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Britain Is on a Path to Marijuana Legalization

UK Legalize Cannabis
PHOTO Yiannis Theologos Michellis

Joint Opinions

Britain Is on a Path to Marijuana Legalization

The UK government’s rapid turnaround on medical cannabis means that the path to legalized recreational marijuana is now clear and open, no matter what anyone (and anyone in power) says.

Sajid Javid is rising to the top of British politics, an ascent owed in no small part to cannabis.

It was Javid, the UK’s Home Secretary, who guided the ruling Conservative government through its acrobatic flip-flop on medical marijuana over the past week. And while Theresa May’s government fumbled the opening, triggering outrage when customs authorities seized a vial of medical cannabis oil from the family of a 12-year-old epileptic boy, Javid’s announcement that the boy’s medicine would be returned to him — and that the country would reconsider its drug policy — ensured they stuck the landing.

But resistance is the natural reaction to significant change moving with remarkable speed — ask any physicist, ask any Freudian — and now Javid is insisting that he has not put the United Kingdom on the road towards marijuana legalization for all adults.

Whether he’d like to admit it or not, he is wrong, as at least one Conservative leader has publicly declared. And whether or not Javid or his constituencies realize it (or if the opposing, supposedly progressive Labour Party figures it out in time to steal the issue away from their supposedly reactionary foes), this is a good path to follow.

As changes in marijuana policy sweep Canada, the United States, and most of Western Europe, Britain has so far been a holdout. Though the law is enforced unevenly — if at all — cannabis remains a banned substance in the UK, with simple possession punishable by a prison term.

There is an active and healthy medical-cannabis advocacy movement in the United Kingdom, but it took the public suffering of a child — in this case, 12-year-old Billy Caldwell, who has severe epilepsy — to generate enough shock and outrage to shame the government into action.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s government will now review cannabis policy and recommend some change, Javid told Parliament on June 19 — while folding in the requisite insistence that just because medical cannabis might be available, legalized marijuana would not follow.

“I have now come to the conclusion that it is time to review the scheduling of cannabis,” he said, while declaring current policy “unsatisfactory” for everyone involved. But, he added, almost self-consciously, “let me be absolutely clear that this step is in no way a first step to the legalization of cannabis for recreational use.”

“This government has absolutely no plans to legalize cannabis and the penalties for unauthorized supply and possession will remain unchanged,” he added. “We will not set a dangerous precedent or weaken our ability to keep dangerous drugs off our streets.”

Javid is doing one of two things. He is either in complete denial, or he is attempting to save face with the Conservative Party’s older voters, who believe such stuff like it is drug policy that is leading to the ills of modern society, and waiting until such time as he feels that such voters could be made to swallow legal marijuana.

As William Hague, a former Conservative Party leader wrote in the Telegraph, the reversal shows that “as far as marijuana, or cannabis, is concerned any war has been comprehensively and irreversibly lost.”

“It should now be asked whether Britain should join the many other countries that permit medical-grade marijuana, or indeed join Canada in preparing for a lawful, regulated market in cannabis for recreational use as well,” he wrote.

As nearly every country that has had that debate has found, once the admission that marijuana is medicine is made, arguments for keeping it out of adults’ hands become untenable.

If it isn’t toxic poison — and it isn’t — why should it be treated differently than tobacco and alcohol? The rational answer is that it is not nearly as toxic as either of those favorite legal tonics and should be made even more available.

As the Guardian wrote, Javid’s deft handling of issues like cannabis have put him on an upward trajectory. He could be Prime Minister. If so, he’ll be the prime minister who will have to handle Britain’s forthcoming marijuana legalization debate — and he is too smart to truly think that once the law is revealed to have been wrong, he can stand in the way of the boulder rolling down the mountain all the way.

TELL US, do you think cannabis legalization is coming to the UK?

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