This summer, after putting my children to sleep, I looked out of my window to see a young man unsheathe a machete on our doorstep. He then proceeded to try to decapitate another youth. My wife yelled for them to stop and we called the police. After a few tense minutes of fighting and slashing, the intended victim escaped with his life, running away down the street.
Youth violence in London is a preventable tragedy, much of it linked to the illicit trade in drugs and associated gang activity. Around 60 per cent of the unlawful drugs trade in London comprises cannabis products. Instead of this being an illegal industry which fuels youth violence, it is time to pilot legal cannabis production and retail across the city. Disputes in the cannabis industry should be resolved with words and commercial mediation, not machetes.
The Evening Standard’s research, based on Freedom of Information requests to the Metropolitan Police, has revealed the scale of the damage done to young people from cannabis prohibition. Each year, around 15,000 arrests are made for simple cannabis possession and supply. While this is happening, the UK exports medical cannabis products to the US and investment bankers make millions of dollars listing cannabis companies and investment vehicles on the London Stock Exchange.
Keeping cannabis illegal for retail users entrenches the racial inequalities the Mayor of London and his team claim to care about so deeply. Around 70 per cent of the 11,497 Londoners arrested for cannabis possession in 2018 were from black and minority ethnic groups – a massive overrepresentation compared with their proportion of the capital’s population. By criminalising young men across London, the current approach to cannabis damages young people’s lives and their future employment prospects.
Sadiq Khan could change this by directing the Met to stop enforcing cannabis laws and by encouraging and enabling London councils to pilot legal cannabis production and retail businesses in their boroughs, starting this year.
International experience with legal cannabis shows how smart regulation can open up new opportunities, ranging from sustainable agriculture to tourism and advanced pharmaceutical research. London can build on the experiences of Canada, California, Colorado and other jurisdictions and avoid repeating mistakes made in other markets.
In 2021, Londoners should be celebrating the launch of a legal cannabis market centred on equity, research programmes and access to new business and employment opportunities.
Hamish Stewart is chair of the London Cannabis Legalisation Commission and lead author of the London Cannabis Study, which will be launched with a roundtable event about opportunities available in a legal industry on 30 September. Image from the Study document recommending a framework for a London cannabis ecosystem.
On London is a small but influential website which strives to provide more of the kind of journalism the capital city needs. Become a supporter for £5 a month or £50 a year and receive an action-packed weekly newsletter and free entry to online events. Details here.