London Mayor Sadiq Khan will form a commission to study the potential of decriminalization of cannabis if he is re-elected next month, according to media reports from the United Kingdom. Khan was expected to unveil the proposal to study the health, economic, and criminal justice benefits of cannabis decriminalization on Tuesday as part of his platform for re-election.
“It’s time for fresh ideas about how to reduce the harms drugs and drug-related crimes cause to individuals, families, and communities,” Khan will say, according to a report from The Guardian. “The commission will make recommendations focusing on the most effective laws to tackle crime, protect Londoners’ health, and reduce the huge damage that illegal drugs, including cannabis, cause to our communities and society.”
“That’s why, if I’m re-elected, I will establish a new London Drugs Commission comprised of independent experts to examine the latest evidence from around the world,” Khan said.
“The commission will make recommendations focusing on the most effective laws to tackle crime, protect Londoners’ health and reduce the huge damage that illegal drugs, including cannabis, cause to our communities and society.”
The mayor’s office noted that the illicit drug trade costs U.K. society £19 billion per year, and nearly 42,000 people in England and Wales were charged with a drug-related offense last year. Although Khan has said he is against decriminalizing class-A drugs such as cannabis and heroin, he would support cannabis reform if the commission concludes the move would be beneficial.
Khan’s fate as London’s mayor will be decided by voters in an election slated for May 6. In 2019, a public opinion poll found that nearly two-thirds (63%) of the city’s residents support the legalization and regulation of cannabis.
A Panel Of Independent Experts
Under Khan’s plan, a commission of independent experts in the fields of criminal justice, public health, politics, community relations, and academia would convene to examine how issues involving drug use and addiction have been addressed by different countries around the world. The panel would likely consider the experiences of Portugal, which decriminalized all drugs in 2001, as well as jurisdictions that have legalized cannabis for use by adults, including Canada, Uruguay, and some U.S. states.
The commission would also consider evidence on the effectiveness of the U.K.’s current drug laws, enforcement, and addiction treatment services. The panel would then make recommendations for city and national government, law enforcement, and public health services.
“It will be for the commission to look at the evidence in the round, but nothing is off the table in the context of what is best for public health and keeping Londoners safe,” a source close to Khan told The Guardian.
Mayor Faces Uphill Battle
Khan has previously called for “an evidence-based conversation” about cannabis, although as London’s mayor he has no authority to introduce new legislation in Parliament. But he is hoping that if the commission recommends decriminalization, his support will lend weight to the cause.
Khan will have to convince national leaders that decriminalization is the right move, including members of his own party. Labour Party leader Keir Starmer recently told Sky News that he is against cannabis decriminalization, saying current drug policy is “roughly right,” although he added that there is “always room for a grown-up debate about how we deal with these cases.”
Bringing Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the leader of the ruling Conservative Party, on board with cannabis decriminalization seems even less likely. After news of Khan’s plan to study the issue broke, a spokeswoman from the prime minister’s office at No. 10 Downing Street said that the mayor was “wasting his time” because Johnson has “absolutely no intention of legalizing cannabis.”
“Policy on controlled drugs is a matter for UK Government and there are no plans to devolve this responsibility,” said Allegra Stratton, Johnson’s press secretary. “The Prime Minister has spoken about this on many occasion—illicit drugs destroy lives and he has absolutely no intention of legalizing cannabis, which is a harmful substance.”
“Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, will know that the policy on controlled drugs is a matter for the UK Government,” she added. “It’s not a matter for his office.”