Drug Commission plan

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered at on 25 October 2022.

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Photo of Caroline Russell Caroline Russell Green

When will your Drugs Commission start work?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

As set out in my recent manifesto, I have established a London Drugs Commission to examine the effectiveness of our current drug laws with a particular focus on cannabis. I am doing this because drugs are driving violence in our city, damaging Londoners’ health, and dividing our communities. It is time for a fresh, evidence‑based look at how best we can reduce the harm that drugs like cannabis cause. The Commission will consider if there are ways to improve the current legal framework on the use of cannabis, as well as a criminal justice and public health response to drug use. What the Commission will not do is look at the classification of Class A drugs, which I am very clear must remain illegal.

Work on the Drugs Commission is underway. Lord Charlie Falconer KC, the former Lord Chancellor, was appointed in May this year [2022] to lead the Commission and is now finalising the recruitment of two Deputy Chairs and an Expert Reference Group, which will be comprised of independent experts in public health, criminal justice and drug policy. The Institute for Global City Policing, based at University College London, has been appointed as a research partner and is now gathering and reviewing existing evidence to help shape the Commission’s focus and formulate lines of enquiry to pursue with witnesses. Once the Deputy Commissioners and Expert Reference Group are appointed, a web page will be created setting out details of timescales and how the London Drugs Commission will approach gathering evidence. This will also explain how members of the public can input into the process, sharing their views and experience, which will be an important part of the Commission’s work.

When the Commission’s work has finished, it will make a series of recommendations for City Hall, the Government, police, criminal justice and public health partners, and I expect these recommendations to provide an evidence base on the complex issues surrounding cannabis use. The Government’s Drugs Strategy acknowledges the need for robust evidence to inform a national debate on how best to tackle addiction, and provide effective treatment and recovery systems across the criminal justice and public health sectors. The Commission will provide evidence from London, and I hope its findings will help inform the debate on this important issue.

Photo of Caroline Russell Caroline Russell Green

Thank you, Mr Mayor. My question was, “When will your Drugs Commission start work?” What you have done just now is you have outlined all the things that were in the press release back in May [2022], but it has not really taken us forward any further. What I am wondering is: how long do we have to wait for this Commission to actually get started? It is really urgent. People ‑ and disproportionately people who are Black ‑ are being criminalised through the current policing of cannabis.

Yesterday at the Police and Crime Committee, I was really glad that the new MPS Commissioner agreed with me about the benefits of deprioritising arresting and criminalising people for possession of cannabis. He said it is a no‑brainer, that diversion generates high victim satisfaction and lower recidivism, and I quote, he said, “If you’ve got both of those things, why wouldn’t you do it?” Mr Mayor, will you work with the MPS Commissioner to take this ‘divert’ approach forward Londonwide?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Chair, the work has begun. The research has begun. I mentioned the university involved. It has already begun gathering evidence and reviewing existing evidence from UK and several comparator jurisdictions around the world and there will be a web page published soon. The drugs diversion project is not new. It already exists, as you know, in Thames Valley, Durham, West Midlands and ‑‑

Photo of Caroline Russell Caroline Russell Green

Absolutely, Mr Mayor, and you have a new Commissioner who has an appetite for adopting that approach in this city so that Londoners can start to benefit from a more harm‑reduction approach to the policing of cannabis.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I think we are in danger, Chair, of conflating the [London] Drugs Commission with a potential pilot programme that the Member is referring to, and they are two separate issues. The pilot programme is some of the stuff we have talked about in relation to West Midlands, Durham and Thames Valley. To give Sir Mark [Rowley QPM, Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis] some credit and breathing space ‑ I mean, he only began three weeks ago ‑ he has been a bit preoccupied with other issues and you will appreciate that drug diversion is not at the fore of his mind, nor indeed mine.

Photo of Caroline Russell Caroline Russell Green

Mr Mayor, my second question was asking you to respond to what the MPS Commissioner said to me yesterday. He said yesterday, “This isn’t about being sentimental or soft, this is about evidence”, and the evidence is on the side of these diversion schemes. The Commissioner said himself yesterday also that the benefits for non‑white offenders were even higher than for white offenders. Will you discuss this with the new MPS Commissioner? With your Drugs Commission, we are still waiting for something on a website, and you told us about the University College [London] stuff back in May [2022]. It really feels like it is stuck, like it is not moving forward.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Chair, I spent a lot of yesterday at a TfL Board Meeting whilst the Commissioner was in the Assembly, and it is put to me today to respond to the points the Commissioner made yesterday that I was not privy to. Look ‑‑

Photo of Caroline Russell Caroline Russell Green

Mr Mayor, OK, let us move on. US President Joe Biden has just pardoned all prior federal offences for cannabis possession whereas UK Home Secretary [The Rt Hon] Suella Braverman [KC MP] has announced she wants to reclassify cannabis as a Class A drug. Are you with Joe Biden or Suella Braverman on the policing of cannabis?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I think to be fair, which is unlike me, to ‑‑

Photo of Onkar Sahota Onkar Sahota Labour

Mr Mayor, they are out of time.

Photo of Caroline Russell Caroline Russell Green

Oh, Mr Mayor, we have to have an answer to that one.

Photo of Onkar Sahota Onkar Sahota Labour

They are out of time.  You do not need to answer the question.

Photo of Onkar Sahota Onkar Sahota Labour

You are out of time. I did not want to hear the answer, so you are out of time.

Photo of Caroline Russell Caroline Russell Green

Chair, that was unfair.