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The Children’s Inquiry

How effectively are the UK’s cannabis policies safeguarding young people?

Authors: Liz McCulloch, Hardeep Matharu and Paul North

As the most widely used illicit drug in the UK, cannabis arguably generates the most debate among the public, politicians and the media.

But, going beyond the rhetoric and soundbites of decades past, what is the evidence on what is actually happening on the ground today in terms of cannabis use, the support and information available to those using it and how cannabis laws are being enforced?

The Children’s Inquiry is a fresh examination of cannabis in relation to one key cohort, young people, and considers how effectively the UK’s policies on cannabis are safeguarding them from potential harm to their wellbeing and life chances.

Although young people’s use of cannabis has remained fairly stable in recent years, this cannot be taken as a measure of the success of the UK’s cannabis policies.

This report aims to provide a broad understanding of the different ways in which the UK’s cannabis policies are impacting young people by considering three main areas: accessing cannabis and mental health, criminal justice and education.

The Children’s Inquiry will begin by asking how easy it is for young people to access cannabis. As a Class B drug, the aim of Government policy should be to restrict access, particularly among young people.

The type of cannabis young people are able to access will then be reviewed, as well as how this impacts on their mental health and the support that is available should a young person experience problems. Where policies fail to restrict access, the type of cannabis available and the support systems in place for young people in terms of their mental and physical wellbeing assume far greater importance.

This report will then turn to the response of the criminal justice system to young people and cannabis. It will consider the extent to which cannabis laws are impacting on young people, compared to adults, particularly in relation to the supply of cannabis, as well as its possession and cultivation.

Finally, the education provided by the Government to young people and their families, in the school setting and beyond, will be examined. Education – if delivered correctly – can be an essential safeguard, equipping young people and those close to them with the knowledge necessary to reduce harm.

By looking at how cannabis policies are playing out in practice in these different areas, The Children’s Inquiry seeks to provide a rigorous evidence-based review of the extent to which the UK’s cannabis policies are protecting young people from harm.