In a further sign that more cannabis reform is in the offing in the U.K., the head of one of the largest regional police forces in the country, John Campbell, of the Thames Valley Police, has come forward to support cannabis decriminalization. In testimony delivered to the Home Affairs select committee, citing evidence that he says would reduce violent crime, Campbell said that it is the “lucrative” illegalization of weed that promotes criminal behavior associated with the plant.
He has been joined in his support for cannabis reform by the Assistant Chief Constable of South Wales who has suggested that the entire issue of ending Prohibition should be addressed, albeit approached with “a great deal of caution.”
That said, such comments are still, sadly, an anomaly from Britain’s senior police leaders. Indeed, the majority of PCCs do not support forward motion on normalization saying that it will lead to more violent crime. Currently British law punishes cannabis possession with a maximum sentence of five years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.
Regardless, it is a significant development, particularly set against the intention of London mayor Sadiq Khan to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis. The Metropolitan Police Service (or Met) is the U.K.’s largest police force. Thames Valley Police is the fifth largest (out of 43). It covers 2,200 square miles and three counties which are home to 2.34 million people. Thames Valley Police has also had to weather criticisms that it is considerably less diverse than the population it serves and as a result, tends to disproportionately target Black people and submit them to stop-and-searches as well as detaining them under the Mental Health Act. Such actions are unavoidably and frequently linked to cannabis possession.
The Slippery Slope of Decriminalization
The majority of British authorities may not support the final step of cannabis normalization, but it is now a war they are clearly losing. Medical use when prescribed by a doctor was legalized in the U.K. in November 2018. However, obtaining a prescription is still exceedingly difficult, and many patients are forced, just as they are in places like Germany, to obtain their cannabis via the black market—or grow their own. Beyond this, the legit CBD industry is growing in leaps and bounds.
For all of these reasons, it is imminently clear that the U.K. is on the same “slippery slope” towards full legalization as everywhere else, particularly as medical efficacy of the plant can no longer be refuted. Patients who can get to sympathetic doctors can now obtain a “cannabis patient card.” And beyond this, those who head up patient collectives are increasingly finding that if busted, judges are much more lenient.
All of this points to a changing legal environment for cannabis use—of which the police are well aware. Busts of cannabis farms are down significantly since a high of 758,943 between 2009-2010. Last year, there were 500,448. For every bust, there is of course, the administrative costs of the arresting police officers, plus court time.
In the U.K., like elsewhere, the economics of Prohibition, particularly given the changing environment and views towards cannabis increasingly don’t add up. Beyond this, public sentiment is moving towards support for legalization. The most recent national poll conducted in January of this year showed that a slight majority of Britons opposed recreational reform—but just like everywhere else, times they are a’changin.
The police everywhere are the most conservative segment of mainstream society when it comes to decriminalization and legalization issues. However even the most staid members of law enforcement know that cannabis as medicine is increasingly becoming accepted—and that a family member might end up being a cannabis patient if not a “criminal” for the same. Beyond this, draconian punishment for non-violent personal possession is a bogeyman of the past, and unfortunately, the present.