A new political party has devised a novel approach to cutting the UK deficit – by legalising weed.
The CISTA – Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol – party was launched last week. It hopes to stand as many as 100 candidates in May's general election, and claims that tax revenue gained from legalising cannabis could cut the deficit by up to £1.25 billion.
The party's draft manifesto sets out plans to improve the nation's health by legalising weed, and claims doing so would lighten the burden on the criminal justice system as fewer people would be convicted of drugs-related offences.
The chair of the party is tech entrepreneur Paul Birch, who co-founded an early version of social media site Bebo with his brother Michael. He told BuzzFeed News he was inspired to start the party after seeing the legalisation of cannabis in certain states in the US; he now wants to replicate those laws in the UK.
"I started the party when I saw the news that there was definitely going to be an election in May and I realised our issue would be swept under the carpet like always," said Birch. "I thought, 'Let's start a political party and play the politicians at their own game.'"
All funding has come from Birch's own wealth from the tech industry. If the party were to stand 100 candidates, it would cost £50,000 in deposits alone.
"I've been an entrepreneur, mainly in IT start-ups like Birthday Alarm and Bebo," said Birch. "I've funded everything so far, but we are planning on doing crowdfunding and looking for other people to donate money at a more significant level."
Although the party plans to stand around 100 candidates in May, it currently has fewer than 100 members and Birch accepted that they "may have left things a little bit late".
Birch denies CISTA is a single-issue party – "we prefer to call ourselves a 'simple issue party' because it's so obvious cannabis should be legal" – and said legalisation of the drug would have a number of benefits to the country as a whole.
"People would be very happy to pay tax on cannabis, much like alcohol users are," said Birch. "We're still working on how much tax that would be, but we'll come up with a number which will be based on the numbers from Colorado.
"Moreover, we'd be able to push people towards the safe options of cannabis, and, in terms of criminal justice, it would stop people causing crime around cannabis. There are so many upsides, and I can't see any downside."
In the months ahead, the party will be undertaking a traditional political campaign involving leafleting, knocking on doors, and speaking to its target demographic, which Birch believes to be "predominantly young" voters.
But the most important thing, he said, is to take part in the constituency hustings so he has the opportunity to persuade politicians from the mainstream parties that his party is right on cannabis legalisation.
"The key thing is to get a podium place at the hustings with the other candidates and getting them to discuss the issues we want to discuss, the ones in our manifesto," said Birch. "No one credible can argue against the legalisation of cannabis, so hopefully they'll come to see things our way.
"Usually when they're discussing cannabis, mainstream politicians just mumble a bit, mention children somewhere, and then move on."
The party ultimately aims to put drugs reform in the hands of the Law Commission, an independent body designed to keep the law in check, rather than leaving it up to politicians.
He didn't want to get drawn into the negative effects of cannabis, saying BuzzFeed News could find plenty other people to discuss that. "I could give you a much longer list of negatives of alcohol," he said.
On top of his planned appearances at the election hustings, Birch will be organising events to help him meet people and select potential party representatives, although he insisted that he won't be smoking cannabis at the evening events.
"I won't personally be consuming any drugs at party meeting, but if other people want to then that's their choice," said Birch.
"We only supplied some alcohol at our launch – not anything else."
Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.
Contact Jamie Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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