London Mayor 2024: What do the candidates think about cannabis?

London Mayor 2024: What do the candidates think about cannabis?

Germany has just partially legalised cannabis use to allow over-18s to possess up to 25 grammes of it in public and grow three plants per household. It follows the liberalisation of laws about the drug in several other places, including Mexico, Canada, Thailand and parts of the USA.

In Britain, though, any move to follow suit tends to be met with howls of protest, particularly from the Right. That hasn’t stopped some of this year’s mayoral candidates exploring avenues towards decriminalisation – and in one case going quiet about it.

It is nearly two years since Sadiq Khan set up a London Drugs Commission to, in City Hall’s words, “look at the effectiveness of the UK’s drug laws, focusing on cannabis”. Its chair was Lord Charlie Falconer QC, who served as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice in the last Labour government.

The move enacted a promise in Khan’s 2021 election manifesto, in which he said he thought it “a mistake” that the government was showing no sign of being prepared “even to have a debate” about the issue. A much-publicised visit to a cannabis facility in Los Angeles suggested he was committed to leading such a debate.

However, the promised “series of policy recommendations” has not yet materialised, and in October Khan said in an interview that with reform of the Met taking up a lot of time, the commission’s work was “a bit on the back burner“.

But other mayoral candidates have taken up the case for change. Liberal Democrat Rob Blackie, whose principal campaign theme is that he would “fix the Met”, claimed at the time of his remark that Khan was “effectively suppressing” the commission’s findings, citing a response to a Freedom of Information request which said that in May of last year the commission had asked if would be acceptable to delay delivering its report until Christmas, perhaps suggesting it was ready by then.

Interviewed by On London earlier this year, Blackie said he’d like to see far less police stop-and-search for drugs, especially cannabis (and also laughing gas), partly because he considers it a poor use of police time when there is more serious offending to deal with, and partly because he believes the tactic deepens mistrust of the police and reluctance to assist them. He underlined this stance when launching his campaign.

Green candidate Zoë Garbett, too, is critical of Khan about the non-appearance of commission findings, telling On London it is a “huge failure” and expressing disappointment with its concentration on cannabis, given that other illegal substances are more dangerous to health. Much like Blackie, she has called for the Met to “stop their focus on low level cannabis offences”.

The broad issue of illegal drug use and how best to deal with it has produced some novel cross-party accords at City Hall. In February, the London Assembly Green group supported a motion from Conservative counterparts Andrew Boff and Emma Best calling for drug checking services to be introduced in London. Boff has been advocating the full legalisation of cannabis for decades, arguing that doing so would help to reduce violent crime.

His fellow AM Susan Hall, the Conservative candidate for Mayor, seems unimpressed both by the reasons Khan gave last year for the commission’s findings not yet appearing and his interest in the subject in the first place, describing this as “wasting taxpayers’ money” and “nonsense”.

That seems clear enough, as do the relatively permissive positions on the policing of cannabis of Garbett and Blackie. As for candidate Khan, it seems unlikely we’ll learn more about where he stands until well after 2 May.

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