I don’t know if Britain will ever be quite as mad for cannabis as the United States or Canada. The culture over there is just very different.
First and foremost, Brits are drinkers. Brits will go to the pub for a pint, a bit of food and a chat. Or the young ones will go out for a big night on the town.
Americans aren’t as much into that. They wouldn’t dream of bringing their family to a beer garden on a Sunday afternoon, like many an innocent British day out.
On the other hand, Americans have a much more relaxed attitude to cannabis. Americans young and old, rich and poor will keep a jar of weed in the kitchen cupboard. One in six Americans smoked it in the last year.
Cannabis in Britain isn’t like that at all. Right now, it’s not a middle class, middle aged thing. It’s for the young, and it’s seen as more of a lower-class drug. Only about one in 12 Brits smoked some in the last year.
But the question is, are things changing?
Is Britain becoming more like America? A decade from now, will middle-class middle-aged Brits keep a jar of weed in the kitchen cupboard?
I don’t know that London will ever be a full-on cannabis capital, like San Diego or Vancouver. Those are weird places.
But nonetheless, there is clear evidence Brits are getting more comfortable with cannabis. In 1983, only 12% supported legalisation for recreational purposes. By 2001 that number had risen to 41%. And in 2016 it stood at 47%.
That change in attitudes can be found among all age groups. People are changing their minds because they’ve realised cannabis isn’t very dangerous. The following is taken from The Economic and Social Research Council’s 2001 report on The Measurement of Public Attitudes Towards Legal Drugs in Britain:
“The sea-change in attitudes towards cannabis observed across all generations is likely to be linked to changing perceptions of the drug’s harmfulness, which have also relaxed in all age groups. Nearly half of the public now agree that cannabis is not as damaging as some people think, compared to a third in 1993.
“Fewer people now think that cannabis is addictive, and that it causes crime and violence. When asked which drugs are the most harmful to regular users, heroin, cocaine, tobacco and alcohol are at the top of the list; cannabis is barely mentioned. Perceptions of the damage caused by heroin use have not changed and there has actually been an increase in the proportion linking it with crime and violence. These findings help explain why views on legalising heroin have not shifted.”
Attitudes towards recreational cannabis seem to be driven by people’s views of its harmfulness. So it’s not surprising that the public’s attitude to medicinal cannabis is even more tolerant: 86% of Brits were in favour of it in when polled in 2001.
Good cynical politics
86% in favour of medicinal cannabis. That seems like a winning political issue, doesn’t it? No wonder opportunistic Tory politicians like Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, and Lord William Hague have recently come out in favour of cannabis legalisation for medicinal purposes.
For a certain type of right-wing politician, this is a perfect issue. Why? Because political parties are always trying to court the centre voter. If they’re perceived as right-wing, they want to show their soft kind side. If they’re perceived as left-wing they want to show their tough pragmatic side.
That’s why Tony Blair made a big show of being “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”; and it’s why David Cameron went big on green issues and (if you’ve a cynical view of the man) foreign aid.
Medicinal marijuana is a nice issue for the right because a) 86% of people support is anyway, so you’re not risking a lot and b) of the 14% who don’t support it, probably none would vote Labour or Lib Dem anyway.
Cannabis legalisation makes the Tories seem progressive and humane. That’s always a good place to be for a party described as “The nasty party”.
The problem with this triangulation strategy, as it’s called, is that it risks dividing one’s own party. Lots of Tories don’t like marijuana legalisation and no amount of centre-ground voters will tempt them to change their mind. Tony Blair spent years beating back the left wing of the Labour Party before he conquered the centre ground.
And the biggest obstacle to a new Tory-led change on cannabis is the Prime Minister. Theresa May would appear to be a member of the 14% — a former Home Secretary, a law and order conservative. Not the cannabis type.
What’s the angle?
But things change in politics, as in public opinion. According to Ladbrokes, Theresa May only has a 28% probability of surviving to January 2020. Lord knows who her successor might be. But if they want to win an election, medicinal cannabis is a tool they might pick up.
And public opinion is only going in one direction. Every year, the older generation of cannabis sceptics dies off. And the number in favour of full legalisation — let alone legalisation for medicinal purposes — ticks up by a half a percentage point or so.
It’s a question of when. Not if.
You’re reading Edge of the Markets, so you’re waiting for me to circle back around to one key question: what’s the play here?
How do I profit from the soon-to-be-legal, soon-to-be-huge cannabis industry?
The answer might surprise you. It involves a giant greenhouse in East Anglia. And three opportunities for you to multiply your stake many times over.