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Legalisation vs Decriminalisation of recreational cannabis use in the UK?

An opinion piece from The Hemp Hound Agency

Have you noticed the rise of papers and articles that are focusing on the potential for a legalised recreational cannabis industry in the UK?

It's quite interesting, because I believe that it signifies the loosening of the stranglehold on the plant, by the Home Office (HO), who may or may not be acting on behalf of GW/Jazz Pharmaceutical (GW). If that is truly the case, then it's about time, but have any of these papers considering the social ramifications for legalisation?

How the UK emerges from cannabis prohibition is a hot topic, which will only grow as the general public catch wind of any definite movement. But who truly benefits from legalisation, and why isn't decriminalisation getting the same amount of airtime as a viable option?

let's look at the pros and cons of legalisation!

Contrary to what some would believe, cannabis per se is not 'illegal', it's your action with the 'plant' that is illegal, so legalisation would mean that your actions are legalised.

So if legalisation happened?

One interesting paper from the APPG for Hemp and Cannabis suggested a potential 500,000 jobs in the UK, in excess of £10 billion in sales from cannabis tourism, and over £4 billion in domestic sales.

These aren't even a fraction of the considerations from increasing the public purse by taxing a legal recreational cannabis market in the UK, those figures above don't include and tax and National Insurance for those 500,000 workers, any import/export activity, licensing, a derestricted hemp farming industry, and considering the UK has been the worlds largest exporter of medicinal cannabis products for a few years now, you can bet your back teeth that the intention would be the same should any legalised recreational market arrive.

Click here to check this document out, it's big, and comprehensive on all areas of cannabis, and not just for adult use.

Is there a downside to all of this?

That depends on you 'the individual', or consumer if you will, which you have to bear in mind as you read further. I do have an opinion which is highlighted by the title picture to this article, and that is that there needs to be a referendum on whether to decriminalise or legalise recreational use cannabis in the UK. To convince you of that, I need to be as fair as I can on the pros and cons for both dynamics, and why the population of the UK should decide the outcome.

I also need to stress that any issues pointed out from here in regards to legalisation are not as a result of the APPG paper that's linked above, as that paper in itself is quite eye opening as to what could be on offer for the UK economy should legalisation be a preferred direction.

The Con's

In every country and U.S state that has legalised cannabis, there has been an ongoing problem with the illicit market. It takes time to set up a legalised market, which means that the industry is at the mercy of those in the illicit markets getting a head start. Where legalisation has occurred, some governments have been greedy in setting up additional taxes, which leads to the illicit market being able to compete without reducing their prices too much.

Then there's the 'grow at home' option, which might not happen, but if it does, it will require a license, which will put people off, or put them in a position where they consider growing illegally.

That license wouldn't be cheap either, because you'd be taking away a potential revenue stream from big business and the taxman if you went down that road.

Let's look at Canada

Tis a big country, which means that there are many spaces where people can grow uninterrupted by the relevant authorities. Even if grows were maintained inside of a contained space, technology has now got to a point where some organised criminal aspects might consider paying for the electric they use, or even explore the potentials of LED lighting and an off grid power generation and storage unit.

To my understanding, the money gained from licensing in Canada pays for enforcement teams to go around and target those who are growing illegally. You can only imagine the fun trying to police that much land mass just for those who might be supplying the illicit market for a population two thirds that of the UK!

We don't have as much landmass here, but lets track back to the available low cost and low energy LED lighting. If cannabis was legalised, a lot of people will be smoking it at home without the fear of the police knocking on the door. If that's the case, what's to stop someone like me growing 4 plants at home with a unit that barely increases my electricity bill to the point that the only thing discernible from usage records 'might be' that I've got an extra couple of fridges?

4 plants might not sound like much, but 4 can grow to a good size dependent on strain, conditions and available space

And energy usage doesn't even matter if you've got a south facing garden and friendly neighbours, and in situations like that, we're talking the potential to exceed 1 kilo per plant.

With legalisation, you have to wonder if the vision is clouded. The smell vs legal status will cause an issue, with an underground market camouflaged by the scent of consumers merrily puffing away.

Then there's the impact to the legacy markets

We're talking domestic talent here, specifically those in the illicit industry that have kept the UK consumer supplied. Despite county lines or the fact that the UK is an export nation, the vast majority of the domestic market is supplied by hobby growers who have approximately 20 plants.

There is without a doubt a criminal element in the UK, but most of that crosses over from people who also have interests in harder drugs. County lines busts for example are always glorified as stopping violence and removing drugs from the streets, with cannabis then put in the spotlight, and a lesser focus placed on the often sizable quantities of heroin, crack cocaine, and other drugs that are also seized in the same operations.

That won't change, not with a legalised model anyway, and the problem with organised crime is that it's often confused with people who grow a relatively small number of plants at home.

The craziness that arises from here is that a lot of people have criminal records for growing a small amount of plants, so as a result, they'd be unable to get a job in a legalised market where their home grown talents could be utilised. It'll be an insurance issue, along the lines of "you are a criminal for getting caught doing what we're looking for someone to do now legally!"

