The Future of Weed in the U.K.

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Back in May of this year, the Liberal Democratic Party of the United Kingdom made a campaign promise to legalize adult-use marijuana if they were elected.

This vow on behalf of the Lib Dems was a longshot because they traditionally do not retain the same level of support that both the Conservative and Labour Parties do. The call to end nearly 90 years of cannabis prohibition came and this promise, at the very least, shows evidence that various citizens in Queen Elizabeth’s nation care about cannabis reform.

On June 8, the people of this powerful European nation went to the polls and re-elected Conservative leader Theresa May to a minority government. This mild win for the Conservatives all but killed any hope of medical or adult-use pot in the U.K. for the near future, as Prime Minister May has been staunchly opposed to the idea.

“[May] is about as hardline as you’re going to get,” said Jason Reed, the spokesperson for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) in an interview with Marijuana.com. “With certain politicians, they are very bold in their own views and that constitutes enough evidence to them to justify their opinion.” Reed added that the Conservative Party in the U.K. has been consistently closed-minded when it comes to the scientifically proven merits of medical cannabis.

Reed also feels that the U.K.’s position on cannabis is strange, given that surrounding countries are introducing marijuana reform of some kind, including neighboring France and even Ireland to a certain extent.

“It’s bizarre because you would think that the U.K. would have more of a liberal position and more of a head start. We have Ireland on our doorstep who [should] be more of a conservative country than the U.K., and yet they are far more progressive on drug policy in general.”

Regardless of the current prohibition on all things cannabis in Britain, Reed believes there are ways around the federal roadblocks. “There is a chance we could [have cannabis reform] in a state-by-state system. We’ve got devolved powers in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland because they have got their own assemblies,” he said. “In Scotland, there has been debate on medical marijuana, so there is a very small chance that we could start breaking this down into smaller segments.”

The Liberal Democrats gained seats in the election but ultimately did not come close to winning. The loss resulted in a resignation by the leader of the party, Tim Farron. “The most aggressive drug policy party that we have isn’t a very strong one at the moment,” noted Reed.

So what does the future look like for cannabis legalization in the United Kingdom?

Despite the current political quicksand that marijuana finds itself in at the moment, the determination continues from the cannabis community and from people like Reed.

“I think that we still need to keep on top of publicity. We still need to put scientific evidence out there for public debate so that people can judge for themselves. But there’s not going to be that much movement within the national political picture,” said Reed.

“What we can do is something similar to what the United States has done, where we can look to our county-level. There have been a few [local police commissioners] that have deprioritized cannabis and have quasi-allowed a Spanish social club model to exist. Essentially, a decriminalization so that people aren’t getting in trouble for low-level cannabis use. That’s the way we can probably get some amendments.” Reed said that there is no substitute for a federal, legal cannabis system in the U.K. but this “backdoor” solution is at least a start.

About Author

Jonathan Hiltz has been a journalist, a TV producer and marijuana advocate for over sixteen years. He has a wife, two young children and lives in the Toronto area.

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  1. A new policy goes into effect today for people caught with misdemeanor amounts of marijuana in Harris County.

    Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced the new marijuana policy earlier this month. She says it will save the county millions of dollars and free up resources to focus on prosecuting violent crimes.

    The new Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program, which takes effect on March 1, 2017, will divert all misdemeanor marijuana cases — involving up to four ounces — out of the criminal justice system, instead redirecting low-level drug offenders into a decision-making class.
    Harris County marijuana prosecution by the numbers
    Harris County spends approximately $26 million each year prosecuting 10,000 misdemeanor marijuana cases
    Crime labs spend $1.7 million testing evidence for those 10,000 cases
    On average, it takes four hours of a law enforcement officer’s time to arrest, transport and book a misdemeanor offender
    Harris County spends $13 million housing marijuana offenders, who each spend an average of 6 days in jail
    Low-level marijuana cases account for 10 percent of cases on Harris County court dockets.

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