Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has announced the formation of the London Drugs Commission, a review to assess the effectiveness of the UK's drug laws, with an emphasis on cannabis.
A panel of independent experts in academia, community relations, criminal justice, politics and public health will convene to evaluate evidence from around the world on the results of various drug laws.
Khan’s visit to Los Angeles
Khan went on a four-day visit to Los Angeles in order to encourage investment in London to help the city recover from the Covid pandemic. However, he has used his time in the states to find out more about the impact of Los Angeles' decision to legalise cannabis in 2016. He visited a cannabis dispensary and growth facility, met with licensed farmers and retailers and consulted government officials.
It was after his visit to a cannabis factory that he announced the formation of the commission.
Aim of the London Drugs Commission
The aim of the commission is to determine the best drug-prevention techniques, the most effective criminal justice responses, and the public health advantages of various approaches.
University College London has been tasked with researching and analysing the consequences of any future policy change. Once it has concluded its work, it will provide policy recommendations to the government and all other relevant parties.
Khan believes the commission will help combat drug-related crime and reduce the damage illegal drugs wreak in communities. “The illegal drugs trade causes huge damage to our society, and we need to do more to tackle this epidemic and further the debate around our drug laws,” he announced.
“That’s why I am here today in LA, to see first-hand the approach they have taken to cannabis.”
Leader of the London Drugs Commission
Khan has requested Lord Falconer, a former Lord Chancellor and current member of Labour's shadow cabinet, to lead the commission. On his appointment, Lord Falconer stated: “A national debate is long overdue. We aim to make recommendations to bring about effective and lasting change.”
He believes a rigorous approach is needed to identify the best process. The commission is the perfect opportunity to take a thorough look at current drug laws and regulations.
Khan will announce additional commission members this summer and most likely report the review in 2023.
London Drugs Commission critics
While many support the formation of the commission, there are those critical of the review. In a tweet, home secretary, Priti Patel, said Khan does not have the power to legalise drugs. She adds that his time would be better spent focusing on knife and drug crime in the city.
However, it is not just the Tories that have qualms about the review. Labour, Khan’s own party, is divided on the matter. They went so far as to release a statement declaring that the party does not support changing drug laws.
Many people believe personal political gain is the key motivation behind some politicians' zero-tolerance stance on cannabis reform. Unfortunately, many government officials see the controversial issue of cannabis as too risky to support.
What can the London Drugs Commission actually achieve?
Patel’s snarky tweet is correct in saying Khan does not have the power to legalise drugs. However, Khan has a significant impact on drug offence policing in the city. For instance, he can lobby and fund the establishment of a drug offence diversion program in the city for those caught in possession of cannabis for personal use. He may not be able to change the law, but he can help reform the city's policing practice so that those caught with drugs don't end up with criminal records. This is in itself a type of decriminalisation. Although it is not to the extent we would like to see.
It is also likely that the commission may collect reliable evidence favouring a shift in policy. This will undoubtedly influence policymakers in the future.
It seems we are still a long way from a no sanction model and the expungement of past criminal records. However, commissions such as the London Drugs Commission show promise that these conversations are happening at an official level. We might see legalisation sooner than we thought.
The more we discuss the issue, the more support it will receive. It is just a matter of time.