Raise a spliff to Sadiq Khan, brave enough to get real on drug reform

“We’re so up our own arses in terms of thinking how clever we are as a nation. We won’t learn from anyone else at all. But there’s plenty of evidence out there.”

So spoke Professor David Nutt: scientific physician, skilled in neuropsychopharmacology, and lifelong thorn within the aspect of governments who pursue an anti-science coverage on medication.

When I interviewed Nutt for the New Statesman remaining yr at the hypocrisy of politicians who take a troublesome line on medication in spite of their very own non-public strategy to leisure use (Michael Gove, David Cameron, Boris Johnson), he used to be scathing. The proof from the world over — on drug reform basically and on hashish specifically — is irrefutable: prohibition does no longer paintings, and it prices lives. It allows a thriving black marketplace that strains the wallet of gangs, criminalises peculiar folks for the usage of a substance this is much less damaging than alcohol or tobacco, and doesn’t even cut back intake. “Anyone can get cannabis anywhere [in the UK]… and it’s illegal,” Nutt instructed me. “So at what point do you accept that the policy has failed?”

The resolution for many politicians is rarely. It’s extra politically expedient to bury your head within the sand and reel off simple soundbites concerning the hurt of gear than it’s to recognize the proof and possibility pearl-clutching Daily Mail headlines. Unless you’re Sadiq Khan, this is.

The Mayor of London has been on a excursion of the United States this week, ostensibly for the aim of boosting business hyperlinks and tourism by means of the medium of self-promoting photograph shoots. The shuttle has been derided as a exposure stunt, which isn’t completely unfair given the cringe-worthy snaps of Khan posing with James Corden and Hillary Clinton. But one photograph specifically stands proud: Khan status wide-eyed in the midst of a hashish cultivation farm in Los Angeles, flanked by way of towering marijuana crops and having a look dazed.

The surprise this photograph has brought about is hanging. Cannabis has been criminal for medicinal functions in California since 1996, and used to be legalised for leisure use in 2016. Eighteen states, and Washington DC, have legalised it absolutely, and medicinal marijuana is to be had in 38. If Khan had sought after to remove darkness from in entrance of the cameras, he would had been breaking no legislation; a shot of him with a bong or a brownie could be identical to the unending pictures of politicians attempting the native beers, wines or spirits of anyplace they’re visiting.

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Khan didn’t do this, after all. He stood subsequent to a couple crops. Yet so conditioned have we turn out to be, because of the scaremongering rhetoric of the battle on medication, that for a political candidate to be in a room the place a wonderfully criminal substance is grown is an intensive act.

Radical too used to be Khan’s announcement of a London Drugs Commission to inspect hashish decriminalisation. It shouldn’t be, given the revel in of alternative nations (no longer simply the United States however Canada, Portugal, the Netherlands and different European states), specifically a discount in each violent crime and drug deaths. Portugal, which decriminalised the private ownership of all medication in 2001, has decrease drug use and less drug-related deaths than the EU reasonable. The UK has the very best price of drug deaths in Europe (in large part because of Scotland), and remaining yr deaths had been the very best on report. We are a global chief — and no longer in the way in which Boris Johnson would really like.

If the United Kingdom isn’t able to pay attention on the subject of medication akin to heroin and cocaine, possibly it will no less than get started with hashish. Legal frameworks are nonetheless being labored out and questions stay round regulating power, promoting regulations, and at what stage criminal weed must be taxed to optimise state income whilst nonetheless dismantling the black marketplace. Some research have proven a slight building up in use after regulations are comfortable, others no building up in any respect.

It’s price remembering that decriminalisation and legalisation aren’t the similar (keeping up a criminal ban whilst turning a blind eye to ownership dangers handing extra energy to medication gangs), and that having federal restrictions in the United States whilst states move their very own means has created a murky gray space that has opened the door to exploitation. There are templates from out of the country for the right way to maintain drug reform effectively and classes in what to not do. (As the Times columnist Hugo Rifkind not too long ago put it, we don’t “have to make all the same mistakes that America has. I mean, we do eggs and cheese differently, too”.)

All of this, one hopes, can be regarded as by way of the London Drugs Commission. “We need to have an honest, open conversation about the evidence in relation to the history of cannabis and our laws in the UK and our experience of the health consequences in relation to crime and the community,” Khan defined, which turns out painfully cheap. Why wouldn’t the federal government wish to assess whether or not its present coverage is operating (it isn’t) and whether or not there’s a greater means (there may be)?

The resolution, sadly, is concern. Khan had slightly floated the speculation of taking a extra evidenced-based strategy to medication prior to Priti Patel shot him down. The Home Secretary parroted the similar line about how medication “ruin communities, tear apart families and destroy lives” that we have got heard since Richard Nixon introduced his battle on medication 50 years in the past, by no means preventing to wonder if it may well be prohibition that reasons such devastation, quite than medication themselves. Labour has additionally reiterated its opposition to legalisation — disappointing however unsurprising, given the birthday party attacked the Liberal Democrats’ openness to drug reform in marketing campaign leaflets for the native elections previous in May.

On this factor, each Labour and the Conservatives are at odds with the general public. Repeated polling has proven that British folks again hashish reform, and in 2018 it used to be estimated that legalisation, if achieved proper, may earn the Treasury as much as £3.5bn (an identical quantity, by the way, that the federal government is hoping to save lots of by way of axing 90,000 civil servants). What’s status in the way in which is concern. Nutt, who has a long time of revel in looking to persuade successive governments to take a look at the science, has noticed that concern first-hand. He used to be fired over it. “We know that the vast majority of politicians want the drug laws changed, but they’re terrified,” he instructed me. Terrified of the backlash, of being accused of being cushy on crime, of handing their fighters ammunition, even though that ammunition is aimed towards insurance policies that will save lives.

Khan could also be a shameless self-promoter however his hashish farm photoshoot presentations he isn’t scared. If I had been in California, I’d be elevating a spliff to him at this time.

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