LONDON—Britain said on Tuesday, June 19, it had no intention of legalizing cannabis after a former leader of Prime Minister Theresa May’s party said the government had “irreversibly lost” the battle to drive the drug off the streets.
William Hague, leader of the Conservative Party from 1997 to 2001, urged the government to consider legalizing cannabis to realize what he said would be economic and social benefits from pushing crime gangs out of the trade.
The drug falls into the Class B category in Britain, below the status of crack cocaine and heroine but on a par with amphetamines and barbiturates, with those found in possession facing up to five years in jail.
A spokesman for the prime minister denied that the government had lost the war on drugs and the government department responsible for crime and policing said it had no intention of reviewing the law.
“The harmful effects of cannabis are well known and there are no plans to legalize it,” May’s spokesman said.
The rules governing the use of cannabis have hit the headlines in recent days after British officials seized a cannabis-based medicine used by a 12-year-old epileptic boy, Billy Caldwell.
The government was forced to use an exceptional power to release the medicinal oil however after the boy was admitted to hospital suffering from seizures. It has said it will now look into possible changes on the use of cannabis-based medicines.
Hague said the Caldwell case was one of those moments when a “longstanding policy is revealed to be inappropriate, ineffective and utterly out of date”. And he went further.
“As far as marijuana, or cannabis, is concerned, any war has been comprehensively and irreversibly lost,” Hague wrote in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, reversing his previous tough approach towards drug law enforcement.
“The idea that this can be driven off the streets and out of people’s lives by the state is nothing short of deluded,” he added.
The use of cannabis for medicinal purposes is legal in many countries while others will not prosecute for personal use. Canada is on the verge of becoming the first Group of Seven nation to permit its national use.
In Britain, the BBC reported in 2016 that arrests for cannabis possession had dropped sharply since 2010, despite its use remaining roughly level, suggesting many police forces no longer see it as a priority.
Professor David Nutt, who resigned as the chair of a body which makes recommendations to the government on drugs, said an intervention by someone of Hague’s stature should spark a rethink but he thought the government would resist any changes.
“Cannabis is illegal for political not medical reasons,” he told Reuters.
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