Friday 29 June 2018

Legalise it

I have a report out with the IEA today that gives an estimate of how much cannabis is consumed in Britain, how much would be consumed if the market were legalised, and how much tax revenue the government would make from doing so.

In short, I estimate that 255 tonnes of cannabis were sold in 2016/17. To put that in context, this is what one tonne of cannabis looks like.

The average price of a gram of cannabis is £10 so the market is worth around £2.6 billion. If it were legalised and taxed at a rate of 30 per cent (plus VAT), a gram would retail at around £6.50 and the government it get £690 million in excise tax.

These calculations take into account the effect of lower prices on demand and assume that a small proportion of the market would remain illicit.

This would be a win for everybody, as I explain in the Telegraph today...

Around 70 per cent of the cannabis seized by police in the 1990s was resin. Today, more than 90 per cent is skunk.

Skunk is typically high in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is associated with psychosis, and low in the non-intoxicating antipsychotic drug cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the main psychoactive substance in cannabis that makes the user feel stoned, but it can also cause side effects such as paranoia which tend to be mitigated by CBD. With high levels of THC and low levels of CBD, skunk poses a threat to the mental health of a small but significant minority of users. Although the number of cannabis users fell by a third between 2006 and 2014, demand for treatment of cannabis-related mental health problems increased by more than 50 per cent.

It is no wonder than the campaign for liberalisation has stalled. And yet the dominance of hazardous, high strength cannabis in the illicit market makes the case for legalisation stronger, not weaker. Opposing legalisation on the grounds that skunk has taken over the market is akin to opposing the end of alcohol prohibition because moonshine had taken over the market. Moonshine virtually disappeared after alcohol was re-legalised in the USA in 1933 and the same would happen to the strongest strains of cannabis if the drug were re-legalised today.

Legalising cannabis would alleviate the mental health issues associated with cannabis in two ways. Firstly, it would allow safer, regulated cannabis with maximum THC levels and minimum CBD levels to displace the more dangerous strains that have taken over the market. Secondly, it would generate tax revenue that could be spent on mental health services.

Not everything can be reduced to nickels and dimes but the public interest arguments for maintaining prohibition have collapsed. Cannabis has become more dangerous to its users’ mental health because of prohibition, not despite it. In many parts of the country, children find it easier to obtain cannabis than alcohol. Done properly, cannabis legalisation is a win-win-win: criminals lose a lucrative industry, the burden on the general taxpayer is reduced and consumers get a better product at a lower price.

The report has been covered by the Times, the Sun, Metro, Sky, the Daily Mail and ITV. Even the BBC and Guardian have covered it, so perhaps this is one libertarian cause whose time has come. You can download the report here.

If you are in London tomorrow evening, come to a special event at the Royal Geographical Society at 6.30pm. Featuring some very special gust speakers, we'll be going through all the reasons that cannabis should be legalised.

Clement Marfo (chair) - Multi-talented artist and performer from the UK
Jammer -
UK grime artist
Liz McCulloch -
Head of Policy, Volteface
Neil Woods -
Former police officer and chairman of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership

Richard Hurley -
Features and debates editor of the British Medical Journal
Chris Snowdon -
Head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs
Greg de Hoedt -
UK Cannabis Social Clubs CEO
Andrew Boff -
Conservative member of the London Assembly

Register for free here.

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