Legal cannabis ‘could save millions on tax’
Yesterday a government study suggested that legalising cannabis could generate hundreds of millions of pounds in tax. The risk is that it might spark a wave of addiction. Is it worth it?
Freely available weed and loads of money: it sounds like a hedonist’s dream. But despite a Treasury report that legalising cannabis could raise around £900 million a year, enough to pay for three years’ worth of cancer drugs, the UK government still stands against decriminalisation; the Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb called this policy stance ‘ludicrous’.
So how could all that money be raised? Well, cannabis would be heavily taxed, like alcohol and tobacco. It could also save around £200m in police and court costs with one less crime to prevent and punish. The Institute for Social and Economic Research said that legalisation could help reduce the deficit by £1.25bn a year, although the Treasury suggested that was an overestimate.
Over 200 tonnes of cannabis is smoked by 2.2 million people between the ages of 16 and 59 in Britain. Many claim that it does them no harm, but there are increasing signs that it can cause irreversible mental illness, such as schizophrenia. This in itself would cost the NHS a huge amount of money.
Cannabis was almost unknown in Britain until the 1960s. In 1959, only 185 people were arrested for taking the drug. By 2009 that number had risen to 162,610. Backers of legalisation say that use is now so widespread that prohibition is neither practical nor sensible.
However, of the 162,610 people arrested, over half were just given a ‘cannabis warning’, which does not lead to a criminal record. Only 22,748 cases, just over one in eight, ended up going to court. Are tougher, deterrent-style punishments the key to bringing down that figure of 2.2 million users, which is already said to be falling gradually?
There is also a fierce moral debate over drugs: libertarians say that it is not for the state to dictate what people put into their own bodies, while others insist we must prevent humans from carelessly wasting their precious mental faculties by taking mind-altering drugs.
The world is slowly but surely starting to accept that completely banning cannabis is a bad idea. Many are pleased about this: it makes no sense, they say, to keep a drug that causes far fewer deaths than alcohol and tobacco illegal. And the added bonus of £900 million is just yet another reason why cannabis should be decriminalised.
‘Why does everything have to be about money?’ reply advocates of anti-cannabis laws. The question is not ‘how much does banning cannabis cost?’ It is ‘is it worth it?’ And if it stops people from descending into traumatic mental illness then it most certainly is. Once cannabis has been legalised, we will not be able to ban it again. We should be very reluctant to unleash another dangerous drug further into our society.
- Should cannabis be legalised?
- Who are more to blame for high levels of drug-taking: the users or the dealers?
- Imagine a day where everyone in the country is high on cannabis. Write an account of your day.
- Design a poster either supporting or opposing cannabis legalisation.
Some People Say...
“Ban cannabis, and while you’re at it, ban alcohol and tobacco too.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- I don’t smoke cannabis anyway — why does this affect me?
- Good — don’t be tempted to start because you may find it hard to stop. But around two in every five 15-year-olds in Britain have tried cannabis with around one in ten being regular takers — the highest rate in Europe. And if someone you know takes cannabis you will be affected if they become ill thanks to taking the drug.
- If cannabis is legalised would it be more widely used?
- This is the key question. Some say it’s unrealistic to expect a drop in its use; but supporters of legalisation point to the example of Portugal, where all drugs were decriminalised in 2001, and which now has the second lowest drug-related death-rate in the European Union.
- The gap between what a government spends and what it gets in income, mainly from taxes.
- The Treasury, or the Exchequer, is the British government department responsible for public finance policy and economic policy. Its head is George Osborne — the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
- A mental disorder involving the breakdown between thought, emotion and behaviour, leading to a difficulty in working out what is real and what is not, in short fantasy and delusion.
- As British society became more liberal and permissive during the 1960s, so cannabis use became more common. The 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act was the crucial moment when cannabis was separated legally from supposedly more dangerous drugs like cocaine and heroin.
- Far fewer deaths than alcohol and tobacco
- In 2013 in the UK there were 8,416 alcohol-related deaths and around 100,000 tobacco-related deaths. These figures come from the ONS and ASH. In relation to use of illegal drugs like cannabis, as DrugScope put it, available information gives ‘a patchy and incomplete picture’.