14 May 2018

It’s high time the Tories backed legalising cannabis


It’s high time we legalised cannabis.

There are a number of good arguments for a change in approach.

For a start there is the sheer injustice of it all, with a disproportionately high number of young people and people from ethnic minority backgrounds who are convicted of cannabis-related offences. A criminal record destroys lives. Those who find themselves convicted of cannabis-related crimes can find themselves in prison with dangerous criminals where they are at risk of being exploited.

Once released, they will find themselves with a criminal record which can act as a barrier to finding employment, especially in the professions. This results in their talent and potential being wasted and they often embark on a life of crime or welfare dependency.

Then there is the moral argument. What business is it of the state, or anyone else for that matter, what a person chooses to put in their body? Freedom of choice and autonomy over one’s own body are fundamental principles of a liberal society.

There is also a political argument for the Conservatives, who could address their lack of appeal among younger voters with a bold move on decriminalisation.

But perhaps the most compelling reason is the financial burden of policing cannabis use. For example, recent research by the TaxPayers’ Alliance has revealed that between 2013 and 2016, the Metropolitan Police spent £3.1 million holding people in custody for cannabis-related offences. Over the last five years at least another £13.5 million has been spent holding people in police custody for 12 hours or more for those same offences.

It is clear that the prohibition of cannabis is placing a significant burden on the police. We have calculated that legalising cannabis would result in savings for the police of approximately £200 million each year.

And it’s not just the police who would see huge savings. Other areas of the criminal justice system would also benefit. For example, we calculate that £12.2 million would be saved each year in forensics. legal aid costs would fall by £60 million every year and the Crown Prosecution Service would save around £21 million a year. The courts would save £26 million each year and the prison system £50 million a year.

These are huge savings which would allow the criminal justice, which is often stretched and faces considerable pressure, to spend the money elsewhere. It could use the savings to fund the investigation and prosecution of more serious crimes such as rape, burglary, and murder. It could also be spent on our dangerously overcrowded prisons, ensuring justice is done while proper attention is paid to rehabilitating offenders.

Then there is the probation system. We calculate that legalising cannabis would bring savings of approximately £141 million each year. This money could be used to provide a high quality service which ensures that ex-offenders can be rehabilitated, fully participate in society, and break the cycle of criminality which places additional financial burdens on the criminal justice system.

The financial benefits for the criminal justice system are clear even before factoring in the impact of regulating cannabis.  For instance, a sharp increase in the availability of high potency skunk has led to an increase in violent crimes such as burglary and robbery. A regulated market would lead to a decrease in potency and therefore a reduction in violent crime.

There would also be huge benefits for the NHS and the lives of countless patients. The increased prevalence of skunk has coincided with a dramatic increase in the number of people, especially those under 25, who are being treated for cannabis dependency. A regulated market in which the potency is strictly controlled would reduce admissions and save approximately £28.7 million each year.

Legalisation would also reduce the amount spent on prescriptions for medications. In states in the US where cannabis has been legalised there has been a decrease in the number of people being prescribed certain medications.

If cannabis was legalised in the UK then there would be savings of £132.6 million each year for the NHS due to a drop in the number of patients being prescribed pain medication. Fewer people would also be prescribed anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication which would bring savings of approximately £99 million each year. There would also be savings of approximately £43.2 million each year due to fewer people being prescribed sleeping tablets.

Legalising cannabis would save a substantial amount of money and reduce the burden on the NHS. It could use this extra money and manpower to reduce the pressure on A&E services, cancer drugs, and mental health provision.

There are many good reasons to legalise cannabis. It is the moral thing to do. It would increase personal liberty. It could also help to improve the Conservatives’ popularity among young voters. But best of all it will result in massive savings for the criminal justice system and the NHS.

Ben Ramanauskas is Policy Analyst at the Taxpayers' Alliance.