From top: price comparisons between Dublin and Denver,Colorado where cannabis use has been legalised; Niall Neligan
Niall Neligan writes:
Today, the 20th of April marks an unusual date in the international calendar when cannabis activists across the world celebrate “4/20” or International Cannabis Day.
Last year approximately USD $1.5 Billion worth of medicinal and recreational cannabis was sold lawfully in Colorado.
Cumulatively, that amounts to almost USD $4.5 Billion in legal sales since regulation commenced on 1st January 2014. However, it is the tax revenue from sales which has captured the attention of state houses throughout the U.S. and beyond.
Since regulation commenced, Colorado has generated $683 million in additional revenue, with last year’s total amounting to USD $247 million, the majority of which is earmarked for public school funding.
Additionally, there are now approximately 18,500 people working either directly or indirectly in the legal cannabis sector in that state.
Another interesting point is that the price of a gramme of cannabis in the regulated states has been declining over the last eighteen months and the purchase price in Denver now averages about $7.79, which is in stark contrast to the $21.63 (€17.50) which a gramme commands on the illicit market in Dublin.
Whatever way you look at it; the sliding price has had the added bonus of pushing the criminal gangs out of the cannabis market in Colorado as the margins are no longer viable there.
The data from Colorado paints a rather bleak picture of just how much prohibition is costing Ireland not just in terms of revenue but also the day to day costs of prohibition in terms of prosecutions, Garda manpower hours, and court time.
The actual size of Ireland’s illicit market in cannabis is anyone’s guess; estimates range from €700 million to €1 Billion. Statistics from the CSO tells us that there were approximately 16,880 controlled drug offences in 2017.
Some 56 percent of those were prosecutions for possession of cannabis for personal use only under Section 3 of the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977-2017.
To put this in plain language, the majority of drug prosecutions are of individuals who possess cannabis for personal use. In a regulated market, that figure would dramatically drop saving the state a considerable amount of money.
Furthermore, the cost of prohibition would be reversed into a tax positive as revenues from regulated sales would accrue to the state.
Within the next few years, several European states such as the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and Germany are likely to introduce regulation for adult use. The question is, what impact will this process of regulation have on the Irish government?
The Irish State regrettably has a dubious reputation for being an outlier for social conservatism when common sense dictates otherwise.
Given the sea-changes happening elsewhere, the government cannot afford to stand still as other states join The Green Rush and reap the enormous economic benefits that accrues from regulation.
The solution is for the Government to introduce a comprehensive piece of legislation which regulates cannabis for both medical and adult use.
To arrive at that point the government must accept that prohibition of cannabis has failed.
Rather than reducing the supply of cannabis, supply has increased under the prohibition regime and demand has not abated. Put simply, the illicit market in cannabis exists because of prohibition.
No drug has ever been made safer in the hands of criminal gangs or unregulated amateur growers. By ending prohibition, and implementing a strict regulatory framework, the state will at least offer some protection to those adults who choose to use cannabis and more importantly to those who are self-medicating out of illness and relying on illicit cannabis obtained from the black market.
Regulation will transition the current unregulated and illicit market estimated to be worth approximate €1Billion per annum into a regulated market.
If properly done, a regulated market could generate as much as €300 million in additional revenue for the state each year and create 15,000 new jobs by 2025.
Additionally, regulation would have enormous social benefits, firstly it would take cannabis out of the hands of criminal gangs and amateur growers.
Secondly, it would afford greater protection to children and adolescents who experiment with cannabis. In the illicit and unregulated market, there are no protections.
Under prohibition, an adolescent doesn’t require an ID to buy cannabis, all he or she needs to know is where to buy it and when. Regulation on the other hand provides those protections by limiting access in a way that prohibition has failed to do.
In the unregulated illicit market which currently exists, there are no health warnings on packaging, no content controls, no limitations placed on purchasing and no safety guidelines on growing. Regulation would change that for the better as Colorado has proved.
Therefore, the time has come for the Government to do the right thing and initiate a Regulation of Cannabis (Medicinal & Adult Use) Bill. Incrementalism only delays the inevitable; delay now has a measured cost. Sensible regulation works, nonsensical prohibition does not.
Only comprehensive legislation and well-considered regulatory rules will change that, and change it for the better.
Today is as good as any day to remind them that change is in the air and on the streets across the world, as ‘cannabactivists’ mark 4/20 like never before.
Niall Neligan is a Barrister and Lecturer in Criminal Law at the Dublin Institute of Technology. His research field is Drug Policy Regulation and Law Reform.
Earlier: Happy 420 To One And All