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Will London really decriminalize cannabis?

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Last spring, as London Mayor Sadiq Khan began to fret about his re-election campaign, he realized he needed to differentiate himself from conservative challenger Sean Bailey. So Khan announced That if reelected, he would examine the benefits of decriminalizing cannabis.

On May 6, 2021, Khan easily defeated Bailey to win a second term.

Nine months later, it emerged that the mayor for a second term, a prominent Labor politician, was plotting to divert young people caught with small amounts of marijuana in parts of London away from the criminal justice system and into classes like a speeding course and counseling.

Leak a report It captured the UK news cycle on Tuesday; The Telegraph titled a story claiming that Khan’s plan would effectively decriminalize cannabis in London.

Khan team hurried to clarify Mayor’s intentions. The plan, they said, was to roll out a limited three-area pilot program for children ages 18 to 24. Such a program has not yet been approved by the city council and will be “rigorously evaluated” before any capital-wide offering.

Under the proposal’s early outlines, classroom results and advice will be offered to those caught with less than 14 grams of cannabis (about half an ounce). It could be implemented as soon as May 2022 in southeast London boroughs of Lewisham, Bexley and Greenwich – which host some of the capital’s poorest neighbourhoods.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “Reducing crime is the mayor’s top priority and he will continue to explore and implement the most effective solutions to help keep young people away from drug use and crime for good,” adding that Khan did not have the power to decriminalize.

They added that the scheme – which was initiated by the mayor of Lewisham, Damien Egan, who has requested a report by non-profit drug reform organization Volteface – will provide help and support rather than punishment, and has been shown to reduce recidivism. “We know we will never be able to stop our way out of the problem,” Egan’s spokesperson told local media.

What exactly is the problem?

But many people in the UK don’t think cannabis use is a serious problem. Marwan El-Gamal, founder of THC, a leading lifestyle cannabis brand, which organized events at its 4/20 annual celebrations in Hyde Park, London, with tens of thousands in attendance.

“The UK has the opportunity to introduce a cannabis potency rating process to help adults make informed choices, free billions from criminals, and stop distorting people’s life chances while freeing up police resources,” El Gamal added. “Now is the time for our government to put its trust in adults to make their own decisions, rather than giving us advice lightly.”

Commonly Consumed, But Still Illegal

Cannabis is usually smoked on the streets of London and is easily obtained in parts of Camden, Hackney, Notting Hill and elsewhere. The consumption is so common that it can sometimes feel like the factory is legal. In fact, clandestine cannabis clubs have increasingly appeared in recent years. But regular police searches of suspected cannabis possession can quickly provide a dose of reality even as the number of registered cannabis crime in London declines year by year.

In September of 2020, the Independent Office of Police Conduct told the Metropolitan Police, which covers London, that they were no longer stopping and searching people due to the alleged smell of cannabis in the vicinity. However, justification is still in use, leading to doubts about whether the Met will enthusiastically adopt any conversion scheme.

Black youths targeted by the police

Nearly half of all stop-and-go episodes in England and Wales were conducted by the Met, with young black men in London 19 times More likely to stop than the rest of the population. a Transfer recently published by the Police Inspectorate found that in four out of five stations, nothing was foundThis practice contributes significantly to friction between ethnic minority communities and the police.

“Black men the authors spoke to feel targeted, leading to disenfranchisement and distrust of police,” said the Volteface report, which is tasked with investigating the negative effects of low-level drug crime in Lewisham. “Subduing young blacks through the criminal justice system does not address the root causes of someone’s drug possession, and the effects of criminal justice may skew future prospects, potentially leading to a cycle of criminality.”

It recommended piloting the diversion scheme, variations of which have already been used across 10 UK police forces, and are considered the decriminalization of some offenses due to the lack of a change in the law.

Unnecessary possession cases are still being litigated

More than 1,800 criminal cases against young people for drug possession were filed in Lewisham between 2016 and 2020, according to Volteface. Nearly 90% of these were for cannabis possession.

You are Lihan, Head of Communications at VoltefaceKhan said the drug commission when main opponent Sean Bailey, the law and order candidate, crawled on him in the April 2021 election, ahead of next month’s election, which Khan won in a runoff.

“He couldn’t keep any of the promises,” Lehane said of Mayor Khan. “He had no idea what he was going to do. We brought him this transformation project that needed funding and behind the scenes raise our arms for him. He would address racial disproportion, which should support any Labor mayor.”

“It was really bureaucratic and hard to get to this point,” Lehane added. This week’s Telegraph story “appears to pop up just as we were about to finish it. So there’s quite a frustration there.” Lehane said he remains optimistic. “We don’t think that will spoil the report,” he said. “The response was really good and led to a good conversation.”

Mayor Khan’s proposal is a ‘courageous move’

StopWatch, which fights for fair and effective policing, welcomed the mayor’s efforts to remove low-level drug possession from police control, but said “punitive policing” still had a wide scope because of the law that leaves too much discretion in hands of individual officers.

Mayor Khan’s pilot project represents a “courageous political move, portraying the Mayor of London as someone willing to weather the headwinds imposed by today’s two major parties, who lack the political will to act on evidence,” said Habib Al-Qadri, Director of Research and Policy at StopWatch.

Al-Qadri said cannabis consumers remain at risk of criminalization – more than 80,000 people were jailed across England and Wales between 2016 and 2020 for possession of Class B or C drugs, according to Department of Justice figures. The UK has maintained a very narrow framework for legal access to medical marijuana since 2019.

Majority of Londoners support reform

Steve Rolls, senior policy analyst at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said the pilot program, due to be officially announced later this month, had been long overdue. Rolls said the majority of Londoners supported the cannabis reforms for several years.

He said, “The reforms are far from revolutionary.” Ten police authorities across the UK already have similar diversion programs covering virtually all drugs, not just cannabis, so this is just one step in a longer reform journey. It is clear that we are far from legalization and regulation.”

National politicians will not defend their own policies

Rawls said the hostile reaction on the part of the National Conservative government and the Labor opposition has been baffling. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said illegal drugs “are killing lives and fueling violence”, while Labor leader Keir Starmer said the party had not supported any further drug decriminalization.

“Both have supported transcoders in the past, most obviously in New government drug strategyRolles added. “There seems to be a backlash to anything presented as decriminalization, even when it is just another word for the policies they have already passed. Khan shows that reform is no longer a burden, but a political asset.”

Police chiefs still resist any change

Growing resistance to the low-level drug crime prosecution round within the police has prompted senior officers in the UK to push for further changes, but the Metropolitan Police leadership is remarkably conservative.

A Met spokesperson told Leafly: “The Met is committed to working with its partners to explore ways to reduce the harm drugs cause to both individuals and communities. However, at this point and contrary to media reports, no agreement has been reached on any changes in our approach to cannabis enforcement or otherwise clalls “B” drugs.

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