How the misery of COVID-19 helped legalise cannabis (history doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes)
During the late twentieth and early twenty first century cannabis legalisation looked a long way off. Then the economy collapsed and ‘cannabis criminalisation’ crumbled along with it.
Disenchantment with the war on drugs, and In particular cannabis criminalisation, had been building almost from the moment it took effect in 1928. Those around the country continued to use the plant, including the famous John Lennon of the Beatles who was charged with possession in 1968. Dealers became rich off the profits of illegal cannabis sales which funded criminal gangs across the country. But it wasn’t until the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 and following recession that the legalisation movement truly gained steam.
“The recession had a huge impact. We got the recession because of an emergency, the emergency being COVID-19, and we got legalisation because of another emergency, the recession.”
By arguing that the country needed the jobs and tax revenue that legalisation would provide, cannabis activists succeeded in recruiting noted public figures to their cause. As the economy crumbled, legalisation took hold.
Medical cannabis consumption had become the norm in other parts of the western world, where doctors were prescribing the plant for a host of different ailments. Furthermore, on the recreational use of the plant, just about anyone who wanted to purchase could do so easily through their local dealer or even online.
Even politicians who had failed to make any movement towards legalisation, David Cameron for example, admitted to smoking cannabis whilst studying at Eton College. A full list of politician who had used the plant prior to legalisation can be found here.
Though these powerful politicians had smoked with impunity, enforcement could be strict for the masses, particularly once the stop and search power was introduced in 1984. The prisons became overran with over 12,500 imprisoned for non violet drug charges.
Yet even as criminalisation of cannabis’s unintended consequences became progressively harder to ignore, nobody anticipated its quick demise.
With recession in full swing, over 3.5m lost their jobs and with that, income tax collection had dropped abruptly. The government was desperate for revenue and that left the cannabis activists with a powerful jobs and taxes argument at their disposal. California, with half the population of the UK and one of the first states to legalise for recreation use in 2018, showed impressive tax returns in its first 2 years of legalisation of over $1b. It also employed 67,000 workers into the industry. Those formerly against legalisation, converted to the cause.
The prime minster (now a convert), garnered the support of other notable MPs and put forward the ‘Cannabis Act’. The rest, as they say, was history…