Colin Landforce argues the one century cannabis prohibition experiment is over, and it is time to realise the health and economic benefits of a plant that has proven medical value and significant economic potential.

We must stop treating cannabis users like users of hard drugs; too many police officers and courts are jammed with cannabis cases when they should be focussing on serious crime. But that is exactly what we have been doing for a hundred years (the UK, for example, prohibited cannabis in 1928, in accordance with the 1925 International Opium Convention, adding cannabis as an addendum).

In 2018, there were more than 663,000 cannabis related arrests in the US, and 608,000 of those were only for cannabis possession, suggesting that law enforcement is primarily arresting recreational users, not dealers. This is while the US West Coast is more than 20 years into decriminalisation with active recreational programs. The moral inconsistency is, in my view, inexcusable.

A conviction – any conviction – has a life changing effect, making it harder to get a job, rent an apartment or get a loan. That makes it more likely that someone will be drawn into a life of criminality.

Instead of treating cannabis like an illicit drug, we should be looking at it as a high growth job creator at a time of high unemployment. The cannabis industry in the US provides 321,000 full time jobs, more than 6 times than the entire coal industry. If the remaining 32 states legalize cannabis, that figure could be much higher.

Currently we are not opening the door to new jobs. We are opening the door to new criminals. In 2019 more than 4,000 young people were recruited by London 'county lines' drug gangs in London alone, usually starting with cannabis.

It's not only job creation that we need more than ever, it's tax revenue. The US ran a deficit of $3.1 trillion in 2020, three times larger than that of 2019. The UK government's deficit is 14.3 per cent of GDP, a peacetime record.

We need to take revenue out of the hands of criminal gangs, and into the hands of the treasury. The tax take could be huge, considering that almost a third of people have used cannabis.

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As we move to end cannabis prohibition, we should learn from the events surrounding the end of alcohol prohibition. In the first year after prohibition the US government brought in $1.35 billion in taxes from alcohol, compared to the $420 million that they brought in from income tax.

During the last six years, Colorado has collected over $1.6 billion in taxes at the state level from cannabis. Scaling that up across 50 states (and foreign countries) would be a game changer for public services.

The real supporters of continuing cannabis prohibition aren't concerned parents. It is the cartels who gain 30 per cent of their drug export revenues from cannabis.

By taking the production and distribution out of the hands of criminals, we not only make the streets safer, we make the drug safer. Prohibition-era alcohol could be up to 75 per cent ABV, causing blindness or death. No regulation around cannabis means that stronger, dangerous blends are indistinguishable from safer, milder ones.

Even then, cannabis is relatively safe. Figures from the UK show that fewer than 300 people have died from cannabis complications in the last two decades. There were 5460 deaths from alcohol in the UK between January and September last year. In the US, cigarettes killed 500,000 people.

If the real reason for cannabis prohibition isn't public health, what is it? Racism, among other areas, can explain a large part of modern prohibition policy. In the US, cannabis was first made illegal as a means to suppress Mexican minorities and to justify the search, arrest and deportation of Mexican immigrants. Today, Black people are over three and a half times more likely to be arrested for a cannabis crime than a white person.

Some 12 per cent of Americans admit to smoking cannabis, and two thirds of Americans and over half of Brits support legalisation. Despite this, more people were arrested for cannabis crimes than for all violent crimes in America in 2019.

Legalising cannabis will really benefit minorities, but it will help us all by strengthening our criminal justice systems, economies and healthcare options too. It's time to end the century-long failed experiment of cannabis prohibition, in the US, UK and everywhere.

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