There is currently a drug in widespread use in the UK that does immense harm to its users. It causes obesity; it has been linked to a wide variety of cancers, including those of the liver, oesophagus and bowel. It has been shown to be linked in heavy users to brain damage including the frontal lobes, and depression. It is linked to at least 1.2 million violent incidents a year, and sensible people avoid places where its widespread use is encouraged, especially at night. That drug is alcohol, which in 2014 was worth £46 billion to the UK economy, contributed 2.5% of GDP, and gave a much needed tax yield of £10.7 billion.**
Britain now faces an immense economic problem as a result of the Covid-19 epidemic. So why not legalise and tax the common drug marijuana in order to pay for it? It is an idea that at first seems to belong to the wilder shores of Guardian– reading Liberals and Lefties, many of whom inhabit the London Borough of Islington. Yet now we find the idea seriously proposed by the impeccably right-wing Adam Smith Institute. Of their Conservative credentials, there can be no doubt- low taxes, privatise the NHS, abolish planning restrictions and bureaucracy, end all capital gains and corporation tax, and so on. They were a big part in the ideological push around the rise of Mrs Margaret Thatcher , and contributed to many of the policy studies in her administrations. Not the stuff of socialist revolutionaries. If they believe anything, they see the free individual as central to a productive economy, and are prepared to accept a little inequality as a necessary price.
And so to their Big Idea. We at LSS are open to all ideas from left, right, centre, provided they are backed by reasonable facts, and are couched in civilised language. And this report, by Daniel Pryor and Liz McCulloch, is also quire clearly written, another factor which runs it up the LSS flagpole.
Dan and Liz’s central assumption is that the Free Market will ultimately produce the optimal social outcome, if left to itself by Governments. So Prohibition laws, and meddling by state officials are counterproductive-they only produce black markets, poor product quality, and rampant criminality.
Advertising and branding of cannabis, as for alcohol, would solve all of the above problems, especially if supply was through reputable outlets-perhaps high street pharmacists like Boots, or on mobile apps. They estimate that a multibillion economy could be created in the UK, perhaps reducing our aching budget deficit by £1.25 billion per year. In the US State of Colorado alone, a legal cannabis industry created 18000 jobs, a market of $2.39 billion and tax revenues close to $1 billion. Thus, they suggest a tax scale for the UK, with stronger varieties such as “skunk”, being taxed more heavily.
For those worried about the social consequences, they point out that statistics on road traffic accidents and that cannabis is a gateway drug, are at best mixed. They even suggest that cannabis legalisation could help reduce the opioid epidemic that is currently sweeping through poorer communities in the USA.
Now we at LSS are well aware of the health risks of cannabis. Without going into too much detail, there is at least a 10% risk of addiction. There seem to be mental problems for even mild users, such as sleeping difficulties, irritability and nervous disorders. We have seen good evidence that heavy users are at risk of psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia*. And if you smoke it, you are instantly exposed to the same risks as nicotine addicts with their habit-lung cancer being the obvious one. In fact, we would counsel anyone not to use it.
But Cannabis is “out there”, as they say. So is alcohol. So are high risk sports. So is crossing the road. The authors make a reasonable case, and we present it to you as such, to make your own mind up.
#taxcannabis #legalisecannabis #adamsmithinstitute #freemarkets