In a recent meeting with British lawmakers, a Massachusetts cannabis commissioner recommended that the United Kingdom should recruit former drug dealers to enter the legal weed industry if the country eventually legalizes adult-use cannabis.
This week, Shaleen Title, a member of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, addressed Parliament alongside two fellow drug reform advocates: Sanhoo Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies, and Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network in South America. The three argued that the UK needs to follow the lead of Canada and many US states in putting an end to decades of marijuana prohibition.
Tree reminded British lawmakers that her home city of Washington DC decriminalized cannabis possession and use in 2014, and noted that “the sky hasn’t fallen in... people still go to work and... kids still go to school,” The Guardian reports. Ledebur described a new policy enacted by the Bolivian government that allows farmers to continue growing coca (the plant from which cocaine is sourced) in limited amounts, rather than destroying illegal farms by brute force.
During the meeting, Title discussed her state's experiment with recruiting former weed dealers to take leading roles in the legal pot industry. “We are on our first project with 150 people and we put out a bid to vendors who can teach them how to produce cannabis that is regulated,” said Title, according to The Guardian. “It also includes an ownership program to train people who were once entrepreneurs in the underground market.”
Title explained that these former weed dealers “have skills already of course gleaned over a long number of years.” The commissioner described the program as “a way to give people and the voters that backed legalization in our referendum what they wanted. They did not want to hand the industry over to a few giant corporations that are going to exploit it.”
“If for years under drug prohibition you have this security focus on these communities then after legalization you can hardly say to them, ‘oh never mind now, big corporations will take this business off you, they will take it from here,’” Title concluded. “How is that fair?”
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Title is not alone in believing that the UK would be better served by integrating its current weed black market into a legal system, rather than trying to destroy it outright (ahem, the way some states in the US are approaching this issue — and failing). Michael Semple, a former EU special representative to Afghanistan, argued that the UK must engage in “peace talks” with former drug gangs before they can advance with full legalization.
“Given the sheer number of people involved in drug dealing, and, internationally, the scale of violence associated with the ‘War on Drugs,’ it should not be difficult for drugs policy makers to envisage a peace process with drugs gangs,” Semple advised.
Although Parliament was open to discussing the possibility of legalization, the reality of it may be far in the future. The country only legalized a limited medical marijuana program last fall, and regulators are still working to iron out the kinks in this system. There are many advocates of cannabis reform serving in Parliament, but the UK's recent embrace of conservative leadership leaves the future of legal weed uncertain.