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In the News

Devolution: London to go its own way on drugs?

Mike McCartney

6th April 2021

Reports today that the current London Mayor is likely to set up a new commission on drugs policy

One of the advantages of devolution is that sub-national governing policies can be innovate and experimental with public policy and these can then serve as a template for other regions in the UK. This parallels with what an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the USA is reported tp have said about the advantages of federalism in that states are "the laboratories of democracy".

On a related point, it is much more efficient to have the regions concerned with policy delivery involved in the formulation of policy, and I used to say that evidence from the Celtic arenas suggests that there are clear benefits to bringing the government closer to the people since policies can be designed to fit the needs of the people in different regions. Scotland was the first place to introduce the smoking ban, and also a lower drink driving limit, and we can point to the success of the Wales first single use plastic bag charge as examples of policies that have been rolled out in the whole of the rest of the UK. Some policies have been introduced in parts of the UK that are only replicated in some parts, such as the minimum unit price for alcohol (Scotland, and then Wales). Some policies have only been copied to an extent, however, and laboratory idea is somewhat stymied. For instance Scotland in November 2020 became the first country in the world to legislate to end period poverty, and while some students in schools and colleges in England can also gain access to free sanitary products, the policy south of the border does not have the same reach. But who is to say what will happen in the near future on this issue? Now, to add to the examples of policy successes from outside England, I would add many of the successes in policy experimentation within the English regions as examples of "the laboratories of democracy".

Here we can point to the success of the London Mayor, where Ken Livingstone’s decision to introduce the congestion charge proves that the mayor idea can bring about innovative solutions to problems that extend beyond traditional local government boundaries. Plus, although early days, we can also shine a torch on the success Andy Burnham has had as Mayor of Greater Manchester and his plans to be the first part of the UK to renationalise the bus services in the region.

So this brings us to the third incumbent of the elected Mayor of London role.

As it is reported in today's paper:

"The mayor of London is to launch a review examining the feasibility of decriminalising cannabis as part of a new approach to tackling drug-related crime.

Should he be re-elected on 6 May, Sadiq Khan said he would set up an independent London drugs commission to examine the potential health, economic and criminal justice benefits of decriminalising the class-B drug."

As I've written many times on this blog channel the A Level Politics syllabus is not an issues paper, and this is not, therefore, an avenue to go on and discuss the merits of such a policy.

The point is that Londoners do seem to far more in favour of relaxing current laws than do the rest of the country. As the same paper reports:

"The Survation survey cited by the mayor’s office, published in July 2019, found that 63% of London residents backed the legalisation and regulation of cannabis, while just 19% opposed the idea. Across the UK as a whole, 47% backed legalisation, with 30% against."

And it is irrelevant here whether or not Khan is in favour of sweeping changes, because the fact is (and this should be obvious) the power to change drugs laws in the nation's capital are not within his compass, i.e. they are not a devolved power. Instead, what Khan can do, and seems intent on doing, is to use the platform as Mayor of London to drive the debate on the issue.

Watch this space...

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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