House Of Commons Narrowly Defeats Norman Lamb Bill For Legalisation And Regulation of Cannabis As Labour Whips MPs To Abstain

Politics

MPs blocked by a narrow margin an attempt by Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb to bring in a Bill on legalising and regulating cannabis on Tuesday, by 66 votes to 52.

The vote was to bring in a Bill that would later progress to a vote on changing the law, not to change the law itself at this stage. Led by Steve Double MP, who called for a ramping up of the “war on cannabis”, the vast majority of those opposed were, predictably, Tory MPs – but seven Labour MPs, one SNP MP and, of course, several DUP MPs helped tip the balance in their favour.

In fact, according to Transform’s Steve Rolles, Labour shamefully whipped its MPs to abstain. Eight Labour MPs rebelled to vote in favour. (Scroll to the end for the list of MPs who voted.)

Lamb moved “that leave be given to bring in a Bill to legalise the possession and consumption of cannabis; to provide for the regulation of the production, distribution and sale of cannabis; and for connected purposes.”

Lamb, North Norfolk MP and a former health minister, told the House of three of his constituents who had been forced to break the law in order to treat conditions that could only be helped by by using cannabis, including one who has fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis and IBS.

“He had been prescribed Fentanyl, which we know is highly addictive and potentially fatal,” said Lamb. “He stopped taking it out of fear of the consequences. Cannabis offers him essential pain relief, but he has no option but to buy it illegally. He knows that, at any time, he could face arrest and prosecution. Following the Government’s reforms allowing for the prescribing of cannabis-based products for medicinal use, he went to see his GP to get a prescription. He was told that they – the GPs – were all under instructions not to refer patients to the pain clinic because there is no evidence of therapeutic value. Yet something as dangerous as Fentanyl remains available.”

Lamb said that the Government’s recent reforms had “raised expectations but have dashed hopes” because the approach taken is “so restrictive that the numbers who will benefit are minuscule”. He championed the approach of the likes of Chief Constable Mike Barton in Durham for having “effectively decriminalised cannabis for personal use” but said this amounted to a “postcode lottery” whereby most people lived in areas where the police were not so enlightened.

Lamb pointed out some of the key principles that have guided reform in Canada, including:

  • protecting young people by keeping cannabis out of the hands of children and youth;
  • keeping profits out of the hands of criminals; preventing people from receiving criminal records for simple cannabis possession offences, which reduces the burden on police and the justice system;
  • protecting public health and safety by strengthening the law with respect to serious offences such as selling cannabis to minors and driving under influence;
  • providing support for addiction treatment, mental health support and education programmes to inform people about the risks;
  • and access to quality-controlled cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Lamb said prohibition has worked nowhere because “cannabis is available everywhere” and that a regulated system would disempower the black market, make consumption safer and take teenagers out of harm’s way.

He added: “We still criminalise thousands of people every year, taking up precious police time that could be used to fight serious crime. Careers are blighted for using a substance that no doubt many Members on the Government Benches have used at some stage of their lives. Meanwhile, the most harmful drug of all is consumed in large quantities right here in this building. Alcohol leads to violence on our streets and behind closed doors in people’s homes. It destroys families up and down our country, yet we tax it, and the Exchequer benefits enormously from it. Is there not a dreadful hypocrisy in the fact that we allow our drug of choice, while criminalising people who use another, less dangerous drug, many for the relief of pain?

“My Bill offers a more rational alternative to this mess. With strict regulation of the growing, sale and marketing of cannabis, with an age limit of 18 for the purchase and consumption of cannabis and with clear controls over potency of what is sold in licensed outlets, we can at last start to protect children and teenagers. We can at last treat with dignity and respect all those who suffer acute pain or who have conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and epilepsy. We can end the shameful treatment of these people as criminals.

“We can at last end the extraordinary practice of handing billions of pounds every year to organised crime. We can instead start to tax the sale of cannabis, so that revenues can be used for good purpose—public health education, the NHS, schools and the police. We can start to take some of the violence and intimidation off our streets and restore order in our poorest communities, and we can free up police time to focus on serious crime. This is rational, evidence-based policy making. It is time for this country to act on the evidence and to protect children and young people from harm.”

Lamb’s bill was opposed by Steve Double, Conservative MP for St Austell and Newquay, who agreed that “something had to be done” but that that something needed to be a ramping up of the “war on cannabis”, claiming wrongly that it is a “gateway drug” to more dangerous substances and causes psychosis. He defended the 1 November law change and said it needed more time for the changes to come into effect.

Lamb said afterwards that the outcome of the vote was “depressing” and “hypocritical” but added in a tweet that this had been the closest vote on such a bill so far.

The 52 MPs who voted in favour were:

The 66 MPs who voted against were:

Write to your MP if they were opposed the Bill and demand that they vote differently next time! Sharing your personal experience can make a much bigger impact than sharing your opinion, so tell them what effect prohibition has on your life and that something needs to change!

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