PM rebuffs Sadiq Khan's plans to look into legalising cannabis in London

6 April 2021, 15:59 | Updated: 6 April 2021, 22:35

Sources close to Sadiq Khan said he was willing to consider legalising cannabis.
Sources close to Sadiq Khan said he was willing to consider legalising cannabis. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

Downing Street has slapped down proposals from Sadiq Khan to look into legalising drugs, including cannabis, if he is re-elected London mayor on 6 May.

As part of his re-election campaign the Labour mayor has pledged to commission a group of independent experts with "fresh ideas" to look at drug use in the capital.

The London Drugs Commission would "examine the latest evidence from around the world", including on evidence of drug harm, support services and the effectiveness of current laws, the mayor says.

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Sources close to Mr Khan told The Guardian he would be willing to consider legalising cannabis, although he has ruled out decriminalising Class-A drugs like heroin and cocaine.

While the London mayor does not have the power to introduce new laws, the paper reports that Mr Khan believes a mayoral endorsement would give a boost to decriminalising cannabis, should the commission recommend it.

But Downing Street has pushed back hard on the idea, saying Boris Johnson has "absolutely no intention of legalising cannabis".

"Policy on controlled drugs is a matter for UK Government and there are no plans to devolve this responsibility," the PM's press secretary Allegra Stratton told a Westminster briefing.

"The prime minister has spoken about this on many occasion - illicit drugs destroy lives and he has absolutely no intention of legalising cannabis, which is a harmful substance."

Ms Stratton added: "Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, will know that the policy on controlled drugs is a matter for the UK Government. It's not a matter for his office."

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New York lawmakers passed legislation to legalise cannabis for over-21s last Tuesday.
New York lawmakers passed legislation to legalise cannabis for over-21s last Tuesday. Picture: PA
Recreational marijuana dispensaries have popped up on many high streets in US states where it has been legalised.
Recreational marijuana dispensaries have popped up on many high streets in US states where it has been legalised. Picture: PA

The proposal from the Labour mayor could also set him on a collision course with his own party, after leader Sir Keir Starmer stated in February that he does not support decriminalising the possession of cannabis.

However, Mr Khan's office has cited a 2019 poll from Survation which found that 63% of London residents backed the legalisation of cannabis, with just 19% opposed the idea. Across the UK, 47% backed legalisation, with 30% against.

In recent years the drug has been legalised by multiple countries, including Portugal, Canada, Uruguay and multiple US states.

Last week, New York announced a move to legalise the drug which will reportedly create a £3 billion dollar taxable industry.

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Mr Khan's closest opponent in the race to City Hall, Conservative Shaun Bailey, has said legalising cannabis would create more issues, rather than solve them.

"Cannabis is a gateway drug. Legalising it won’t fix our crime epidemic or save lives. In fact, it will compound so many of the problems we already face," Mr Bailey said.

"I've seen first-hand the misery that drugs cause. I was a youth worker for twenty years, and I know that no one ever turned their lives around while still on drugs.

"More personally, my brother suffered from addiction issues. In the end those issues took his life. Legalising cannabis would have done nothing for him.

"The mayor of London is a big role with big responsibilities. But legalising cannabis is nowhere in the remit. Sadiq Khan should focus on his actual job - not on policies he has no control over.”