The first-ever London Drugs Commission is to be established by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to examine the effectiveness of drug laws in relation to cannabis.
The new Commission will gather evidence from around the world on different approaches to cannabis policy. This will include the best methods of prevention, the most effective criminal justice responses and the public health benefits of these different approaches.
It will be comprised of independent experts and leading figures from criminal justice, public health, politics, community relations and academia, and former Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Lord Charlie Falconer QC will act as chair.
London is currently plagued with drug-related crime, with an approximate 56,000 reported drug offences in 2020/21. Most of these drug crimes consisted of possession offences.
The city is already considering a diversion pilot scheme to help reduce drug-related crime that will see the temporary suspension of arrests of 18 to 24-year-olds for the possession of small amounts of cannabis.
To help inform understanding of different approaches, Khan is now on a fact finding mission to LA to understand more about an international evidence-based approach to reducing drug related harm in the capital.
Ina statement, Khan commented: “The illegal drugs trade causes huge damage to our society and we need to do more to tackle this epidemic and further the debate around our drugs laws. That’s why I am here today in LA to see first-hand the approach they have taken to cannabis.
“We must learn from others when considering our approach, and by examining the latest evidence from around the world and the world-class research from UCL, Lord Falconer and the will make recommendations to improve our approach to cannabis to help tackle drug related crime, protect Londoners’ health and reduce the huge damage that illegal drugs cause to our communities.”
Since legalising cannabis in 2016, LA has seen a drastic reduction in drug-related crime – with cannabis arrests falling by 56 per cent. Felony arrests for cannabis fell by 74 per cent to 2,086 in 2017 from 7,949 in 2016.
On his trip, the Mayor is visiting a cannabis dispensary and cultivation facility and meeting a representative from the LAPD, policy and health experts, cannabis growers and senior government officials, to find out more about the city’s approach.
“The decriminalisation and legalisation of cannabis offers historically marginalised communities opportunities for healing, entrepreneurship, and wealth creation in this growing industry,” said Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti. “Cities have so much to learn from one another, and I applaud Mayor Khan’s thoughtful approach as London moves forward.”
Khan’s progressive approach to exploring cannabis policy is in keeping with public opinion, as recent YouGov surveys revealed that 52 per cent of UK citizens say they would support the legalisation of cannabis in the country, and six in ten (63 per cent) Londoners expressed support for the proposed diversion pilot.
Katya Kowalski, head of operation at Volteface, which produced the consultancy report into the negative impacts of low-level drug offences for the pilot, commented: “It’s really positive to see such an evidence based approach taking place by the Mayor of London. Khan has already come out in favour of reform, seeing a proactive, structured approach to assessing policy reform is fantastic. It is very clear that our current cannabis laws are not fit for purpose. I think the set up of this Commission demonstrates and highlights this realisation.
“The desire for drug reform is being increasingly more apparent. The majority of the UK is in support of cannabis legalisation, with even higher figures in the capital. Public and popular opinion is already there. I see this Commission as a starting point to examine how we go about legalising cannabis, taking an evidence base approach.
“I think going forward, it is essential we follow the evidence and learn from jurisdictions which have already legalised around what is working and what is not. It is no longer about whether we change our cannabis laws but how we go about doing it. I hope the Commission brings a multifaceted approach and model to the table, encompassing public health considerations and the protection of young people.”
The London Cannabis Commission, chaired by Hamish Stewart, has already recommended that London pilots a legal cannabis industry to dampen violence and provide resources to reinvest into youth services and training, arguing that keeping cannabis illegal for retail users entrenches racial inequalities.
In a previous statement to Cannabis Wealth, Stewart commented: “There is nowhere to go but up, and London and other UK cities can really build on the international experience of Canada, the US, New York State and a whole number of other jurisdictions which already have decriminalised for the legal cannabis market. And so, this is really about the start of a very rapid catching-up process.”