The issues with legalisation are that whilst you can have access to the plant, it's still under someone else's terms. But are those terms acceptable? Again, that depends on the reader. Legalisation of cannabis use in the UK offers a lot of benefits to the economy, but does it benefit the people?

This is where decriminalisation comes in

When I say 'benefit the people', I feel that there would be very few plants or substances out there which are as beneficial as cannabis to humanity. The plant has everything covered, feeding, clothing, and healing humanity throughout the course of evolution.

So the question from that is "why is access to the plant illegal in the first place?", the answer to which raises a question over the moral implications of legalising recreational cannabis use in the UK.

But first...

Remember when I said that I've got an opinion? I've actually got two! What I've written from this point will show that I favour decriminalisation, but that's my personal view, and I have to try and be fair in my breakdown of the pros and cons of that vs legalisation. After that, I will explain why my personal opinion doesn't matter, and why I believe there should be a referendum on this topic.

So, back on point

The simple fact is that cannabis prohibition is based on racism, which means that there's a serious problem from the start.

There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.​​
Harry Anslinger, one of 15 quotes about cannabis from the architect of global cannabis prohibition

I'm not the only one who's aware of this either, there's a whole line of activists, commentators and companies who know why cannabis use is illegal, and more than enough consumers to add to the numbers. We also have the Encyclopaedia Britannica confirming the reason for cannabis prohibition in the US, which the US exported to the world with the 1961 1st UN-CND.

Then of course, we have ex-advisors for Richard Nixon explaining how the War on Drugs was used to divide communities, and that US government agencies were supplying the drugs to those communities. This "war on drugs" was in fact announce in the US on the same year that the UK signed in the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.

Do you think that government agencies outside of the UK Police could have used drugs to disrupt communities here in Blighty? Well you will find interesting things by typing in 'MI6 drugs' into Google, there's a little bit there for MI5 as well, but as for the Police themselves, there's multiple FOI's showing that you're between 2 and 12 time more likely to be arrested for cannabis related charges in the UK if you're not fair skinned.

So why are we having this conversation?

The big business agenda has to find a way to gloss over a murky past of prohibition. That's why I believe you're seeing a lot of politically unchallenged commentary around legalisation, because it means the powers that be don't have to address awkward questions.

In fact, the fallout that Sadiq Khan got for decriminalising recreational drugs in 3 London Boroughs might be an indicator to that political sentiment. The attacks in themselves very rapidly became about cannabis, and not the other recreational drugs which shall we say do have more of an impact on communities than cannabis has. Now that legalisation is being talked about with no political backlash that I can see, you've got to ask why!

It's definitely a more acceptable road for MP's, certainly for Theresa May and Victoria Atkins anyway, as I believe their as yet unaddressed conflicts with power and cannabis interests would likely be further swept under the carpet by legalisation.

If we remove the historic racism from the equation though

We come to the next problem. Is it right that your actions with a plant should be defined as legal or illegal if the plant itself has never killed anyone in its entire recorded history? Further to this, is it right to have that status imposed on what was always a food before a medicine or recreational herb?

All of this and more gets dealt with through decriminalisation!

The law itself can be called into question, and the historic racism issues can be dealt with. It goes further than apologising to those who have had drugs laws applied to them in a disproportionate manner though, it's also about apologising to everyone who has been arrested for cannabis use, and recognising that not every arrested grower was linked to organised crime.

Remember the talented growers I mentioned in the UK who wouldn't be able to get a job in any legalised industry due to a criminal record? In a decriminalised setting, those same growers could become the initial backbone of any legalised industry that emerges from decriminalisation.

People could also grow at home

This is a big one, certainly for me anyway. I used to grow back in the misguided days of my youth, but then they were only misguided because I was breaking a law, a law that shouldn't exist. If I want to feed my endo cannabinoid system, try to heal or treat an ailment, or just have a few puffs of a blunt, there is no real reason why I shouldn't be able to get some seeds on the go be it in a decent sized cupboard, grow tent, or in the garden... except for a law that's based off of racist rhetoric that's been imported into the UK from early 1900's America, that is!

So what about the economic benefits of decriminalisation?

I believe in a fair world, where everyone is treated respectfully and that they have an equally shot at what the world has to offer, be that in life or in business, and that's why I believe that the UK should push towards decriminalisation.

The first benefit to the economy would be freedom, as there wouldn't be so much of a need for the police to focus so much on cannabis related topics.

The second would be by allowing the legacy markets the chance to work away from being illicit to legitimate, shutting the door to this industry means that if 500,000 jobs were created through legalisation, you run the risk of employing 500,000 people who have little to no understanding of cannabis outside of the confines of a rolling paper. Decriminalisation on the other hand means that the UK has access to an experienced workforce that already has a reputation on a global scale, as an export nation, which shouldn't be sneezed at so readily.

Consider this if you will

Why throw the book out and start again when you can take the bare bones of what you have and make it better? Repealing the laws around cannabis is great, but the illicit industry with the right incentives could provide the UK with a head start on any global aspirations!

Sometime ago, I came across some information that suggested the UK was at least the 3rd biggest exporter of cannabis in the EU. Whether or not there is truth to that, one thing is for certain, and that is that the UK has a existing reputation to build on as markets emerge over time.

