Here's what the UK's main political parties think about legalising cannabis

Here's what the UK's main political parties think about legalising cannabis

December 05, 2019

This time next week, we will be going to the polls for the fourth time in just over four years! The Key topics obviously include the NHS, affordable housing and of course Brexit. 

Brexit is expected to continue taking up considerable resource well after her majesty's new government is formed. However, once the matter has been settled, political commentators believe the next big national debate will be centred around the legalisation of cannabis.

Over the last few years, public opinion on cannabis has changed. Twice as many British adults now support the legalisation of cannabis than oppose it and a whopping 23% of us - that’s 14 million of us - have used cannabis in the last 12 months. Surprisingly, parliament opinion mirrors the public; a Populus survey found that 58% of MPs support further legalisation of medical cannabis. 

In November 2018, then Home Secretary, Sajid Javed legalised medical cannabis and since then foreign cannabis companies have been setting up shop in the UK clearly in anticipation of eventual legalisation. 

The lines between what is purely medicinal cannabis and what is recreational cannabis will always be as clear as Labour’s Brexit policy (joke!). However, the USA and Canada prove that when medical cannabis is legalised, recreational is only a few years behind.

 

Conservative Party

Boris Johnson

Leader: Boris Johnson  Seats: 298

We’ve come a long way in two years.

During the 2017 General Election, the Conservative Party did not even support the legalisation of medical cannabis, so it was a shock when they went ahead and legalised it the following year.

With Theresa May as Prime Minister, it was unlikely that we’d ever see further progress on cannabis reform. It is believed her stance on cannabis was based on her own personal and religious beliefs rather than anything evidence-based.

On the other hand, despite claiming to being 'very illiberal' about the idea of legalising cannabis, Boris Johnson does offer glimmers of hope.

Historically, Johnson has always been socially liberal at heart and in 2008 was one of the first Conservative politicians to ever call for the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal use.

Interestingly, he has also installed several proponents of legal cannabis in Number 10. Most notable of these is Blair Gibbs, a long-term advocate of cannabis legislation. Gibbs was previously working as the policy lead at the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis before leaving to join the PM in Downing Street.

Verdict – What Boris Johnson says and what he does are two different things and he's known for acting on public opinion. Even though he claims to be against legalisation, I can almost hear him on a podium announcing its legalisation. We've had Boris Bikes, Boris Buses... Are Boris Buds next?

 

Labour Party

Jeremy Corbyn

Leader: Jeremy Corbyn  MPs: 243

‘That this House recognises that that cannabis is neither more damaging than tobacco nor more addictive than alcohol’

That was the opening line to a bill arguing for the decriminalising cannabis that  Jeremy Corbyn sponsored in the year 2000.

He appears to have been fairly consistent on this platform and in recent years argued that “criminalising people for possession of small amounts of cannabis is not a particularly good idea”, however, he stopped short of backing any change in the law regarding recreational use.

Historically, Labour has a see-saw relationship with cannabis. In 2001, under a Labour majority government, cannabis reform appeared likely. The then Home Secretary, David Blunkett reclassified cannabis from Class B to Class C which essentially removed the threat of arrest of possession. It is estimated that the reclassification saved 199,000 police hours in the first year alone. 

Unfortunately, just three years later, the next Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith reclassified cannabis as Class B; against the advice Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

A 2018 Populus poll found that 71% of Labour MPs support the wider use of cannabis for medical reasons and several promotion Labour politicians have even voiced support for recreational use. David Lammy wants "the market legalised, regulated and taken away from crime gangs" and London mayor Sadiq Kahn is said to be considering legalising cannabis as a way to cut violent crime.

Verdict – Officially, Labour do not support the legalisation of recreational cannabis. However, if Corbyn were to follow through on decriminalising cannabis it is almost inevitable that legalisation would soon follow.

 

Liberal Democrats

 Jo Swinson

Leader: Jo Swinson  MPs: 20

There is a long list of prominent Liberal Democrat politicians who have argued for a progressive, evidence-based approach to cannabis legislation. Norman Lamb, their ex-health spokesman has described the war on drugs as a "catastrophic failure" and former Deputy PM Nick Clegg has publicly called for the government to fall into line with other countries who making cannabis widely available for patients.

Jo Swinson, their current leader is possibly the first notable politician to admit to smoking cannabis AND enjoying it. She has pledged to throw her support behind legalising recreation cannabis and would like to 'enable people to do it more safely’.

A regulated cannabis market is an official Lib Dem policy and is in this year's manifesto. They argue that it would raise over 1.5bn in taxes a year

Verdict – The Lib Dems recognise that legalisation in Europe and America is already happening. They believe that in the UK cannabis reform is a matter of when not if and are ready to throw their weight behind it.

 

Scottish National Party

Nicola Sturgeon

Leader: Nicola Sturgeon  MPs: 35

In October 2016, the SNP made history when the Ayr North branch of the party put forward a motion to decriminalise cannabis and voted overwhelmingly in favour of it.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is reserved in her support for cannabis legislation but agrees that “there is a specific case for medicinal use”.

Martin Docherty-Hughes the MP for East Dunbartonshire has gone further with his support. He went on record telling the Greenock Telegraph “It’s a disgrace in the 21st century that my constituents, living with chronic pain from conditions such as multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and avascular necrosis have to choose between suffering and breaking the law.”

This is a view shared throughout the party. A poll commissioned by Volteface found that a whopping 88% of SNP MPs support the legalisation of cannabis. 

Verdict – Similar to the Liberal Democrats, the SNP want to take a progressive and evidence-based approach to cannabis. The party clearly shows compassion and shares empathy for the thousands of patients who risk being criminalised as a result of their medications.