One of the many things that is wrong with British society is its collective ignorance of the harmfulness of drugs. Don’t get me wrong there are many drugs that are very harmful to individuals and wider society but one that definitely does not fall into this category is marijuana. Not only is marijuana not as harmful as other drugs, it isn’t as harmful as tobacco or alcohol, and since marijuana’s reclassification as a Class B drug in 2009 possession of this substance can carry a prison sentence of five years. This not only makes no logical sense, it makes no political sense, and makes no financial sense.
In the last few weeks a study from the University of Essex was released which showed that through a combination of savings to the criminal justice system as well as new stream of revenue from tobacco-style taxes, the legalisation of marijuana would make the Treasury around £500 million better off. The report was actually commissioned by then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg ahead of the UK General election in May in order to help formulate the Lib Dems’ drugs policy if they were still in government. Although Mr Clegg’s hopes of electoral survival were dashed, the report itself further underlines the financial case for the legalisation of cannabis in these two ways. However I believe the benefits to the Treasury would be much greater through one simple regulation: all marijuana sold in the Britain must be grown in Britain. By having this simple regulation jobs would be created and additional income tax, VAT and corporation taxes would also come flowing into the Treasury.
The thing about cannabis legalisation is that we have many case studies for what happens when prohibition is lifted. In Colorado, which fully legalised the recreational use of cannabis in 2014, the financial consequences have been better than expected. The Colorado State Constitution limits the amount of money the state can take in in tax revenues before it is obligated to give the people of that state a tax rebate. In the first year of its legalisation $58 million of taxes have gone to the state government, much of which will be spent on health and education, but due to this clause in the state constitution around $25 million will be returned to tax payers next year.
Not only has the state brought in millions of dollars for programmes such as school bullying prevention, school construction projects as well as funding for the Colorado State Fair, the people are also sharing in the benefits of the industry. Obviously Britain doesn’t have to put the same requirement to provide a tax rebate but if it did I am sure that more people would be open to the idea of cannabis legalisation.
There is also an ideological and political angle that can be exploited for the party who puts legalisation into their platform. For example the Conservative Party can claim that they are supporting the right of the individual and scaling back the size of the state, and the Labour Party can use the economic arguments to reclaim its perceived lack of economic credibility. By incorporating the legalisation and taxation of cannabis into Labour’s platform, they would steal votes from the Greens and the Lib Dems particularly from students who on many social issues are more libertarian.
To conclude the financial case for legalising marijuana has become almost overwhelming and I have deliberately left out the jobs created by the inevitable rise in Doritos sales. As well as the economic case, support for the policy, in political terms, could easily be justified as legalisation, when masked in either parties’ political messaging, would garner popular support.