AS New York becomes the 16th American state to decriminalise the use of marijuana and countries around the world are changing their approach on use of the drug, campaigners are calling for the UK to overhaul its laws - at a time when Scotland’s drugs deaths have been revealed to be the highest in the world.


What happened in New York?

The US State’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, signed a a bill at the start of the week that decriminalises the use of marijuana in the state and also expunges the records of some people convicted on cannabis-related charges.

The new bill means that the penalty for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana is a $50 fine. A person caught in possession of one to two ounces can be punished by a fine of $200.


What motivated the move there?

Targeting the black market is one reason. Cuomo also said that “Communities of colour have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana for far too long, and today we are ending this injustice once and for all.”

It follows in the wake of a raft of other states taking the same step to make cannabis legal for recreational and medical use, such as California and Hawaii, and also Washington DC.


What is happening in the UK?

The National Crime Agency has estimated the UK’s illicit cannabis market to be worth £1 billion per year - although the Institute of Economic Affairs puts it at around £2.5 billion - while around 97 per cent of cannabis traded illicitly in Britain is high-strength.

Campaigners are calling for the drug to instead be sold with cigarette-style health warnings and tax levies in a bid to deter users from purchasing the most potent strains and to crack down on the extensive black market trade. 

But drug regulation is reserved and a spokesman for the Home Office stressed it has “no intention of changing the law”.


But some politicians believe otherwise?

Conservative MP Jonathan Djanogly, LibDem MP Sir Norman Lamb and Labour MP David Lammy visited Canada, which legalised recreational cannabis sales in August 2018, to see how the law has been taking effect.

Mr Djanogly said he now believes a UK u-turn on use of the drug "will happen" within 10 to 15 years, while Sir Norman and Mr Lammy believe it could happen within even five years.


What happened in Canada?

It became the second country after Uruguay to legalise cannabis for certain uses.

Lawmakers there wanted to curb illicit use amongst teenagers - which was the highest of any G7 country - and to target the black market.

Cannabis of all strains and strengths is sold in quantities of 30g per purchase in specially-licensed dispensaries and, in some provinces, online, while buyers must be over-18, show ID and also sign for it in the case of home delivery.

Black market trade in cannabis is said to have halved since regulation came into force - but the market is dominated by large corporations.


What’s Scotland’s position?

The number of drug-related deaths in Scotland rocketed to 1,187 last year in a stark figure that means the Scots drug death rate is three times that of the UK and higher than that reported for any other EU country.

It also means Scotland has a higher rate than the one reported for the US, which was previously thought to be the highest in the world.

The Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF) has been campaigning to decriminalise the possession of all illegal drugs for personal use, while a spokesman for charity, Addaction, added that "any regulated model must put people’s health ahead of private profits.”