Six months ago the state of Colorado legalised marijuana. Now the THC dust has begun to settle on this landmark decision, it’s time to analyse the results and see what we can take home from them.
To the surprise of no drug reform activists anywhere, the consequences of Colorado’s decision have been overwhelmingly positive.
The state’s governor, John Hickenlooper, predicts that sales of the drug will reach $1bn in the next fiscal year, raising almost $134m in tax revenue. Arrests for drug-related crimes and the murder rate have also halved, and tens of thousands of people have found work in the state's burgeoning cannabis market.
Astute politicians will be quick to point out that the UK is not Colorado (as they have similarly done with Portugal and the Czech Republic), and that what works over there may not work for us.
But with an estimated 2.3 million adults in the UK reporting that they've used cannabis, it's about time we started to think about what it could look like. Fortunately, it doesn't require a stretch of the imagination to see how these policies could translate, as there's a wealth of reputable studies that highlight the benefits.
In September the Institute for Social and Economic Research released a report estimating that licensing the sale of cannabis could reduce the government deficit by between £0.5bn and £1.25bn pounds. Another report, published by the London School of Economics and backed by Nick Clegg, stated that our strategy for dealing with drugs “can no longer be justified”.
It’s not just statistics that point towards the need for change. A week ago 80 campaigners, including the National Black Police Association and self-confessed ex-heroin addict Will Self, wrote an open letter to David Cameron. It asked him to stand by the commitment he made in 2002 (when he was on a home affairs select committee) to look into alternatives to the current policing model.
While it’s unlikely Cameron will be roused to action by this petition, a voice he has increasingly begun to listen to has been calling for reform. Earlier this year, Nigel Farage piped up in support of legalising certain drugs - a surprising move for a man who has already invested a considerable sum into the beer and tobacco industries.
Outside of Parliament, the millions of cannabis users are growing impatient. Colin Davies, who tried to open a cannabis café in Manchester, has founded the Cannabis Health Service, a website that aims to provide medical marijuana to those in chronic pain. There is a growing underground scene both online and offline, in which people swap growing tips and trade their different strains. And weed plants are sprouting up in public places thanks to the Feed the Birds movement.
This should all give the Government enough impetus to reform drug policy, yet the most important points in favour of reassessing our drug policy go beyond the practical.
When laws are widely flouted they cease to be laws and instead become instruments to punish certain members of society. When the government sacks its chief drug adviser for stating scientific facts it exposes itself as arrogant and unheeding. When billions are pumped into prohibition without producing any significant reduction in drug use - during a period of austerity no less - it makes a mockery of our system of governance.
There is no doubt that correcting our drug policy will be a complicated endeavour, but at present the UK’s illogical attitude towards narcotics weakens the integrity of our democracy. Colorado might seem far away, but with the list of proven benefits now becoming too large to ignore, there has never been a better time for drug reform in the UK.