The British cannabis discussion, more than just about anywhere else, has long verged on the tragicomic. This latest development is no exception.
Julian Bennett, who wrote the Metropolitan police’s current drug strategy, is facing discharge after being accused of gross misconduct. Namely for supposedly taking cannabis, LSD, and magic mushrooms while vacationing across the Channel.
Clearly, Brexit does not affect this kind of thing.
Bennett is also accused of refusing to provide a drug sample on July 21, 2020. Even better, at the time he supposedly also claimed to have been taking CBD to address a medical condition on his face.
The hearing about his fate, which was supposed to take place this week has been adjourned until May 23. The reason? Bennett’s lawyers have argued that it would be unfair to proceed because they had not received all of the digital evidence, including pictures sent via WhatsApp. So far, according to reports, there is one Whatsapp’ed photo showing cannabis on a table.
Even more outrageously, Bennett wrote the MPS drug strategy for 2017 through 2021, serving as a commander for territorial policing. He also presided over 74 drugs misconduct hearings, involving 90 officers between 2010 and 2012. 56 officers—or more than 75 percent of his colleagues who came in front of him—were dismissed.
Bennett joined the force in 1977 and has subsequently had a high-flying career, including planning for the 2012 London Olympics and his current role at the time of his suspension, which included managing prosecutions and pandemic planning. He also headed a Scotland Yard panel that dismissed misconduct against five other officers involved in an incident that led to the death of a Black musician, Sean Rigg.
The news comes as the head of the MPS, also Britain’s largest police force, Cressida Dick, has been forced to resign after Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London accused her of presiding over a culture of racism and misogyny. Dick herself was facing increasing scrutiny over the handling (or more accurately failing to handle) a series of scandals that have rocked British policing of late.
This includes a case where an MPS officer kidnapped and later murdered a 33-year-old woman—Sarah Everard. Most recently, on February 1, a police watchdog report revealed shocking evidence that officers in central London had engaged in misogyny, homophobia, bullying, and sexual harassment over several years.
The outrage over the ongoing scandals also includes the recent MPS stance that it would not investigate Boris Johnson’s “Partygate.”
The move also comes as the domestic cannabis industry and campaigners have again besieged the UK government to take a more modern approach to cannabis reform that is now underway globally.
Indeed, Khan is also likely to move forward on his proposal that London be the center of a unique decriminalization trial, particularly given the link between racism and drug arrests in the city. A new YouGov poll reveals widespread support for the idea with a whopping 63 percent of Londoners supporting the idea. Supporters of both parties are also behind it.
While the pilot program has only been proposed for three of London’s 32 Boroughs, 59 percent of city residents would also support a similar trial in their neighbourhoods.
Despite the support, a cabal of Tory MPs have already condemned the plan, suggesting that it would “effectively decriminalise cannabis.”
The pilot is small, and further a controlled experiment of how a minor policy change might actually work, but it has so far faced fierce opposition in parliament.
Politicians Vs. The People
No matter the parliamentary convulsions on the topic, the reality is that attitudes towards drugs are rapidly changing across the UK—just like everywhere else. Even, it seems, in the police force, and those directly responsible for maintaining status quo policies, as well as punishing fellow officers for doing exactly the same thing.
The level of disgust right now in the UK over both the direction of the sitting Prime Minister as well as major failings in places like the police, is running high.
It is not inconceivable that in the aftermath of COVID, public anger over the way many issues have been handled will become a focus of much broader reform.
Cannabis reform, right now, is absolutely in the mix—in Britain and elsewhere.
In the meantime, British patients are still struggling to get the drug, and the CBD industry is wrangling, so far mostly unsuccessfully, with official certifications for products.
Reform is overdue. But it also appears to be, at this point, hanging in the wings while some of the lower lying (if highly placed) rotten fruit falls to the ground and is swept away by rising calls of reform—for not only drug policy—but wider societal changes.