WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
May 23 2022
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO

Decriminalisation of cannabis possession needed to tackle disproportionate policing, says report

Decriminalisation of cannabis possession needed to tackle disproportionate policing, says report

The decriminalisation of cannabis possession offences is needed to mitigate disproportionate drugs policing and the ‘hyper criminalisation’ of ethic minorities, according to leading policy researchers. A new report from the drug reform charity Release (Regulating Right, Repairing Wrongs: Exploring Equity and Social Justice Initiatives within UK Cannabis Reform) has drawn attention to how the ‘skewed enforcement of drug laws has exacerbated racial profiling and the hyper-criminalisation of ethnic minority groups’, as well as ‘those who are socio-economically deprived, and of other disadvantaged groups’.

Cannabis is currently categorized as a Class B controlled drug in the UK under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, meaning that it is illegal to possess, supply, or produce the substance. In their February 2021 review of disproportionate use of police powers, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services found that ‘the high prevalence’ of stop and searches ‘for possession of drugs rather than supply’ indicated that ‘efforts are not being effectively focused on force priorities’. The review also noted that the disproportionate enforcement of drug laws, ‘despite evidence that there is no correlation between ethnicity and drug use’, would have ‘far-reaching and long-lasting’ consequences, including leading to ‘more Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people being drawn into the criminal justice system’.

According to Release: ‘The harms produced by the prohibition of cannabis are primarily carceral – police stop and search, surveillance, criminalisation, incarceration – and are harmful to people whether or not they use cannabis.’ To combat the long-standing effects of these issues, Release has proposed that fourteen guiding social equity principles be integrated into the future legal cannabis market, a full list of which is available to view here.

At the start of the year it was reported that the London mayor, Sadiq Khan were looking at rolling out further pilots based on a successful scheme from Thames Valley police which offered classes or counselling, rather than arrest, to under-25s caught with small quantities of cannabis.

Release argue that criminal or civil sanctions for the use or the possession of cannabis, regardless of their legal or illegal origin, must be removed to ensure that those who are incarcerated because of punitive drug policies are not excluded from the legal market. Drawing on their evaluation of regulatory frameworks in countries such as North America and Canada, the paper argued that the‘legalisation of adult recreational cannabis use should not lead to a situation where youth, and disproportionately Black youth, are still stopped, searched, and arrested by the police for the possession of cannabis’. ‘Without protections for the use of cannabis in public (subject to the same protections for, and restrictions to, the smoking of tobacco in public), people who lack access to safe and private areas to smoke can still face police intervention and potentially harmful penalties, and it is likely to be disproportionately Black and other ethnic minority individuals who are arrested for public use.’

The group calls for the ‘automatic expungement’ of cannabis crimes as well as other historic offences to ensure that people have the adequate means by which they can ‘have the slate wiped clean’. Release notes a ‘growing consensus’ that tax generated through the legal cannabis market could be invested in communities that have been ‘overly criminalised, as well as in harm reduction and wider drug treatment initiatives’. ‘At present, the UK’s tax system does not naturally align itself with this type of revenue reinvestment, and the adoption of this principle would require adaptation(s) to our current system,’ Release says. ‘This is no reason to say that this should not be changed to accommodate reparations as a way to redress the harms caused by cannabis prohibition.’

‘The legal renaissance of cannabis is a vital opportunity to address the harm that cannabis prohibition has caused to Black and Brown communities and to people with lived experience of cannabis policing,’ explained Dr. Laura Garius, Release’s policy lead and one of the report’s authors. ‘The UK Government’s new drug strategy regurgitated a “tough on drugs” rhetoric, despite the Home Office’s own research concluding that the estimated £1.6 billion spend per year on drug law enforcement is not impacting levels of drug use.’

‘Change is inevitable – cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in the UK and the world, and it is simply too lucrative a market for politicians to ignore’, notes Dr. Garius. ‘However, we must make sure that cannabis will be regulated right’.