In October last year, a Populus poll found that two in three people support full cannabis legalisation, highlighting just how far we have come on the issue of prohibition. But, let me be clear, no one is talking about promoting, increasing, or helping the overall intake of cannabis – it’s quite high enough already.

The point behind legalisation is that there is a better way than outright prohibition to stop the damage that drugs, in this instance cannabis, can cause. Societies have been consuming drugs one way or another for thousands of years and politicians on the safe and convenient “just say no” moral high ground aren’t going to suddenly stop them.

As we have seen over the last 50 years, a criminal supply chain pocketing millions of pounds, enslaving our children into drug gangs, and producing dangerous products – both too strong and probably contaminated with dangerous chemicals and metals – will always be ready to meet demand.

Prohibition does serious harm to our society. During 2016-17,  the proportion of UK killings where the victim or suspect was known to be using or dealing drugs reached 75 per cent. This is despite the government’s estimate that current drug control policy  costs the taxpayer £10.7bn in policing, healthcare,  and crime each year. Indeed, drug networks responsible for forcing children to sell crack cocaine and heroin make criminals  more than £1.5bn a year, and up to half of all thefts  are committed by drug users seeking to fund their habits, costing the taxpayer £6bn per year.

Individuals across the country have already seen that there’s a better answer than outright prohibition to this depressing issue, but politicians, unfortunately, haven’t. Hopefully, one thing is about to reinforce the public’s view and make it impossible for politicians to continue stating that the current policy is working: evidence.

Two steps have recently pushed us in the right direction. First, here at home, the government recently moved to allow medicinal cannabis. This will not only give tens of thousands of MS, cancer, epilepsy, and chronic pain patients the opportunity to be relieved from their pain or have their symptoms eased, but it will create a wealth of scientific evidence demonstrating the benefits of what, until now, was a schedule 1 drug with no therapeutic value according to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001. 

Second, and perhaps more importantly, in October last year, Canada became the first G7 country to legalise cannabis. As some suggest, we can – and should – study the effects of policing in Japan and South Korea as they continue to follow the United States’ 1971 war on drugs, but what we should also be doing is analysing the wealth of evidence that is going to pour out of our sister Commonwealth nation. We should be grateful for this opportunity gifted to us by our friends and celebrate that, after decades of our leaders moralising “just say no” – a position that has been much worse than ineffective – there is finally a potential new solution is in the horizon. Canada’s courageous leadership on this will, I’m certain, produce the evidence for massive harm reduction on a global scale.  

While we wait for the new evidence from both Canada and here at home, what today’s evidence already makes clear is that our current policy is not working. People take drugs and they take them without knowing what is in them.

It is time to explore other ways through which to remove power from criminals, save lives and reduce the damage to the mental and physical health of those who choose to consume harmful drugs. Unwise their decisions may be, criminal law has made matters worse, not better.  

Take a look at the alcohol industry. In countries where it was prohibited, highly potent and unlabelled drinks were consumed at your own risk. You never knew if you were going to be blind the next day. Introduce a licensed and regulated market and potency is understood and the product is safe – in other words, you have reduced harm.

To those arguing that society will pursue stronger and stronger strengths, I would say that I haven’t seen the UK population particularly rushing to drown themselves in absinth and stronger products. Indeed, today’s young adults seem to be significantly more responsible than my generation was at their age.

To those concerned about usage, look at tobacco. Cannabis use is already high and it is already easier for our children to buy than alcohol – no drug dealer asks for ID. We smell it on our streets and cities every day. No one is arguing that cannabis is completely harmless, although no one has ever died from a cannabis overdose, which is more than can be said for alcohol, tobacco, or even paracetamol.

If we regulate it, instead of leaving it to criminal gangs who organise our streets into territories, we could learn from the highly successful policies in tobacco which have led to a strong reduction in its usage through regulation. This would meet the aims of both the naysayers and those calling for change. And while overregulation can recreate black markets, that is within our gift.

There is a better way to manage our drugs policy than our current approach, and these last few months have seen the beginning of one of the most exciting social experiments in half a century. I eagerly await the evidence from our Canadian friends.

Written by Crispin Blunt

Crispin Blunt is a Conservative MP. He has served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Youth Justice and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.