The global crusade against cannabis is finally beginning to falter. As the attitudes of citizens and lawmakers alike begin to soften, the prospects of full legalisation have gone from a stoner’s pipe-dream (if you’ll pardon the pun) to very feasible in only a couple of years. With a fifth of the US legalising the plant for recreational use, alongside Canada and Uruguay, as well as numerous European states opting to decriminalise its use, progress has been quick and promising.
This is cause for optimism. Newly-legal markets in the US and Canada have already seen booms in market growth and innovation, not to mention the positive effects of decriminalisation on the harm felt by users. In decriminalising or outright legalising cannabis, legislators in such countries have helped foster an environment in which entrepreneurship and consumer well-being are welcomed and encouraged.
But there’s still work to do. In many countries, reluctance to embrace cannabis is preventing them from enjoying the benefits felt by more committed nations. Legislators are, all too often, unable or unwilling to properly ride the green wave, preferring instead to watch from the pier.
Italy, for example, is a victim of this lack of commitment. Vagueness surrounding the legality of Italian hemp and cannabis has made it far more difficult for entrepreneurs and investors to know where they stand, damaging their confidence and potential to create a flourishing market. As such, progress has been far slower in Italy (a country which once held the number two spot worldwide for industrial hemp production), than in countries which are more willing to commit.
In the UK, the story looks rather familiar. Despite the nearly four-decade long prohibition on medical cannabis being overturned by Home Secretary Sajid Javid last year, access to the drug is still hampered by heavy-handed restrictions and high costs. Patients will have to wade through a sea of bureaucracy and extortionate bills to have access to the drug legally, rendering any benefits this would have over continued use of the black market very hazy.
Growers and entrepreneurs, too, are deterred by legal ambiguity. With the British government reluctant to go any further than this somewhat-legal medicinal cannabis, the country is at risk of following Italy’s footsteps and missing out on what seems poised to be one of the most promising markets of our time.
There is a silver lining though. While patients and consumers may have their wellbeing overlooked by the government in Westminster, an unlikely source shows far more promise when it comes to protecting their welfare. Across the UK, members of the police are beginning to relax their approaches to cannabis offences.
Rather than prosecuting those caught with small amounts of the drug, many police officers are instead opting for warning and recommendations for how to quit. This has prompted accusations that the police are pushing for de facto decriminalisation outside of the realm of legislators.
In practice, however, such action might be the saving grace for British cannabis consumers. A more relaxed approach from police allows for a far safer environment, with police attention shifted to the darker, truly criminal side of the market, and away from nonviolent consumers.
Moreover, the controversy surrounding this ‘blind-eye’ approach could be just the thing needed to get the ball rolling on higher-up decriminalisation. Rather than shell out thousands for legal medicinal cannabis, or to risk buying on the black market, some are now pushing the cause of growing the plant at home for treatment of certain ailments.
While the British cannabis scene is still hampered by a stubborn government, changing attitudes from law enforcement could revitalise the debate on harm-reduction and smart drugs policy, all the while making life easier for consumers. It may be early days, but there’s hope that legislators will see sense in the police’s decision.