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London Mayor Sadiq Khan is considering a new pilot program that would decriminalize minor cannabis possession for young offenders. The mayor does not actually have the authority to make any changes to British drug laws, so the proposal would only direct police to stop arresting adults under 25 who are caught with small quantities of weed. Instead, these young offenders would be sent to drug education classes or counseling.
“The idea of the scheme, which is already used by other police forces across the country, would be to divert young people who are found with a small amount of cannabis away from the criminal justice system and instead provide help and support. This has been shown to reduce reoffending,” said a spokesperson for the mayor, The Guardian reports. “Reducing crime is the mayor’s top priority and he will continue to explore and implement the most effective solutions to help to divert young people away from drug use and crime for good.”
Khan also based the proposal on research showing that cannabis reform policies give police more time and resources to solve actual, serious crimes. But rather than implementing a citywide reform, the mayor is only planning a very limited trial. If approved, the decriminalization policy would only take effect in 3 of London's 32 boroughs, and would only apply to young adults between the ages of 18 and 24. The proposal would only apply to small amounts of weed, and not any other drug.
With all of these restrictions in place, Khan's proposal is shaping up to be one of the most cautious and limited decriminalization measures the world has ever seen. But even though the measure hasn't even been approved, British political leaders have already condemned it. Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said that lawmakers would not endorse any changes to the country's drug laws, and a spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that the government remains opposed to decriminalizing illegal drugs that “destroy lives and fuel violence.”
“We have absolutely no intention of decriminalizing dangerous and harmful substances for recreational use,” the spokesperson told The Guardian. “Decriminalization would leave organized criminals in control, while risking an increase in drug use, which drives crime and violence which blights our streets.”
As cannabis reform continues to spread throughout the US, Canada, and Europe, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reignited the war on drugs with a new 10-year plan to crack down on drug offenders. Under this new proposal, anyone busted for minor drug possession could risk losing their passport or driver's license. And even though Britain legalized medical marijuana in 2018, government officials have only authorized a couple of highly specific medical cannabis products, putting this medicine out of reach for most Brits.
Fortunately, the rest of the UK is far more progressive when it comes to drug reform. At the end of 2020, Ireland implemented a new decriminalization policy allowing police to issue citations to minor weed offenders rather than arresting them. Under this policy, Irish courts prosecuted fewer than 6,000 people for cannabis offenses in 2021, half the number that were prosecuted in 2020. In Scotland, some police forces have implemented similar decriminalization policies, and Scottish lawmakers have even proposed plans to decriminalize the possession of all drugs.