The UK’s deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, stated in February of 2014 that the UK should move on from its blanket anti-drug policy. With some US states earning millions in tax revenue from the sale of cannabis, some UK legislatures are wondering whether allowing the sale of some drugs could spur their own economy. Legislators don’t have to look far to find a proven model with which to experiment.
The Ol’ Cannabis Cafe
Amsterdam—and the Netherlands as a whole—has a rich historical relationship with soft drugs. Officially illegal, cannabis consumption is nevertheless tolerated in licensed cannabis coffee shops. The city of Amsterdam in particular enjoys a strong stream of income from “drug tourism.” In 2012, the city sold cannabis products to approximately 1 million foreigners. That same year, the city’s mayor Eberhard Van der Laan rejected a proposed ordinance that would make it illegal for shops to sell cannabis products to foreigners, citing fears that crime rates would increase.
Marijuana coffee shops in the Netherlands were established in the 1970s in an effort to segregate soft and hard drug usage. Interestingly, these shops are not allowed to serve alcohol, though many in central Amsterdam do so without consequence. Of the 443 municipalities in the Netherlands, 105 have coffee shops that offer marijuana products. Most Dutch coffee shops serve products with no higher than 15% THC. These establishments are not allowed to advertise, nor can they sell products that contain more than 5 grams of cannabis.
Britain’s First Cannabis Coffee Shop Proposed
In the wake of Colorado’s success in generating over $2 million in taxes from the sale of recreational marijuana in January of 2014, Green Party Councillor Ian Driver has proposed that the UK reevaluate its views on soft drugs. Specifically, the Green Party leader intends to open a cannabis-friendly cafe in the city of Kent. Like those in the Netherlands, UK residents over the age of 18 could smoke or consume cannabis on the premises without fear of interference from police. Councillors from other cities, such as Thanet, also support the idea, stressing that recreational cannabis users should have a place where they can congregate in public, just as alcohol consumers do.
Steve Rolles, Policy Analyst for the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, believes that the UK government should take things a step further and outright legalize the drug for recreational use. He believes that a “strict and sensible framework” should be in place that would allow recreational users to purchase the drug legally and allow UK municipalities to profit from cannabis sales. Mr. Rolles points out that without such a framework, police will likely continue blocking efforts to allow marijuana use in cafes, as they did in Manchester in 2013.
Kent police have already made known their resistance to the idea of a cannabis cafe anywhere in the UK, outright refusing to discuss the issue. To be sure, the proposed cafe sends a mixed signal to law enforcement. Marijuana use would remain illegal in the country. Mr. Rolles argues, however, that while a cannabis cafe is a short-term measure, it would at least open the issue up for debate and force authorities to face the fact that most UK citizens support the legalization of cannabis. Mr. Rolles stressed the importance of police cooperation, however, stating that without complete cooperation, the initiative would most certainly fail.
On the other hand, Mr. Rolles states that there exist cafes in the UK that do sell marijuana products on a regular basis, and these operations “fly under the radar” and have the support of local police. Unfortunately, because these establishments aren’t licensed, even supportive police are forced to shut them down if they gain any media coverage. The UK and the US have both traditionally used simple, one-size-fits all policies with regards to drug usage. With the US exploring other options—and profiting from their efforts—perhaps it is time that the UK seriously reassess its options.