Siobhan Benita cannabis pledge presents new challenge to Sadiq Khan on crime

Siobhan Benita cannabis pledge presents new challenge to Sadiq Khan on crime

Sadiq Khan faces a new challenge to his crime and policing strategy with the announcement by Liberal Democrat London Mayor candidate Siobhan Benita that she would pilot legalising cannabis in the capital and her recruitment of an influential ex-Metropolitan Police and former ally of Khan to her team.

Speaking at the Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth, Benita told the Observer that the measure would “remove power” from criminal gangs that control the supply of the drug and use vulnerable young people to sell and distribute it.

On Twitter she expressed delight that Leroy Logan, who was a Met officer until retiring in 2013 and reached the rank of superintendent, has become her policing adviser. Logan had been seeking selection as a Labour London Assembly candidate for next year’s election, but has now joined the Lib Dems.

Logan (above, left) was a client of Sadiq Khan during his career as a solicitor, before he entered politics. In 2003, represented by Khan, Logan won a six-figure sum in compensation from the Met after being cleared of allegations that he had falsely claimed £80 in expenses.

In 2015, Logan contributed to a Fabian Society pamphlet edited by Khan called Our London, in which he and a fellow former Met officer wrote about improving relationships between the police and the public. Khan at that time was Labour’s shadow London minister and widely believed to be preparing a mayoral election bid.

However, Logan has been critical of Mayor Khan’s record in power, accusing him in 2018 of lacking a “coherent strategy” for tackling knife crime and in July, while still a Labour member, said he thought there had been some improvement but that the Mayor was too interested in favourable publicity.

Benita, who ran for Mayor as an Independent in 2012 and finished fifth with nearly 84,000 votes, less than 8,000 behind the Lib Dem candidate, will be hoping to benefit from the surge in support for her party in the capital at the European elections held in May.

Benita’s initiative on cannabis sets her apart from Khan and his Conservative challenger Shaun Bailey, both of whom have stated their opposition to liberalising drug laws.

Last May, Khan told Conservative AM Andrew Boff, an advocate of cannabis legalisation, that he is “not in favour of legalising drugs” and not persuaded that it would “lead to the sunny uplands” some believe. In 2009, Bailey accused the last Labour government of giving up on the war on drugs and eschewed “liberal” approaches in favour of encouraging abstinence.

In her role as a Camden councillor, Green AM and London Mayor candidate Siân Berry last year affirmed her support for her party’s long-standing policy of legalising cannabis use, adding that this would need to be accompanied by strong public health campaigns to educate people about the health risks.

Amid growing alarm about the exploitation of children by “county lines” drug gangs, the Labour Party is reported to be planning a royal commission to review current drug laws if it wins the next general election, with shadow home secretary and London MP Diane Abbott saying the current approach is failing in its task of “preserving the life of our citizens”.

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