With more than two million people estimated to smoke cannabis in the UK, potential legalisation of the drug is a highly contentious issue in the 2017 General Election.
Cannabis is the most commonly used drug by people aged 16 to 59 over the past 12 years in the UK.
A study carried out last year by a panel of experts, including scientists, police chiefs and academics, showed that legalising the sale of cannabis would be worth £1 billion a year in tax revenue. The National Crime Agency estimates that 270 tonnes are needed to satisfy the annual UK users demand.
The report of the panel, set up by former Liberal Democrat health minister Norman Lamb and chaired by Steve Rolles from the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said: “Drug policy to date has almost always been driven by political and ideological agendas that have ignored scientific, public health and social policy norms.
“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.”
The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto, which committed to legalising cannabis, said the legislation would “break the grip of the criminal gangs and protect young people by introducing a legal and regulated market” for the drug. It would be sold through licensed stores modelled on pharmacies to adults over the age of 18.
In 2015, cannabis related offences accounted for 65 per cent of all police recorded drug offences, according to the Office for National Statistics. The Tide Effect: How the World is Changing Its Mind on Cannabis Legislation (hyperlink) report says there were 1,363 cannabis-related offenders in prison, costing the UK taxpayers more than £50 million a year.
In an interview with Sky News, Lib-Dem leader Tim Farron said: “Whatever money drugs raise at the moment goes into the pockets of criminal gangs and the principles objectives are to minimise harm and make sure we take back control from them [criminal gangs].”
People caught for possession of cannabis in the UK face up to five years in prison, while there is a 14-year-sentence for suppliers.
Where do the Conservatives, Labour, Green Party and UKIP stand on the legalisation of cannabis?
Theresa May is opposed to cannabis legalisation. During a Facebook Live Q&A she said: “The reason I don’t believe in making cannabis use legal is because of the impact I see it having on people in terms of drug use. I think what we’ve seen is stronger forms now being used and I think it can have a real impact on people of their mental health but it can also lead to people going onto harder drugs.”
There is no mention of cannabis in the Green Party’s manifesto.
Jeremy Corbyn is in favour of cannabis use for medicinal purposes but its legalisation is not in the Labour manifesto.
At a debate in Glasgow in August 2016, Corbyn said: “I would decriminalise medicinal uses of cannabis. I would also want to look at supporting people who want to get out of the drugs trade in other parts of the world because there is the horrors of the drugs war that’s going on in Central America, and very large numbers of people who have died as a result of it.”
UKIP would ensure that the drug remains illegal.