Legalising the sale of cannabis in specialist shops would generate £1bn a year in tax revenue and reduce the harm done to users and society, according to the most detailed plans ever drawn up for the liberalisation of UK drug laws.
The study, which was carried out by a panel of experts including scientists, academics and police chiefs, calls for the UK to follow the lead of some US states and allow the sale of cannabis to over-18s in licensed retail stores.
The report’s conclusions will form the basis of a new drugs policy being drawn up by the Liberal Democrat Party, which is expected to debate the issue at its spring conference later this week.
Under the plans proposed by the expert panel:
- Adults would be able to buy cannabis from licensed single-purpose stores modelled on pharmacies, like the marijuana dispensaries operating in Oregon and Colorado.
- Home-cultivation of cannabis would also be legal for personal use and small-scale licensed cannabis social clubs could be established. However, branding, promoting or advertising cannabis products would be banned.
- The price, potency and packaging of all sold cannabis would be controlled by the Government with a new regulator established to oversee the market. The price would disproportionately rise for higher-strength cannabis to discourage sales of the most harmful forms of the drug.
- Both drug production and sales would be taxed, raising, the panel claims, between £500m and £1bn a year. However, unlike some countries that have legalised cannabis, the panel does not come out in favour of ring-fencing the revenue for drug treatment, prevention and harm reduction.
- A new regulator would be established to oversee the market, possibly modelled on Ofgem and Ofwat.
The experts behind the study say legalisation would reduce drug-related crime and mitigate the harmful effects of the drug on users.
The panel was set up last year by the former Liberal Democrat health minister Norman Lamb and has been chaired by Steve Rolles, from the Transform Drug Policy Foundation.
The report's key recommendations
- Allowing the sale of cannabis to over-18s from specialist, licensed stores. The report proposes allowing home-cultivation for personal use and small-scale licensed cannabis social clubs.
- A new regulator to oversee the market.
- Regulation around the price, potency and packaging of cannabis from retailers, with policy informed by best practice in tobacco and alcohol regulation.
- Single-purpose outlets to sell cannabis modelled on pharmacies.
- Cannabis to be sold over the counter by licensed vendors, in plain packaging with clear health and risk reduction information.
Other panel members include Mike Barton, the Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary, Professor David Nutt, the former chair of the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs, and Niamh Eastwood, executive director of the drugs charity Release. In the report, the authors say that while they do not dispute that taking cannabis is harmful – legalisation and regulation is a better way to mitigate the risks.
“Drug policy to date has (almost) always been driven by political and ideological agendas that have ignored scientific, public health and social policy norms,” they write.
“We are fully aware of the health harms associated with cannabis use, but contend that a rational policy must pragmatically manage the reality of use as it currently exists, rather than attempt to eradicate it using punitive enforcement.”