Recently, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagard, came out in hives of praise for David Cameron and George Osborne after 2014 saw the British economy grow by 2.6%. This unexpected growth coupled with decreasing unemployment, Lagard claimed, meant that the UK should be held up as a model for Europe, a bastion of austerity politics; just in time to shut up those pesky Greeks.
However, as many have already pointed out, these figures have been a little massaged. Unemployment has gone down sure, but the number of zero-hour contracts has gone up; the economy is growing yes, but so is the national debt. And for all their smug campaigning in the build up to May’s election the Conservatives are still advocating budget cuts and deficit reduction left, right and centre.
Looking into the stats it becomes clear that Lagard and Cameron may not have that much to be smug about. There are still nearly a million people reliant on food banks, social housing is still in crisis and the papers are packed with headline after headline about the crumbling state of the NHS.
The human cost of this economic growth hardly seems worth it so how about an alternative that puts people first?
I’m talking, of course, about the legalisation of cannabis. Efforts to push legislation in the UK have stalled somewhat in the past few years, and the government steadfast refuses to alter its drugs policy in any way, despite mounting evidence that prohibition does more harm than good. Yet with the wave of legislation sweeping across America and continued budget cuts on this side of the Atlantic, isn’t it time we recognized the economic and societal benefits of legal weed?
From crime reduction to issues of criminal justice reform there are many solid arguments in favour of legalisation. But as the coalition are so wedded to their idea of a business driven recovery I’ll focus on the economic basis for legal marijuana both medical and recreational.
Take for example Colorado, the first state in the US to legalise cannabis for recreational use. It’s been around a year now since legalisation and the state has reported $44m extra in taxes, $76m if you include medical sales. The industry itself made $700m, in one state. For its first year in the market that’s pretty incredible. The population of Colorado is roughly five million people, the population of the UK is more than ten times that at 64 million, it doesn’t take an economics students to work out that the market for cannabis in the UK could be incredibly lucrative.
Rounding down, if tax rates were the same as in Colorado, the UK would stand to make $400m or £260m in taxes during the first year of legal, recreational cannabis being on the market. That’s money that could be spent on schools, hospitals, roads, or any other area of government spending that faces budget cuts. Not the mention the millions of pounds more flowing into the economy.
Critics argue that legalisation promotes drug use and that the government shouldn’t make money from taxing a perceived vice, yet Cameron is perfectly happy to include drug deals and prostitution in our GDP figures so there’s clearly something of a double standard. Why is it OK for the government to use drug money to boost their growth figures but not to help people?
Drug related crime in Colorado has decreased, money for schools and hospitals has increased and fear mongering about bleary eyed smokers ruining society has been shown up as the crock of shit it always was. If Cameron is as committed to ‘small business’ and entrepreneurship as he claims to be then surely it only makes sense to heed the advice of Peter Tosh from way back in ’76 and ‘legalise it’.