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It is time for London to pilot a legal cannabis industry

Hamish Stewart, chair of the London Cannabis Legalisation Commission and lead author of the London Cannabis Study, recommends legalising cannabis to dampen violence and provide resources to reinvest into youth services and training.

This summer, after putting my children to sleep, I looked out my window in London to see a young man unsheathe a machete on our doorstep. He then proceeded to try to decapitate another youth.

My wife yelled for them to stop and we called the police. After fighting in front of our door and slashing with the machete for a few tense minutes, the intended victim escaped with his life, running away down the street. 

Youth violence in London is a preventable tragedy, much of it linked to the illicit trade in drugs and associated gang activity. Around 60 per cent of the illicit drugs trade in London is cannabis products.

Read more: London to trial new diversion pilot for cannabis possession

Instead of having this be an illegal industry that fuels youth violence and deepens systemic discrimination and inequality, it is time for the Mayor of London to lead the way to enable London councils to pilot legal cannabis production and retail across the city. Disputes in the cannabis industry should be resolved with commercial mediation and words, not machetes.

Illegal cannabis fuels arrest of around 15,000 young men each year and deepens inequality

The Evening Standard’s research series based on FOI requests from the Met revealed the scale of the damage done to young people from cannabis prohibition. Each year, around 15,000 arrests are made for simple cannabis possession and supply. 

This is happening while the UK exports medical cannabis products to the US and investment bankers make millions of dollars listing cannabis companies and investment vehicles on the London Stock Exchange. 

Read more: Transforming London’s cannabis expertise into a world-leading industry

Keeping cannabis illegal for retail users entrenches the racial inequalities that the Mayor and his team claim to care so deeply about. Around 70 per cent of the 11,497 Londoners arrested for cannabis possession in 2018 were BAME, a massive overrepresentation of this group based on their share of the overall population. 

Under the current system, wealthy investors get to make millions and billions of pounds of the legal medical cannabis market while Londoners are arrested, sent to jail, and killed in the street as part of an illegal industry. The Mayor can change this by encouraging and enabling London councils to pilot legal cannabis production and retail businesses this year.

Create business opportunities for youth entrepreneurs in a legal market

By criminalising young men across the city for simple cannabis possession and supply, the Mayor’s current approach to cannabis damages young people’s lives and their future employment prospects. Instead of criminalising cannabis, the Mayor and London councils should direct the Met to stop enforcing cannabis laws and proceed with pilot programmes as part of the launch process for a legal industry. 

London’s legal cannabis industry can build on lessons from around the world. The international experience with legal cannabis shows how smart regulation can open up new opportunities from sustainable agriculture to tourism and advanced pharmaceutical research. In piloting legal cannabis production, retail and research programmes, London can build on the experience of Canada, California, Colorado, and other jurisdictions. 

There is no need to repeat mistakes made in other markets. 2021 should be the year that Londoners celebrate the launch of a legal cannabis market centred on equity and access to new business and employment opportunities.

Hamish Stewart
London Cannabis Legalisation Commission

This article featured in Issue 1 of Cannabis Wealth. Issue 2 is out in February.

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