A Response From the Residents of Hanway Street

There's an unmistakable odour causing quite a stir among the writers of The Spectator. Two articles in as many months have revolved primarily around a disdain for the smell of cannabis. 

The author of the latest of these articles alleges to have "cut through a dark Dickensian alley" off Tottenham Court Road Station en route to Oxford Street whereupon his way was "blocked by a group of wild-eyed, ragged looking men, all smoking marijuana. It was like a scene from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, except genuinely scary."

The street in question is one of my very favourite streets; Hanway Street. Had the horrified author dared to tread further down the Fitzrovia alley he would have reached an airy and bright studio which houses Volteface, the drug policy reform think tank central to the recent legalisation of medical cannabis in the UK. 

Your author, George McBride, on Hanway Street holding the front page of June 19th’s paper, which featured Lord Hague advocating for UK cannabis legalisation.

Your author, George McBride, on Hanway Street holding the front page of June 19th’s paper, which featured Lord Hague advocating for UK cannabis legalisation.

The street’s eponym is Jonas Hanway, a man famed for his philanthropy, his innovation and for being scoffed at for being the first man in London to use an umbrella. Whilst Jonas was derided for his effeminate and downright French behaviour, the principle opposition to those many people who now openly consume cannabis in the UK is the sometimes cheesy, allegedly skunky, smell.

Rather than a genuine concern with the health or wellbeing of their fellow citizens or the economy, the anti-cannabis brigade seem principally driven by NIMBYism. I've lived my entire life in London and there is one thing at least, and at most, on which I agree with the NIMBYs, the smell of cannabis is more prolific than ever in London. It has been common since the 60s, but people are more confident in indulging in public than ever before. 

NIMBYs’ opposition to cannabis reform is as futile and inconsequential as those who stand in the way of the rapid changes to London’s changing built environment. Skyscrapers are being thrown up across London to provide homes to people and businesses in spite of those who seek to protect their views, so too cannabis businesses are being built at pace despite those who seek to protect their nostrils.

The medical, industrial and economic potential of the cannabis plant is being unlocked at unprecedented pace around the globe, and London is no exception. Within a few hundred yards of Hanway Street many businesses have sprung up in response to the public clamour for cannabis reform: EMMAC, the Centre for Medical Cannabis, Grow Biotech and Hanway Associates, to name but a few. In WC1 alone, there are now a dozen cannabis companies. These companies are professional, often well-funded, and encouraged by the majority of the electorate’s support for cannabis legalisation.

Jonas Hanway and his umbrella.

Jonas Hanway and his umbrella.

The smell of cannabis is likely on the way out as quickly as it wafted in. Cannabis, however, is on the up. Millennials and baby boomers alike now increasingly prefer their cannabinoids delivered by a drink, a vape, a pill or a lotion, thanks to the innovations of cannabis entrepreneurs across the globe. I think Jonas would be pleased to see the rivers of umbrellas flowing down London’s streets, and so too the cannabis pioneers of today will be pleased to see people enjoying safer, more enjoyable cannabis products in the London of the not-too-distant future.