In Depth

Does the UK need cannabis factories?

Cannabis legalisation could reduce unemployment, according to former justice minister

Building cannabis factories in neglected British towns could provide a solution to unemployment in deprived areas, a former Conservative justice minister has said.

Jonathan Djanogly, who served as the under-secretary of state for justice under David Cameron, pointed to towns in Canada with declining manufacturing industries, now flourishing as hubs for the cannabis industry.

Djanogly recently travelled to the North American country on a research trip to explore the possibility of legalisation in the UK. His visit is the subject of the BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat documentary Legalising Weed - Canada’s Story, broadcast yesterday. 

Canada legalised the recreational use of cannabis last October, having permitted it for medical purposes in 2001. Under the new law, an individual aged over 18 is allowed to possess up to 30 grams, own up to four cannabis plants, and buy from a licensed retailer, Djanogly writes on news site CAPX.

During his time in Canada, Djanogly visited a “post-industrial town” where a cannabis factory had opened, he told The Daily Telegraph. “[The Mayor said], ‘Look, this has provided us with jobs, and better jobs than we had before’.”

Legalising and regulating cannabis is, he continued, “easier said than done”, and regulations would need to be put in place to avoid user risk. Moreover, as he wrote on CAPX, nine months after legalisation in Canada, an estimated “60% of recreational cannabis is still sold illegally”. 

Nonetheless, Djanogly suggests that the industry could provide the UK with a solution to unemployment in northern post-industrial cities, writing that experts told him that the “teething problems” in Canada would be “ironed out over the coming years”. 

“There have been significant economic benefits to Canada, where the contribution of legal cannabis to GDP is 0.4% and rising”, he concludes in his piece for CAPX. According to forecasts by the Toronto-Dominion Bank, meanwhile, legislating cannabis may have boosted the country's economy by as much as C$8bn (£5bn), says Bloomberg.

A report from the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), cited in The Telegraph last year, noted that Britain is already the world’s largest producer of legal cannabis. In 2016, it produced 95 tonnes of marijuana for medical and scientific use, and now accounts for 44.9% of the world’s cannabis production. Canada, said the report, was the second largest producer.

Djanogly says that when it comes to the drug, British law is “out of kilter with reality”. He added that in his own constitency, he has been told, “more young people are now smoking cannabis than tobacco.”

Several UK medical bodies - including the Royal College of Physicians of London, the Faculty of Public Health, and the Royal Society for Public Health - now support decriminalisation, reports the BMJ.

Sir Norman Lamb and David Lammy also joined on the research trip, which was organised by Volteface drugs think tank, reports The Telegraph.

“I want the market legalised and regulated, taken away from criminal gangs, young people not criminalised by use and properly educated”, Parliament Member Lammy said. “But I want to see the strength of the stuff reduced, labelled and properly organised in our country.”

Liberal Democrat politician Lamb added that there is still a debate around the impacts of cannabis on users' mental health.

“I would have a cap on potency if legalised in the UK”, he said.

All three of the politicians said they expect cannabis to be legalised in the UK within the next decade, reports The Telegraph.

But “the Tories oppose legalising weed unlike Labour, which has championed legalisation for decades. The Lib Dems now also want medical and recreational cannabis legalised”, International Business Times reports.

The Home Office has repeatedly stated that it has no intention to legalise cannabis for recreational use.

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