A recent report produced by national centre of expertise on drugs and drugs law in the UK, Release, has also laid out cannabis social equity principles for a legal UK industry, which builds on the organisation’s national research that highlights the disproportionate policing relating to cannabis of ethnic minority and other disadvantaged groups.
The report outlines 14 principles for reform, including removing criminal or civil sanctions for use or possession of cannabis, automatic release from prison for cannabis-related prisoners and expungement of past cannabis-related convictions, personal cultivation of cannabis and co-operative cannabis distribution models such as social clubs.
University College London (UCL) has been appointed to the Commission in order to provide world-class evidence-based research and assessment on the criminal justice, health and economic implications for any potential change in policy.
Ben Bradford, Institute for Global City Policing at UCL, commented: “This opportunity to work in partnership with the London Drugs Commission to review and develop evidence regarding the implications of drug laws both here and around the world is hugely welcome.
“I look forward to working with Lord Falconer and the Commission to inform debate across the range of issues it will consider, ensuring that high quality evidence lies at the heart of its conclusions and recommendations.”
Lord Charlie Falconer QC said: “I’m honoured to have been appointed chair of the London Drugs Commission. It is a real opportunity for there to be a thorough look at the effectiveness of our drugs laws and policy on cannabis.
“We need rigorously to identify what is the best approach to reduce harm to our communities. A national debate is long overdue. We aim to make recommendations to bring about effective and lasting change.”
Sophie Linden, Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, added: “It’s vital that we do everything we can to reduce the harm and misery caused by the illegal drugs industry in London.
“That’s why the London Drugs Commission will examine the effectiveness of our drug laws on cannabis, and under Lord Charlie Falconer QC will make recommendations that will help criminal justice and health bodies consider how best to improve the situation for Londoners.”
Following its work, the London Drugs Commission will make a series of policy recommendations for City Hall, the Government, the police, the criminal justice system and public health services. Further members of the London Drugs Commission will be announced this summer.
What can Uruguay teach the UK about cannabis policy?
Recreational cannabis has been legal in the country since 2013 – one think tank says Uruguay could help inform how to improve criminal and health outcomes in the UK.
As the pressure mounts on the UK to assess its approach to cannabis policy – could policymakers look to Uruguay as an example of successful reform?
With news from Europe in 2021 of legalisation and cannabis reform, the UK’s current approach remains unaligned with citizen consensus.
Polling in the UK has outlined that the majority of the UK public supports legislation reform, and the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for CBD has recently called on the UK Government to establish a legal industry – highlighting it could create the equivalent number of jobs and income for the economy as the Scotch Whisky industry.
Following London’s launch of a new pilot to divert young people away from the criminal justice system for possession of cannabis, last week also saw an announcement from the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, that he is establishing a London Drugs Commission which will assess the UK approach to drug laws.
Khan has taken a fact-finding visit to LA to see what lessons could be learned in responding to the challenges of drugs. However, whilst the US is one example of how different approaches to cannabis policy could work, cross-party think tank The Social Market Foundation has suggested that the UK could draw lessons from Uruguay, which legalised the plant in 2013 and began commercial sales in 2017.
According to the think tank, the UK’s “outdated” laws are “not fit for purpose” and “mean that we suffer higher crime and worse health outcomes than would be expected under a more liberal regime”.
Making cannabis illegal to cultivate, possess and sell results in a major loss of tax revenue for the government, with the money instead being funnelled into the black market which is controlled by “violent criminals” and can see consumers using products that may be unsafe for consumption.
Uruguay as an example of liberalisation
The Social Market Foundation (SMF) has conducted cross-country analysis which shows that Uruguay is a leader on cannabis policy. After initial legalisation, the country slowly rolled out its policies, adopting a “health over profit” model – which should be an inspiration for the UK, says the think tank.
