you do nowadays. I’ve seen police cross the road rather than have a word with them.

Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

I don’t see the evidence for that.

Aaron Kevali
Aaron Kevali
1 year ago

Spot on Wulvis, the “be nice to users, hard on dealers” is an absurd and abject failure. If there is a demand for self indulgence and self stupefaction, there is always some sod willing to help deliver it.

Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
1 year ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

I say legalise the whole lot.

Lindsay Gatward
Lindsay Gatward
1 year ago

There is a lot to be said for that. Up to around 1922 everything was legal. The US went for prohibition of everything including alcohol but Europe allowed alcohol. Prohibition in the US is the foundation of organised crime. Collapse of organised crime and its massive cost to quality of life can be envisaged with legalisation but a whole field of virtue signalling would be lost and so many institutions that fight the drug war would be depleted or vanish so they have a huge vested interest in maintaining the war forever. (Legalisation can also be seen to inhibit the CCP’s destruction of Western culture via its vast illegal drug supply network?)

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

Sure, all or nothing, there is logic and reason. Make everything illegal mean 10 years in jail, that is reasonable, or make everything legal, that makes sense.

Susannah Baring Tait
Susannah Baring Tait
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I am asking but how many teens take drugs because they ARE illegal? Half the thrill of teen rebellion, is it not? Make them legal and drugs could be seen as both boring and expensive. Just a thought.

Lindsay Gatward
Lindsay Gatward
1 year ago

Absolutely. The what’s cool and peer pressure factor is huge. I recall being very disappointed in my failure to master smoking when all my friends and younger siblings succeeded. Legal drugs are typically seen as not at all ‘vegetarian’ and disgustingly tested on animals and doing nothing to ‘save the planet’. All totally illogical of course but virtuously held opinion. Meanwhile our cultural adoption of alcohol and abhorrence of other drugs and celebration of some sexual weirdness and demonizing of others is not logical either?

Last edited 1 year ago by Lindsay Gatward
John Jones
John Jones
1 year ago

We tried the hardline approach, and the result was terrible.

Portugal and Canada, on the other hand, legalized pot, and so far, no problems.

The way forward is obvious.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

Whatever…the state and the authorities will always enable criminality and achieve the opposite of whatever it is they intend to achieve. You’ll never change that.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Liberal = permissive = degeneracy.

Chris Hopwood
Chris Hopwood
1 year ago

Cannabis is now legal in some states in America and what happens in the US often eventually happens here

Aaron Kevali
Aaron Kevali
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Hopwood

America lights up, Britain gets high.

Warren Alexander
Warren Alexander
1 year ago

Decriminalise all so-called recreational drugs. Regulate and tax their manufacture and sale. Controlling their purity and potency will save far more lives than the utterly futile wars on drugs that have been waged for so many decades and have achieved so little. Regulated manufacture and sales will remove the criminals as long as governments don’t get too greedy and impose punitive taxes.

Aaron Kevali
Aaron Kevali
1 year ago

Oh yes God forbid there be punitive taxes! Like, that’d be terrible. Never mind the mental wards of gibbering addled youth, never mind the wasted potential and lives. Never mind the families who lose children, siblings, parents to now-legalised mind altering crap. Never mind the lost lives (ecstasy and cocaine can never be safe by their very nature), never mind the unwholesome behaviour of the degenerate now able to indulge in public and without shame.
Just don’t let the government make too much money out of it.

Warren Alexander
Warren Alexander
1 year ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

Because keeping drugs illegal and their trade in the hands of hardened criminals has been such a successful strategy?
The only people who want to keep drugs illegal are the dealers and suppliers. It’s good for their profits.

Last edited 1 year ago by Warren Alexander
Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
1 year ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

Professor David Nutt, the government’s chief drug adviser, was sacked a day after claiming that ecstasy is less dangerous than alcohol.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ian Perkins
Aaron Kevali
Aaron Kevali
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

Because anyone who thinks that is a fool. Not to defend alcohol, of course, but really…
Oh yeah what was your point again? British laws on drugs are in practice soft as marshmallow, hard in rhetoric. Hence the epic fail in the “War on Drugs”. Prof Nutt was undermining covert legalisation by being too honest and revealing the puppet show for generally sensible voters. Once you have kids, drugs legalisation sounds scary as hell, so legalisation must be done merely in practice, not on the books.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
1 year ago

Unless you’re the State … picking up the direct and indirect costs of drugs to government and society (estimated by Black at £3.8bn and £20bn respectively)
I haven’t read Carol Black’s review, but I wonder how much of this £3.8bn/£20bn is due to cannabis, which is all Khan appears to be proposing to decriminalise.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

I wonder what official government dart board they used to get those numbers? And who was selected to throw the dart?

Jean Fothers
Jean Fothers
1 year ago

Another tentative step down the road of destruction of “the West”, this time the tool being the idiot Khan.