London Mayor Sadiq Khan wants to examine the benefits of cannabis decriminalisation. But how much power does he have to change the law? Report Vice
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said he will establish a commission to examine the benefits of decriminalising cannabis if he is re-elected on the 6th of May. However, as drug policy experts have pointed out: a commission is one thing, actually acting on the commission’s conclusions is another.
So how exactly could Khan influence the legal status of cannabis?
While the London mayor cannot introduce new laws, if re-elected he could instruct the Metropolitan Police to no longer arrest people for cannabis possession.
“The mayor’s office […] can inform policing policy and could de-facto decriminalise personal drug possession, directing the Met to reduce policing of low-level drug offences,” Niamh Eastwood, director of drug information charity Release, told VICE World News. “This may sound counterintuitive, but after a year of not policing and prosecuting drug possession offences and other low-level offending, Baltimore in the US has experienced a drop in violent crime.”
Five police forces across the UK – including West Midlands and Thames Valley – have already introduced “diversion schemes”, whereby people caught with small amounts of any drug, including crack and heroin, are referred to treatment or given harm reduction advice, rather than being criminalised.
Importantly, though, these moves were led by the forces themselves, not an outside influence. In September of 2020, the Independent Office for Police Conduct told the Met that they should no longer stop and search someone just because an officer smells cannabis in their vicinity, but the justification is still used, prompting scepticism over whether the Met would adopt the diversion scheme model if it was mandated by the mayor.