A high-profile politician from the U.K.’s governing Conservative party has said that the “war on drugs” has failed when it comes to marijuana, and suggested that the government look at options for legalizing it.
William Hague, a former leader of the Tories who now sits in the U.K.’s House of Lords, wrote for The Daily Telegraph Tuesday that the current law is “inappropriate, ineffective and utterly out of date.” In the U.K., marijuana and cannabinoids such as THC are illegal and listed as Class B drugs, meaning that possession is punishable by up to five years in prison and dealing by up to 14 years.
However, the law has been the focus of much debate in recent weeks after Billy Caldwell, a 12-year-old boy with severe epilepsy, had his cannabis oil medication confiscated at a London airport. He was later hospitalized in what his mother described as a “life-threatening condition” and her public plea for the return of the oil to prevent his seizures resulted in the U.K. Home Office granting a 20-day license for its use.
The case gained media attention from advocates of drug reform, who say the U.K.’s drug laws are too strict, making even medical use of cannabinoids illegal.
In his column, Hague refers to the case, calling it “beyond ridiculous” that border guards had confiscated Caldwell’s medication when they have many other crimes to police, and says that it proves that the “war on cannabis” has been lost.
He argues for politicians in his party to look at a change in the law, even suggesting following Canada’s lead and legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes as well as medical use.
However, the government appears not to have heeded his call, with Home Secretary Sajid Javid announcing a review into potential medical benefits of marijuana, but saying that there will be no reclassification or legalization for recreational use. Announcing the review to the House of Commons, he said it would there was “strong, scientific evidence that cannabis is a drug which can harm people’s mental and physical health, and damage communities.”
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May told The Times of London on Tuesday, “The harmful effects of cannabis are well known and there are no plans to legalize it.”
Hague’s arguments may be familiar to drug legalization advocates elsewhere – he argues that regulating the sale of marijuana will take money out of the hands of criminals and instead provide another form of taxation. He also points to the ease with which marijuana is available even when illegal, and highlights other countries that have chosen to make medical-grade marijuana available, including much of the United States, where medical marijuana has been legal in California for over 20 years.
In the U.K., it’s usually parties on the left that call for loosening drug laws, and it is unusual for members of the Conservative party to express a wish to relax laws. Hague’s article prompted responses in support from several in other parties, including former Labour leader Ed Miliband, and several members of the Liberal Democrats, who have called for the legalization of cannabis for several years.