City Hall’s promised commission on drug laws will be getting underway shortly and looking particularly at cannabis regulation, Sadiq Khan told London Assembly members (AMs) today.
The independent inquiry into the effectiveness of current drugs legislation, made up of public health, criminal justice and community relations experts, was promised in Khan’s manifesto for last May’s delayed mayoral election.
The initiative was not about reclassifying hard drugs or taking a more lenient approach to drug-related crime Khan said at the first Mayor’s Question Time session in his new City Hall building in the Royal Docks.
“I’ve at no point pledged to decriminalise drugs and the commission will not look at the classification of Class A drugs, which I am very clear must remain illegal,” Khan stressed. “This does not mean being soft on drugs either. On the contrary. We know that drugs drive crime, violence and anti-social behaviour and damage Londoners’ health, and I will continue to fully support the police in targeting those causing harm to our communities.
“But there is a debate to be had on approaches to the use of cannabis, and I think it’s important that this commission gathers the evidence that can inform that debate. We need to have a proper grown-up discussion about the way forward.”
The Mayor rejected criticism made earlier this month of a proposal to pilot referring 18 to 24-year-olds found in possession of small amounts of cannabis to support services rather than arresting and charging them. Such a trial, which would be confined to three boroughs and has yet to receive formal City Hall support, would be similar to others already implemented by police in Thames Valley, Durham and the West Midlands, he said.
Green Party AM Caroline Russell (pictured) welcomed Khan’s “common sense” approach. Evidence already suggested that health interventions were often more effective than punishment and criminalisation, she said.
But Tory AM Tony Devenish, citing academic concerns about the psychological harm caused by cannabis, said the mayor was trying to do a “very dangerous thing”. Fifteen Tory MPs in London, headed by former AM Gareth Bacon, now MP for Orpington, had already warned that the mayor was “sending the wrong message”, he added.
Those with differing views were welcome to give evidence to the commission, Khan said. But City Hall’s approach, emphasising reducing illicit drug use through treatment and recovery programmes, was actually “in line” with that now being taken by the government, he added.
“The Prime Minister himself has acknowledged that the old way of doing things isn’t working, and I was pleased to see the government’s new drugs strategy acknowledging the need for robust evidence to inform a national debate on how best to tackle addiction and provide effective treatment and recovery systems across the criminal justice and public health sectors,” he said.
“It’s right to be cautious when taking decisions affecting people’s lives and that’s why I’m establishing a commission, doing my part to help provide that evidence in London. I hope this Assembly will be open to the evidence presented when the commission reports back.”
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