SMF Researcher and report author, Jake Shepherd, commented: “Over the last 50 years, governments in the UK have hardly moved their anti-cannabis stance, even as evidence shows it to be less harmful than substances like alcohol, and public perception of the illicit substance has evolved. In contrast, countries across the world are reaping myriad benefits of progressive reforms.
“The need for cannabis policy reform is clear – public opinion on cannabis and demand for it is rapidly changing.
“By learning from international examples such as Uruguay’s, the UK can put in place the right policy framework to navigate the current system, the unregulated commercial market and balance key priorities of safeguarding public health, reducing criminal activity and delivering economic gain – to ultimately benefit society.”
The think tank highlights that in Uruguay, cannabis can be bought from regulated pharmacies at subsidised prices – which prevents corporate interests from capturing the market, and that the Uruguay Government controls cannabis production to ensure safety and quality of the products on the market, with only a few allowed to produce cannabis.
Bringing cannabis policy up to date could bring several benefits to the UK, such as legitimising the cannabis market, says the think tank, which is currently valued at £2bn.
A legitimate market could bring in higher tax revenues for the exchequer and improve criminal justice outcomes, as poorer and ethnic minority people are more likely to face criminal sanctions for cannabis-related offences.
Helping young people in the UK
Khan’s recent announcement and visit to LA has been met with some criticism – with Policing Minister Kit Malthouse describing the visit as “baffling”, stating Khan should focus on decreasing knife crime.
However, as Malthouse himself points out – more than 50 per cent of all murders in London are linked to drug use. The UK also has a major problem with young people being used as part of county lines operations to push drugs across the country.
One of the common arguments against the legalisation of cannabis is the dangers that they pose to young people, however, the Social Market Foundation points out that cannabis is the most used illicit drug “especially among people aged 30 and under, with 30 per cent of people having tried it at least once.”
Legalising the plant would end the use of the black market and would provide the market with the opportunity to restrict sales to those under the age of 18 – a policy that Uruguay has implemented in its recreational sales.
A recent study, published in the journal Addiction, assessing cannabis use in adolescents ages 12 to 21 found that Uruguay’s approach to cannabis has not further increased the use of cannabis in young people.
The authors state: “The legalisation of recreational cannabis in Uruguay was not associated with overall increases in either past-year/past-month cannabis use or with multi-year changes in any risky and frequent cannabis use among young people.”
The Social Market Foundation has also suggested international examples that could hold key lessons for the UK including: Oregon, which has seen the State reap high profits and make billions in tax revenue with the rapid expansion of a legal retail market; Portugal, which has saved money on court cases on minor offences, all of which is being reinvested in treatment services; Cannabis social clubs in Spain, which have undermined the black market, though it has failed to tackle organised crime; and, the fact that public safety in Uruguay has improved, as cannabis users interact less with drug dealers.
“Positive shock waves”: Germany accelerates process for cannabis legalisation
Germany’s health minister Karl Lauterbach – who until last year was opposed to cannabis legalisation – said Germany’s coalition government will begin the legal process for cannabis legalisation sooner than planned.
Speaking to the German newspaper Handelsblatt, Karl Lauterbach said the government plans to accelerate a number of projects that have been stalled due to the pandemic, including the legalisation of cannabis which formed part of the government’s political agenda announced in 2021.
“I’ve changed my mind on [cannabis reform] over the past two years,” Lauterbach told the newspaper. “I’ve always been opposed to cannabis legalisation, but I revised my position about a year ago.”
Christian Linder, Germany’s Finance Minister, echoed Lauterbach’s statements with a Tweet reading: “A question that many people keep asking me: ‘When will Bubatz [slang term for cannabis] be legal?’ I would say soon.”
The German federal government announced it would be putting plans in motion to legalise cannabis in November 2021. The process has since been delayed due, in part, to the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
Up until now, it has been rumoured that plans for cannabis reform would be pushed back to Autumn, but Karl Lauterbach said he wants it to be included in the government’s summer agenda along with several other health policy reforms including the digitisation of the health system and hospital structure reform.
