PUBLIC POLLS SHOW over half of the British public support legalisation of cannabis for recreational use.

Release, a national centre of expertise on drugs and drugs law, says the reality is that cannabis reform in the UK is inevitable. The question, says Release, is not when, but how cannabis will be regulated in the UK.

A new policy paper, Regulating Right, Repairing Wrongs: Exploring Equity and Social Justice Initiatives within UK Cannabis Reform, proposes 14 guiding social equity principles which should be integrated into the UK’s future legal cannabis market.

The paper builds on Release’s national research on the disproportionate policing of ethnic minority individuals and other disadvantaged groups, and includes as an evaluation of regulatory frameworks emerging in North America and beyond. It outlines an evidence-based roadmap to prioritise and protect those most vulnerable to the harms of prohibition in legal recreational markets.

A number of US states, in particular New York and Massachusetts, have paved the way for a social and racial justice model of cannabis reform. The 14 principles in the new paper are designed to ensure that the same people who are locked up by punitive drug policies are not locked out of the legal market.

The new report is driven by civil society, and to date 15 organisations have pledged their support for the principles, including the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform.

Dr. Laura Garius, Policy Lead at Release and one of the paper’s authors, said: “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. However, we must make sure that cannabis will be regulated right. 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.

“Social equity models of cannabis reform are already being developed around the world while the UK is left faltering behind. We must be prepared to follow in these footsteps and recognise that cannabis reform is not progressive if the harms continue for some”.

Some of the main principles for reform in the paper include:

  • Decriminalisation must go hand in hand with regulation by removing criminal or civil sanctions for use or possession of cannabis, regardless of its legal or illegal origin.
  • Tax revenue should be invested in communities that have been over-criminalised, and support harm reduction interventions and wider drug treatment initiatives.
  • The non-commercial domestic cultivation of cannabis should be included in the same way that individuals are currently allowed to brew their own beer.
  • The automatic expungement of past cannabis-related convictions.
  • Schemes must be in place which actively support the integration of people who have been criminalised for cannabis-related activities into the legal industry.
  • Cooperative models for the distribution of cannabis (such as social clubs) should be incorporated into any new regulatory system.

Co-author Amal Ali added: “The lack of progression to date in the UK means that thousands of people each year – disproportionately people from Black and other ethnic minority communities, and people living in poverty – continue to receive life-changing criminal records for cannabis-related offences. The only benefit to our lack of progression is that we are able to observe and adopt best practice from other jurisdictions that have pioneered social equity models of cannabis reform. We know that when these principles are not front and centre, people continue to be punished for cannabis use and the harms caused by the war on cannabis are not rectified”.

The paper has been published alongside a sign-up form for any civil society organisation to endorse the 14 principles and support the creation of a just, fair, and equitable cannabis market in the UK.

Steve Rolles, Senior Policy Analyst at Transform Drug Policy Foundation concluded: “The legal regulation of cannabis markets is no longer a theoretical discussion – it is being debated and implemented in jurisdictions on every continent. The inevitability of change creates a responsibility on policy makers to ensure that reforms serve the needs of the whole community, not just the profit-seeking priorities of big corporate actors. This means hardwiring a clear social justice agenda into legislation from the outset, in particular making sure that the marginalised communities who carried the greatest burden of the drug war’s failure are able to share in the peace dividends.”

* Read Regulating Right, Repairing Wrongs: Exploring Equity and Social Justice Initiatives within UK Cannabis Reform here.

* Release is inviting organisations to register their support for the 14 social equity principles, and the creation of a just, fair, and equitable cannabis market in the UK. More information here.

* Source: Release