London mayoral candidate makes new call to legalise cannabis
Siobhan Benita says she has never smoked weed as she joins campaign trail in Camden Town
24 October, 2019 — By Samantha Booth
Siobhan Benita with the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Matthew Kirk
THE Liberal Democrats’ London mayoral candidate visited an area associated with one of the capital’s most entrenched cannabis markets – and declared her support for the drug’s legalisation.
Siobhan Benita, who is taking on Sadiq Khan at next May’s London elections, said there was an “undeniable link” between young people’s exposure to the illegal trade and the likelihood of being pulled into serious violence.
She was in Camden Town on Thursday as part of a series of visits in the borough. “We know how available drugs are in London; we know that there’s an illegal drugs market going on in London; that the drugs gangs are fuelling a lot of the violence that we’re seeing because they prey on vulnerable young people to be part of their operation,” she said.
Police in Camden have tried various tactics to try and disrupt Camden High Street’s stubborn reputation as a place to buy drugs, including temporarily closing down shops selling drug paraphernalia like bongs.
Ms Benita told the New Journal: “Wouldn’t it be better if the drugs market was replaced with an economy that was actually a regulated legal economy? Ultimately, I would like to see all illegal activity being driven out and being replaced with safer, legal activity.”
At the Conservative Party conference last month, former leader Iain Duncan Smith warned against legalisation, insisting that drug-dealing gangs would still trader in “skunk”, a more potent form of cannabis.
But, if elected, Ms Benita is proposing to decriminalise small amounts for personal use by creating new Met guidelines and then will lobby the government for a pilot scheme in London testing legalisation.
Ms Benita, who stood in the 2016 mayoral election as an Independent before joining the Lib Dems on the day of the Brexit result, said there had been a “very positive impact” in other countries where there had been legislation around cannabis use, citing Canada and the Netherlands.
“What it hasn’t led to is a kind of explosion of other things on the illegal market,” she said.
“I actually think a lot of people who want to smoke cannabis would actually quite like it if there was a legal market where they can get substances. The question for me is: we have such a serious issue here in London, why haven’t we done it? Why is Sadiq so scared to do this?”
Ms Benita said she “promised” she had never smoked cannabis herself, adding: “This is something where I almost feel embarrassed now. I genuinely haven’t. Maybe I should just so that I know what I’m talking about. I’ve only ever smoked a cigarette once. It’s just not my thing.” She said she was investigating whether tax raised from cannabis sales could be used to make transport in the city more affordable as well as funding more help for people addicted to class A drugs.
During her day in Camden, Ms Benita visited the Camden Centre for Learning, in Chalk Farm, which runs two pupil referral units in the borough, and The Winch youth centre in Swiss Cottage.
Shaun Bailey is standing for the Conservatives, while Sian Berry, the Camden councillor, is the Green candidate.