This is not a particularly new idea, but it is not one that has been taken particularly seriously in this country. However, I believe the pandemic has now presented us with a situation that means we can no longer ignore it. If we’re wondering how to create money from nowhere and make up the economic shortfall, there can be no clearer solution. Politicians love to say that a magic money tree doesn’t exist. They’re wrong, it does exist, and it is a marijuana plant.
In the first year that marijuana was made legal in the US state of Colorado, the state made over a billion dollars in tax revenue from the drug. The UK is the largest consumer of illicit drugs in Europe. People are already buying and consuming drugs, we are just saying no to the potential tax revenue from those sales and ensuring that all the profits from the industry remain in the hands of criminals.
It is estimated that alcohol costs the UK taxpayer roughly £2 billion a year, in policing, rehabilitation and costs to the health service in alcohol related injuries, rehabilitation and liver damage. However, the tax revenue from alcohol sales in the UK exceeds £8 billion a year, meaning that the legal trade of alcohol generates a profit of more than £6 billion a year. Currently illicit drugs cost the UK taxpayer money, but generate us zero profit.
By allowing drugs to continue to be illegal we are essentially cutting off our nose to spite our face. There is so much money waiting to be generated, along with legal jobs in the cultivation and sale of drugs. Not to mention the costs that would be saved to policing if they were legal, and the money that could be saved by the NHS if they were able to treat certain ailments with medicinal marijuana. There is irrefutable evidence that marijuana is the best way to treat a number of conditions, from Crohn’s disease to Parkinson’s, but the fact that it is illegal has meant that the research in this country has always been limited. This has forced that NHS to rely on more expensive synthetic drugs, which often have a number of nasty side effects.
I am not one of those people who will try to deny that illicit drugs are dangerous. Clearly they are, and when abused they can cause huge amounts of damage. The real question is, is our current way of regulating them the safest and most effective way to do so? The answer is a resounding no. Prohibition, as a policy, has been proven not to work. The so called War on Drugs is a failed policy. How would one ever hope to win a war against drugs? Can anyone envision a world in which drugs no longer exist? The fact that drugs are even hugely common in our prisons would suggest not. If we cannot keep drugs out of the facilities we have to control wrongdoers and limit their freedoms, how can we ever hope to keep them out of society? All the War on Drugs does is make dangerous criminals very wealthy, fuelling gang violence and causing millions of unnecessary deaths both in this country and abroad. In addition, alcohol is just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than most illicit drugs. We would never think of criminalising it, because we know that it wouldn’t work, so why do we persevere with this policy with other drugs? Certain drugs are too dangerous to be consumed safely, but with tough regulations, limits to advertising and good education in schools, many of them could be.
A better way is possible, and we don’t even need to dream or pontificate on the potential benefits. We need only look at the dramatic drop in deaths in Portugal since they decriminalised drugs, or that fact that marijuana use has halved amongst teenagers in Canada since legalisation. The case studies are already happening, we just need to follow their lead. The pandemic has provided us with many problems to overcome, but it also gives us the opportunity to bring in some radical new ideas that might previously have seemed impossible. The decriminalisation and regulation of marijuana must be one of these ideas.