16 January 2020

Free Exchange: Should we legalise drugs?


With the support of the Atlas Network, CapX is publishing a series of essays, podcasts and interviews on the theme of Illiberalism in Europe, looking at the different threats to liberal economies and societies across the continent, from populism to protectionism and corruption.

For the latest instalment of Free Exchange we’re talking about recreational drugs: should the Government legalise them, decriminalise them or keep the status quo? If the law is to change, which substances would be allowed, and which would remain prohibited? What have countries that have changed their drug laws experienced, and what might the UK learn?

To answer these questions I brought together Liz McCulloch from VolteFace, a campaign group calling for reform of drug laws, and Daniel Pryor the head of programmes at the Adam Smith Institute for a fascinating discussion about the way forward for Britain’s drug laws.

If you enjoyed the podcast, it’s well worth reading Conservative MP Jonathan Djanogly’s account of a group of MPs’ trip to Canada last year to see how the government there has implemented legalisation of cannabis.

On…the pace of change

Daniel: We have the evidence base for legalising and regulating cannabis. It’s a very strong evidence base. And we have the general kind of more theoretical arguments as to why that is likely to transfer to, to other drugs, although, of course, different drugs should be regulated in different ways…But we still need to move slowly. And we need to move as the evidence comes in. And we need to constantly be taking stock of where the kind of evidence comes in as we make policy changes.

On…not all drugs being created equal

Liz: We can’t just rush into and say, well, let’s just treat all drugs the same, because they are different. And we do need to be more considered and recognise that a different regulatory model would need to be introduced for cocaine and MDMA or speed, but maybe not. And that’s something that we need to start a conversation about.

On…how not to legalise cannabis

Daniel: A classic example of where I think the state led approach can go wrong is Uruguay, which was the first country in the world to legalise cannabis earlier this decade. And one of the problems with Uruguay is it introduced a whole host of measures in legalisation, which are extremely strict regulations on Cannabis. So there’s very few vendors that could actually sell cannabis.

On…the closing generation gap

Liz: In the past, this has been a young person issue where young people to legalise older people say no, we don’t want to do that. Now, if you look at every age demographic apart from people who are over 65, the majority support the legalisation of cannabis.

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John Ashmore is Editor of CapX