The process of legalisation will begin with the drug commissioner discussing the technicalities with experts, Handelsblatt reported.
“The time over the summer must be used to vigorously push reforms that could no longer be pushed to the autumn,” said Lauterbach.
Michael Sassano, CEO & Founder of European cannabis manufacturer Somai Pharmaceutical, said the health minister’s change of position has “sent positive shock waves” to every health minister in Europe.”
“[Lauterbach’s] position brings more credibility than any politician’s words. His participation now indicates that cannabis will be treated as a narcotic. The cultivation and manufacturing will likely stay at the same high level of EU GMP pharmaceutical grade, creating a significant entry barrier compared to novel food products,” Sassano told Cannabis Wealth.
“Distribution is expected to continue through pharmacies, but additional cannabis-only dispensaries and social clubs have a high probability of expanding the availability and footprint of sales outlets to increase adoption. Germany clearly sees that the risk of non-regulated and non-taxed cannabis products consumed by Germans that cannot get a prescription from their doctor is much more significant than reducing the burden and indications to purchase cannabis.”
UK Government must seize cannabis opportunity, says parliamentary group
The UK government has the opportunity plan for the creation of a long-term cannabis industry, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for CBD Products has stated.
The APPG for CBD has addressed a letter to George Freeman MP stating that the UK has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to drive new growth with the cannabis industry.
The group highlights that the UK cannabis industry could be similar in size to the Scotch Whisky industry if the Government seizes the opportunity.
In order to drive the industry forward, it has requested an urgent meeting to establish a single point of contact between industry and government and to discuss the inclusion of the industry’s views around new regulatory frameworks.
In its letter to Freeman, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the group states that this framework will determine whether the CBD industry can flourish in the UK or whether it will be “destined for bankruptcy”.
The APPG has been established to encourage the development of UK regulation on CBD products and its Secretariat Advisory Board (SAB) is comprised of 701 UK businesses – approximately 70 per cent of all active cannabis-related businesses in the UK.
Also included is Tenacious Labs, acting as secretariat, the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society, the Cannabis Industry Council, the Cannabis Trades Association, the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA), the Scottish Hemp Association, the British Hemp Alliance and the Cannabis Services Advisory Board (Jersey). Co-chairs of the board are MP Crispin Blunt and Baroness Manzoor.
Developing a new economic sector
With the UK’s CBD sector having been estimated to generate £690m in annual sales in 2021, getting CBD product regulation right could create thousands of new jobs and generate millions for the UK, much akin to the Scottish Whisky industry.
This post-Brexit opportunity could build on the UK’s international bioscience reputation and would provide a new way to generate income for agricultural farmers who can use the crop when others fail.
However, getting to this point will only be achieved if the UK government seizes the opportunity and listens to input from the industry when establishing regulations.
The letter states: “The Scotch Whisky Association estimates their industry in 2021 directly employed 42,000 people, with 7,000 of these jobs benefitting from being in the rural economy, and had an annual gross value added of £5.5bn.
“The UK finds itself with an enviable opportunity to take advantage of a leading position in the nascent stages of this novel burgeoning international industry which is already heavily consumer demand-driven and is crying out for clear and practical regulation.”
Speaking to Cannabis Wealth, CEO of Tenacious Labs which is secretariat of APPG, Nicolas Morland, commented: “What we have at the moment is a situation where the industry has not spoken with a single voice.
“This has got to be done as a public, transparent process with the industry genuinely being represented – because one of the issues we’ve had to date is that people with very narrow interest bases are presenting themselves as representing the industry – and it’s not true.”
Morland is chairperson of Jersey’s Cannabis Services Advisory Board, which is acting as an official conduit between industry and government.
