Aberystwyth student’s petition to legalise cannabis is to be debated in Parliament next month

NEXT month, on the 12th of October, Parliament is to debate the legalisation of cannabis, for the first time in 11 years, this comes following a campaign led by James Owen, an Economics student at Aberystwyth University.

Petr Brož

Petr Brož

James Owen launched a petition via the government’s official e-petition website to make the “production, sale, and use of cannabis legal”, which now has 216,589 signatures. Although it is not the most signed petition on the website it is the most successful of all recent petitions. The petition drew support rapidly and reached more than 125,000 signatures within 5 days of being posted in August 2015.

A petition calling the government to accept more asylum seekers and increase support to refugees attempting to get into Britain was the most signed with 430,000 signatures was not even debated in Parliament despite the overwhelming support, as it was decided that MPs already had ample time to consider this issue in the House of Commons.

In support of his campaign James Owen cites economic benefits – including saving expenditure – as strong reasons to legalise cannabis, stating that “legalising cannabis could bring in £900m in taxes every year, save £400m on policing cannabis, and create over 10,000 new jobs”. He also insists that it’s a safer drug than alcohol in terms of health effects; has many uses; and, has allegedly been used throughout history by humans.

The debate is to be led by Newport Labour MP Paul Flynn, who is well-known for his support of the reform of laws concerning cannabis – particularly in advocating its use to help seriously ill patients, highlighting diseases like MS as benefiting from the use of cannabis.

Despite the debate it will spark, many doubt the chance of a change in the law. The government’s response to the campaign leaves little to the imagination, stating that legalising cannabis “would not address the harm to individuals and communities”.

The response also highlights the issue of the message legalising cannabis would send to those who do not take drugs, singling young and vulnerable people out as potentially at risk of misuse of drugs. It goes on to say:

“Cannabis can unquestionably cause harm to individuals and society. Legalisation of cannabis would not eliminate the crime committed by the illicit trade, nor would it address the harms associated with drug dependence and the misery that this can cause to families. Despite the potential opportunity offered by legalisation to raise revenue through taxation, there would be costs in relation to administrative, compliance and law enforcement activities, as well as the wider costs of drug prevention and health services.”

James Owen is reportedly happy that it has managed to draw as much attention as it has, despite his own doubts as to whether it will change the law. Speaking to The Guardian he said:

“I’m glad that it’s got this far and can just take its process. I’d be more hopeful if Jeremy Corbyn gets the leadership of the Labour party, but it seems to me that the current government are willing to ignore the views of 200,000-plus people.

Last year Professor David Nutt – Professor of Neuropsychoparmacology at Imperial College, London – advised the Welsh Government to make its own drug policies separate from those of Westminster.