Then there's the 'Cali Weed' debate, where exactly does UK weed stand in comparison to quality? Well it doesn't cost £90 an eighth for a start, and then there's the uncertainties of growth hormone regulators, or PGR's, which is far less prevalent in UK weed. I myself have seen a lot of weed from different countries, and the higher standard weed in the UK at this moment in time is comparable to Dutch Grade or Cali.

Personally, I feel that the UK has the skill bank to offer competition to the countries that have had a chance to freely build on their recreational markets, both for export markets or for any cannabis tourism industry that emerges post decriminalisation.

As for the criminal element...

Would there even be one? Well yes, but nowhere near as bad as now, or that which would exist in a legalised market. That's because you're removing the need for criminal actions from consumption, and not just flipping the dynamic of cannabis use from illegal to legal.

Don't get me wrong, there will still need to be certain criteria followed: a limit on what can be grown at home before you need certain permits either for farming or insurance purposes, appropriate lab reports should the intention be to create a small business, standard business and tax requirements and so forth, which is where the UK can gradually build towards the potential revenue streams that could be achieved off the bat from legalisation.

There's always going to be an illicit market of sorts, but that is determined by the guidelines at the time vs the choice of the individual; is it easier for me to work within, or outside of the confines of legal requirements? Or to put it more bluntly, what's the difference between the police raiding you now for breaking the law vs HMRC raiding you then for tax evasion? For some reason, the latter worries me more than the former.

The chance for small to medium sized enterprises

Forgive me for drawing on my past to paint a picture, but I've been arrested 3 times, all of which were for possession of cannabis.

I've a bit of a dream, "Cef's Funky Bud Boutique". A coffeeshop that specialises in the sale and cultivation of rare strains. In a legalised world I'd say the chances of this dream being realised are next to zero, because I wouldn't want to get direct investment that puts me in competition with Big Business as CFBB would cease to be 'mine'. I just want one place, a sensible and appropriately accredited supply chain with all the relevant lab reports, and a good vibe atmosphere where everyone's welcome.

The chance of that dream can only go up if cannabis use was decriminalised, I could have my spot just outside Dartmoor, were people could come and grab strains like Friesian Duck, G13 Hashplant, Sweet tooth or Heavy Duty Fruity. There could be a Snooker or Pool table, quiet games room, indoor and outdoor seating and the chance to blaze up in the face of some of the UK's best landscapes.

The mental thing is that SME's provide for over 90% of the UK's tax revenue, so why hand cannabis over to Big Business through legalisation, when you can hand it over to the people who truly provide for the economy through decriminalisation?

So what's the cons to decriminalising the use of recreational cannabis?

Honestly... I can see very few! The taxman won't initially get their hands on the levels of revenue they might receive straight away from a legalised market, and politicians will have to answer the question on whether there was justification for the criminalisation of cannabis use in the first place.

There is one other beneficiary outside of the UK public to this, our old friend Big Pharma!

Now you might think that this is a bad thing, but it's not. Big Pharma having control over a plant is bad, but it's been suggested that they can't compete with a budtender, who can promote the benefits of terpene profiles and the potential for lesser cannabinoids. The Pharma world can't quite do that at the moment, which means a legalised market is more of an enemy to them than the food supplemental industry is, which they're currently trying to control with Novel Foods for CBD products.

It's even been suggested that some Pharma companies would have in fact lobbied for decriminalisation in the countries and U.S states that have legalised cannabis, plainly because their revenue has been massively impacted by that shift in legal status.

So, is the enemy of my enemy my friend?

Possibly, who knows? I don't like the idea of an industry benefiting from prohibition, which Big Pharma has, and there's even suggestions that prohibition itself came about due to a pharmaceutical breakthrough in the early 1900's which allowed for the isolation of individual compounds within cannabis, which in itself was a cure for hundreds of medical conditions at the time.

If that is in anyway true, I would have less hang-ups with Big Pharma endorsing decriminalisation knowing that any part they may have played in prohibition will be exposed, over Big Business coming in and not addressing the sins of the past by pushing for legalisation.

Big Business vs Social Justice

And that is why my opinion shouldn't matter...

My head is firmly stuck down that rabbit hole, but the fact that there's a rabbit hole shows that there's something that needs to be unpicked before someone in the UK decides whether or not we should legalise the use of a plant, so allow me to drop a truth bomb or two before I wrap this up.

We're not talking about liberalising the laws that surround any old plant, we're talking about access to cannabis. Regardless of some people's sentiment, we are intrinsically linked to that plant, as can be seen by its interaction with our own Endo-Cannabinoid System. And finally, we're talking about flora that has been actively used by governments around the world to dived and discriminate communities and societies as a whole.

And that's why there really needs to be a referendum on this topic, there's too much history that surrounds cannabis not to afford the UK population a vote on this matter!

My personal opinions hold no ground here unless they are shared by others, but there's an over 50% slice of the UK who think that cannabis should be legalised or decriminalised. The margins between them are narrow!

So those are my thoughts, but that's enough chatter from me, let me know what do you think by entering the poll below.

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