In 2021, Jersey’s States Assembly passed an amendment allowing businesses on the island to have direct or indirect involvement with legal cannabis sectors overseas, meaning directors will not fall foul of Proceeds of Crime legislation. This progressive development is miles ahead of where the UK currently stands on cannabis-related business – with the majority of companies unable to list on the LSE, for example.
Morland said: “We need to change the law on Proceeds of Crime because otherwise you can’t have a bank account, and the investors can’t send their money across. It needs to be updated – Proceeds of Crime involves multiples of gross international turnover. We have got a window where we can in effect set up the equivalent of Scotch Whisky, and it would be premium and long term.”
Establishing regulations that work
The UK is making moves to be the world’s first regulated CBD market. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) recently published the anticipated list of credible CBD Novel Food applications which will be able to remain on the market as they progress towards final authorisation. Whilst the process has been welcomed by many in the industry, others have described it as “monumental waste of time and money”.
Additionally, Kyle Esplin, chair of the Scottish Hemp Association has pointed out that the Novel Foods authorisation process was triggered by reports of CBD products containing four times the recommended amount of THC. Esplin states that the FSA has not followed its own criteria after CBD food products have appeared on the list with well above the FSA’s criteria and the Advisor Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD’s) safety recommendations.
The ACMD produced a report containing recommendations that CBD products should contain no more than 50ug THC per serving. A separate report from the Association for the Cannabinoid Industry (ACI) suggests a THC safety limit of 0.03 per cent, which is 21 μg per day. At this point, the ACMD’s recommendations are not law, but the APPG is emphasising getting regulations right from the outset to ensure that the industry is not quashed before it can blossom.
Edward Henry QC and Jade Proudman, founder of Savage Cabbage and official UK distributor of Charlotte’s Web CBD, have suggested that some of the ACMD’s recommendations included in the report are “less than scientific” and that the “CBD sector is at risk of being put out of business by them.”
Esplin highlights that: “If the ACMDs recommendations were applied then full spectrum products on the list with 0.2 per cent THC greatly exceed serving limit,” and that “if the ACIs recommendations were applied then one single drop of oil at 0.2 per cent THC would have to be divided across four days of consumption to stay within ACI’s safe levels for trace THC consumption.”
Morland highlights that the ACMD recommendations have been developed around isolate-only products and that elsewhere in Europe, there is a limit of 5mg.
Morland commented: “What’s happened with the ACMD report was that there was nobody commercial on that at all. Nobody’s involved. There should absolutely be consumer protection. The issue with Novel Foods is that whoever has provided some of the information the first draft has done it with laboratory-grown isolates, for which there is very little consumer demand.
“There is some, and there are specific parts of the market where it’s relevant, but it’s not broad-based enough to mean that anyone would invest in the UK for it. We need to make sure that the law doesn’t change so that you can’t have plant-based cannabis products, because consumers aren’t interested in just having isolate products. Isolates are an important but small part of the industry.”
Whilst the recommendations have been developed on the basis of consumer safety, the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that CBD is not a narcotic, and poses no health or safety risks.
Esplin highlights that if the UK follows the path of the ACMD or ACI recommendations, and legislation was changed to allow farmers to harvest flowering crops and process them, it would lead to a situation where there would be so much extra refinement needed to the materials that the supply would not compete with ongoing importation of isolate and distillate.
Esplin commented: “We feel the industry has not been well represented within the political circles and within Westminster.
“We’ve put forward about the importance of full-spectrum and how consumers were not really satisfied by an isolate-only or isolate-dominant market, or along the lines of what would fit with the ACMD recommendations. They very much give the impression that they didn’t think consumers are so well informed to know that they want full-plant. That has given the impression their understanding was not fully comprehensive of all those operating within the hemp and CBD space.
“It’s been great to see Tenacious Labs turn up and start this process – they’ve been influential on Jersey and Jersey is ahead of mainland UK. We can learn from other experiences around the world and set a real shining example of how the hemp and CBD industry could be in the UK and go a different way from Europe given the opportunity we have just now.”
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