Theresa May loves strong and stable leadership, and she won’t stop banging on about it. It’s her new mantra. Anything less than strong and stable is a pathetic joke to her. Presumably then, she will be willing, if not eager, to address any issues under her leadership that are not strong and stable. Let’s take a quick look at cannabis.
The message on cannabis is that you shouldn’t use it because using it is wrong. The strongest way to send this message is to mobilise our police force. Well, we could use the army if absolutely necessary, but the police will do for now. That’s right, the same people who deal with thieves, murders and rapists. How’s that for strong leadership? This is right up Theresa May’s street. If you do go ahead and use cannabis against the governments advice, then it’s out of their hands. You should have listened.
Regardless of whether you approve of this strategy, you can see how this might be perceived as strong and stable leadership to someone who wants to rebrand cannabis as can’tabis. There is, however, a problem. Nearly 30% of adults report having used cannabis at some point in their lifetime – figures from a report produced by the Home Office itself. Theresa May rubs her eyes, she can’t believe it. Something must be wrong. Why isn’t everyone cowed into submission?
Perplexed, Theresa heads home and turns on the TV to unwind. It’s a repeat episode of Room 101 with her current Foreign Secretary as a guest. He admits to having used cannabis. Wait, what? He goes on to imply most MPs have used cannabis, at which point the audience erupt with laughter. Theresa scratches her head: what are they laughing about? Shouldn’t this be a national scandal? Why is no one taking this seriously? She turns over to a different channel. One of the biggest shows on TV is on, The Big Bang Theory. All of the main characters are stoned. The scene finishes with no arrests. None of the characters lost their job. It was nothing more than a bit of light hearted cannabis comedy. This is at total odds with the strong message the government is trying to send. Fed up, Theresa decides to turn in for the night.
She wakes up nice and fresh the next morning and repeats “strong and stable” three times in the mirror before reading some news over a bowl of cereal: ‘Police won’t target pot smokers and small-scale growers, say commissioners.’ Increasingly twitchy, she continues reading: ‘Two police commissioners have said they no longer expect officers to chase people growing cannabis for personal use.’ She is dumbstruck that the police would contemplate not criminalising 30% of the population.
Even Theresa May can see that this is no longer a position of strength or stability. Society isn’t taking you seriously and the police are losing interest. Even former presidents of the United States have appeared on talk shows discussing their cannabis use, met with laughter from the audience. We are stuck in no man’s land. We are half sending a message that no one really respects anyway. The intended impact of this diluted message is minimised. Meanwhile, we are harbouring all of the negative consequences that come with an unregulated illegal drug market, and the boost that it gives to the criminal drugs trade. This is the sort of wishy washy leadership that wakes Theresa May up in a cold sweat.
No matter how strong and hard line you want the message to be, it has failed. So there are two directions a strong and stable leader can take this. Either you fully commit to the current message by doubling down on prohibition and consistently enforce more severe punishment for cannabis users in an attempt to try and reverse the global cultural shift that is taking place. Or, you can move to a controlled model of regulation, remove the harms that are associated with an illegal drug market, and send a fully committed message about the health consequences.
One thing is for sure though: there is nothing strong or stable about our current approach with cannabis, and it’s only going to get increasingly hard to pretend that there is.