March 24, 2019

When it comes to drug policy, for once UK politicians should look to Trump

Given the whirlwind of foreign policy decisions and domestic policy scandals dominating the UK this week, youd be forgiven for missing some extremely progressive news to come out of the US.

While President Trump is rarely credited for his progressive stances on social issues or civil liberties, lo and behold! He is tackling the War on Drugs in one of the most meaningful ways to date.

Late last week, it was revealed that Trump is working on legislation that would “unambiguously allow states to pursue (marijuana) legalisation without worrying about a federal crackdown”. If implemented, this would be a dramatic shift away from how previous administrations – and indeed Trumps own White House – have handled state-based policy on drug reform throughout the years.

Read more: We got a job picking weed in California's booming cannabis industry

Inconsistencies between federal and state law have long been entrenched in the cannabis debate. Despite the Obama administrations promise to “deprioritise most marijuana-related prosecutions” in states where it was made legal, such rhetoric often failed to line up with action.

According to The Nation, raids on growers and sellers actually increased after Obamas inauguration. In June 2013, Americans for Safe Access issued a report, which “calculated that the Obama administration had spent $300m interfering with state medical marijuana laws in the last four and a half years, outspending the Bush administration (both terms) by $100m”.

The situation was feared to worsen early this year, when Trumps attorney general Jeff Sessions overturned the Obama administrations (theoretical) policy of not interfering with marijuana production where it was made legal by state law.

Trumps intervention should help to resolve issues of legal clarity, but more importantly, it is a signal that the federal government may be moving away from its failed drug policy.

The drugs war has given an unnecessarily large number of people a criminal record, despite often being of no threat to society. According to the ACLU, “marijuana arrests now account for over half of all drug arrests in the United States”. Of these arrests, the large majority are for mere possession – not for any attempt to sell or engage in violent behaviour related to the drugs trade.

Even more depressingly, black Americans are nearly four times as likely to be cuffed for cannabis-related crime than white Americans, despite roughly equal rates of usage.

Meanwhile, the evidence coming out of states that have legalised recreational marijuana already is overwhelmingly positive.

In Colorado, teenage use has fallen to its lowest level since 2007/2008. And its not simply marijuana use thats on the decline – since legalisation in 2012, the use of alcohol, tobacco and heroin amongst teenagers has dramatically reduced as well.

Trump is right to look to the evidence, and follow a path that puts public safety at the heart of the drugs debate, while tackling systematic discrimination simultaneously.

The UK is falling behind countries like the US and Canada on this crucial issue. The home secretarys “serious violence strategy” will never fully succeed if it continues to omit drug reform from the agenda.

Youll rarely hear this from me, but this time, its indisputable: British policymakers should look to Trump, and follow suit.

Read more: Its high time archaic cannabis prohibition went up in smoke

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