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Sadiq Khan’s pledge to decriminalise cannabis will have to overcome the Boris Johnson curve

By Monica Athnasious

Jan 4, 2022

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In an exclusive report by The Telegraph, it was announced that London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan is set to begin the decriminalisation of Class B drugs in some select boroughs of the city—with the pilot scheme due to be released this month. The new plan aims to put an end to the mass prosecution of young people caught with drugs like cannabis, ketamine or speed. The select boroughs a part of this new drive are Lewisham, Bexley and Greenwich. So, how will this work?

While the possession of such drugs will still remain illegal, the Metropolitan Police will no longer have its officers push drug-related charges against those caught in the above south London boroughs. Instead of being arrested, the pilot scheme will offer those under the age of 25 a process described as “diversion” as well as being taken back to their family homes rather than into police custody.

The “diversion” method will additionally provide young people with courses focused on educating them on the dangers that come with drug use—much like those offered to speeding motorists. It seems like the latest push away from police intervention towards a more community-based approach to drug prosecutions. Those who may find themselves in such a rehabilitation process will be surrounded by youth workers rather than police officers—with the option of counselling available if needed.

For many, this is a positive sign on the road to real reforms in how certain crimes are treated. As The Telegraph noted, “Between 2016 and 2020, nine in ten drug proceedings brought against young people in Lewisham were for cannabis possession, while young black men in the borough were 2.4 times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs in the same period.” Such tactics proposed by Khan could improve the lives of black communities disproportionately affected by police intervention.

However, it seems not everyone agrees as the mayor will likely face resistance from both the Boris Johnson-led Conservative government as well as his own party’s leadership. Sir Keir Starmer—Labour’s Leader—has cited his experience as a prosecutor for his opposition to relaxing drug laws and following Scotland’s own drug decriminalising scheme, does not believe the same should occur in England.

Khan’s direction is also, of course, at odds with the rhetorics displayed by the government as the Prime Minister pledged a crackdown on ‘country lines’ drug operations in early December 2021—even going as far as to claim that those caught in possession of Class A substances could have their passports removed.

Boris Johnson has previously stated, “Drugs are a scourge on our society, fuelling violence on our streets which communities across the country are forced to endure. That’s why, to cut crime and truly level up across the country, we must step up efforts to wipe out the vile country lines gangs who are blighting our neighbourhoods, exploiting children and ruining lives.” The Prime Minister also added that, ”those who break the law will have nowhere to hide”—ironic considering how his comments came after the infamous report by The Sunday Times that found several lavatories in Parliament showed signs of cocaine use.