With the London borough of Lambeth's experiment with marijuana decriminalization now well underway -- police in the borough no longer arrest cannabis possessors, but merely snatch their stashes and issue warnings -- Lambeth activists are looking to the future, and they see the borough's predominantly Caribbean section of Brixton taking on something of the aspect of Amsterdam. In the first of a series of projected community meetings organized by Cannabis Action London, the cannabis coffee house approach pioneered by the Dutch garnered loud and boisterous support.
The debate, held last week at the Juice Bar in Brixton, showed that at least some segments of the community felt the decriminalization experiment did not go far enough. According to the London Evening Standard, a majority at the debate felt that with cannabis having been widely available in Brixton for decades, the logical next step would be cannabis cafes.
"The opening up of places where people come to smoke releases huge amounts of local government and central government revenue," said Brixton resident and Lambeth schools worker Michael Morris.
Lambeth Green Party drug policy spokesman Shane Collins also called for the cafes. "There should be licensed coffee shops for cannabis," he told the crowd. "We are not going to be given coffee shops by those people in suits. If we are going to have them, we have got to take them and set them up."
Drug reformers were not the only ones speaking up for coffee shops. "Entrepreneurs should seize the moment," said pub owner Martyn Cannan. "If a cafe is licensed and registered in a safe and correct manner, you will know what you buying. Those people who do not want anything to do with cannabis will know where not to go."
Others at the meeting expressed anger at the prevalence of hard drug dealers in the neighborhood and suggested that opening coffee houses would free the police to deal with them, the newspaper reported.
Lambeth councilor Johanna Sherrington, of the ruling Labor Party, however, had words of warning for coffee house enthusiasts. "This is not a decision for Lambeth alone," she said. "The police have the ultimate say about these issues. We have got neighbors. We can't act in isolation. We haven't blocked [the decriminalization experiment], but that doesn't mean we are pro-legalization," she added.
While telling the crowd she had an "open mind" on the issue and that the council's position was to "wait and see," Sherrington also hastened to remind her audience: "Let's not forget that cannabis is illegal."
Cannabis Action London activist Alastair Williams differed with Sherrington, calling the coffee house idea "a socially responsible" approach. "It is within the power of the police authority to have pilot schemes and alternative ways of policing drugs in society," he argued.
Lambeth police have so far not commented on the coffee house idea.