When it comes to marijuana use, the federal government has at least one thing in common with its counterpart in the UK: an unwillingness to decriminalize it. However, a new proposal being considered for the city of London takes a less aggressive approach toward people caught with small amounts of marijuana in their possession. The proposal would never fly here in the States.
According to Filter magazine’s Kiran Sidhu, London mayor Sadiq Khan wants to test a pilot program in thirty-two of the city’s boroughs. The program would divert marijuana offenders to counseling and drug education classes rather than punishing them under the law. Neither of the UK’s two primary political parties support the proposal.
In fact, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made it abundantly clear that he supports continuing to aggressively pursue all drug crimes, including those involving small amounts of marijuana. His counterpart in the opposing Labour Party is more open to Khan’s plan, but still does not want to see marijuana decriminalized.
Diversion Is an Admission
Attempting to implement the London plan in the States would be met with an avalanche of criticism. It boils down to the simple fact that diversion is an admission to something wrong. Looking at it another way, why would a diversion program be necessary if using marijuana were legally and ethically okay?
By suggesting that minor offenders be diverted to counseling and education classes, the mayor is acquiescing to the idea that using marijuana is a bad thing. It may be a moral issue to him. It may be a health issue. Who knows? Either way, creating a diversion program only reduces strain on the legal system. It does not make marijuana consumption okay.
Times Have Certainly Changed
Regardless of what happens in London, we all must admit that times have certainly changed. Here in the States, marijuana has been a Schedule I controlled substance since the 1970s. It has been in illicit drug with a built-in negative stigma that has been hard to shake. Yet where are we now?
To date, thirty-seven states have approved medical cannabis programs. Several more are likely to do so this year. Meanwhile, eighteen states have opened the door to recreational use. It is only a matter of time before most of the medical-only states go recreational as well.
Here, we abandoned diversion programs a long time ago. We have come to the collective conclusion that completely eliminating marijuana use is an impossibility. We are now left with figuring out how to regulate it properly.
Medical and Recreational Use
Most of the states with active cannabis programs still limit its use to medical purposes. Utah is one such state. If you walked into Salt Lake City’s Beehive Farmacy, you could not purchase recreational pot. You couldn’t even get in the door without a valid medical cannabis card. Who knows if Utah will ever go recreational?
On the other hand, New York allows both medical and recreational cannabis. Their entry into the recreational market is still new enough that they do not have a legal framework in place to regulate it. So just about anyone can sell recreational marijuana right now. That is going to change in the future, but it could take a while.
Meanwhile, the UK still takes a pretty hard line against cannabis. London’s mayor wants to change the way marijuana offenders are dealt with, sending them through a diversion program rather than prosecuting them. That may seem like a noble thing to you. Then again, it might not. Either way, the policy would not fly here in the U.S.