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UK: The British Amsterdam? Devo-Manc 'should be used to legalise drugs'

James Burford

Mancunian Matters

Thursday 22 Jan 2015

A pro-cannabis campaigner – famed for once handing the Queen a weed-laden bouquet – is renewing calls for the decriminalisation of the Class B drug in the wake of Manchester’s devolution deal with Westminster.

Colin Davies, 57, who plans to open a ‘cannabis café’ in the city’s Northern Quarter, believes the devolved powers should include the ability to alter laws on possession.

With so many arguing the benefits of decriminalisation would outweigh the costs, the Government is under increasing pressure to re-evaluate drugs policy.

Mr Davies told MM: “The economic impact of regulating cannabis commercially in Greater Manchester would be vast.

“It would create employment, save money on police and the justice system, freeing their time for more serious crime. It could bring millions into the local coffers.”

Details of the ‘Devo-Manc’ deal were published on November 3 last year by Chancellor George Osborne and included plans to have an elected mayor to handle regional issues.

It is seen as a big step in the journey towards full-scale devolution.

The cannabis activist wants Manchester authorities to be able to tailor the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act and become the UK’s first trial city for decriminalisation.

“The demand for cannabis is huge. With a regulated, taxed supply chain, Manchester can lead the way to a safer way; a new way,” he said.

“Leaving cannabis in the black market is criminal itself.”

The Home Office, under pressure from the Liberal Democrats, commissioned a report in October 2014, which suggested that current drug law had no impact on drug use.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, was accused by Lib Dem MP Norman Baker of stripping many of the key recommendations from the report before its publication.

One of the removed recommendations was to pilot a system used in Portugal, where cannabis has been decriminalised.

Mr Baker resigned his Home Office duties after the report’s publication, highlighting Mrs May as the reason behind his departure.

He said the Conservatives were deliberately ignoring an evidence-based approach.

At the time, the Tories replied by praising the current framework’s long-term strategy and reaffirming their intention not to decriminalise drugs.

Mr Davies opened a Dutch-style cannabis café in Stockport in 2001 – The Dutch Experience – alongside business partner Nol Van Schaik and also plans to open another, called The New Way Café.

Speaking about the 2001 venture, he said: “It was a resounding success. The tourist information office was never as busy.

“The place was packed from 10am to 10pm and for over 12 months it operated without a single complaint.

“Unfortunately the Government of the day didn’t see the potential. I was sentenced to three years in prison.”

The drugs campaigner, who is famous for once handing the Queen a bouquet laden with cannabis, is baffled by the Government’s refusal to act on official evidence.

He claims many are ignoring official data in favour of putting stock in ‘mythical horror stories’.

His comments come as Salford City Council win £100,000 in government funding to go towards training former prisoners, who have beaten drugs and alcohol, to help families overcome addictions.

MM's in-depth feature on how Devo-Manc could be used to legalise drugs will be online next week, featuring interviews with campaigners and polticians, both for and against, to see how 'the UK Amsterdam' might work. Check back next week.

MM's Jordan Bluer spoke to young people across Manchester to find out whether people want to see cannabis decriminalised (filming by James Burford). Full story here.




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