Cannabis is the most prevalent illegal drug in England and Wales, with as many as 3.4 million users in 2015 alone – certainly more than all the other illicit drugs combined. With the United Kingdom’s prohibitionist policy, more than 2,000 people per year are imprisoned due to marijuana-related offenses, serving a maximum of 14 years in jail.
Yet a recent cost and benefits report co-written by Mark Bryan and Emilia del Bono showed that marijuana regulation could actually work in the UK, despite huge uncertainties plaguing the reform movement, such as the following:
- What would a legalized market look like?
The UK is certainly not the first country to contemplate cannabis legalization. More than 20 states in the United States have legalized medicinal marijuana, with some of them also legalizing its use for recreational purposes. Yet the large number of suppliers and products in the US seem hard to regulate.
On the other hand, the extreme government monopoly proposed for Uruguay also doesn’t seem appealing, as it entails tight product controls.
The higher potency of today’s marijuana is also worrying as it is impossible to control under prohibitionist policy.
- What is the nature of demand?
Lack of research is mostly to blame for this uncertainty. There is no ongoing research regarding the slow decline of cannabis use in the UK or the shift towards highly potent marijuana. Furthermore, there is also no research consensus on price effects, as well as the effects of cannabis prices on alcohol and tobacco demand.
- What are the long-term effects of cannabis use?
It will take time before researchers truly know the effects of long-term effects of marijuana use, especially since the US still has not legalized marijuana for the whole country, which in turn stifles marijuana research.
But in spite of these uncertainties, it is undeniable that cannabis regulation will have a huge positive impact on the government budget. The government will gain additional tax revenue from licensed suppliers and make net savings on policing and criminal justice costs. Even if there is a possibility for net social harm, close monitoring will allow the reform policy to be evaluated in practice and even be reversed as needed.
For more information regarding the study, you can check out this article on The Conversation.
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