Mark Steel: Would Sir like his joint wrapped or unwrapped?

'It won't be the same if McDonald's sells dope with relish in a box and a slice of apple tart'
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The Independent Online

Suddenly it's possible to see how legalising dope could make us quite nostalgic. It won't be the same if you can wander into "Weed is Us", where a student in a paper hat takes your order and asks "Open or wrapped"?

Or if they start selling it in Starbucks, so when you ask for a joint and they reply with a barrage of questions – "Regular, long or Starbuck 60-skin special? Vanilla flavouring on your roach? To smoke here or to go?" Or if McDonald's sells processed dope with relish in a box accompanied by a slice of apple tart and a toy if part of a Happy Meal.

What impact would Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas have had if it was full of passages such as "By now we were running out of blow, so to stock up with a quarter-weight of Colombian grass, we popped into the local Spar. I wasn't in the mood for questions, but the shopkeeper looked into my eyes and said: 'That's a little bit over, dear; is that all right or shall I chop a bit off for you?' "

We don't want Prunella Scales on adverts screaming "Oooh, you can save thirty-five pence on an eighth of Lebanese this November, proving that getting ripped really IS easier on the purse than ever this autumn at Tesco's."

If it ever does become readily available, there should be a clause ensuring shops respect the old traditions. They could have little blue tickets, like they do at the deli counter, and when your number comes up you go into a room with one dim bare light bulb, no windows, and a rug on the wall. Then the shopkeeper offers you a small sample, lets out a contented chuckle while nodding his head, then spoils the effect by putting your order in one of those polystyrene tubs they use for potato salad. For small quantities, trainees wearing badges with their name on can wander up the aisles whispering "Wanna buy some grass?" while pretending to straighten packets of Weetabix. If you accept, they sell you a joint's worth wrapped in cling film that turns out to be shavings off a Cadbury's Flake.

Nor should it ever be legal to sell joints in pristine condition. I find it invaluably humbling to be surrounded by dope heads who produce geometrically perfect conical masterpieces, or joints rolled in the shape of a chicken. And then someone says "Hey mate, you do one." And two CDs later, surrounded by crumpled papers that wouldn't stick, I light my three-skinner and a flame immediately races up one side before going out altogether. And, whenever anyone passes it on, the roach sadly stays behind, stuck to their lips.

Even now, with almost every relevant body on the planet supporting the downgrading of dope, some people insist it should be as illegal as ever. "It's bad for you," they yell, but that can't be their real objection because they don't even support the use of dope for MS sufferers who say it's the only thing that relieves their pain. Then they conjure up obscure scientists from places such as Alaska who've carried out studies on polar bears that prove that a joint a day can lead to a craving for something stronger such as creosote.

However, their real objection is that to accept that cannabis is less of a threat than they thought is to admit that the law, the police, good wholesome people such as Cliff Richard and all that binds their cosy suburban world view together, is actually wrong.

So maybe it would help to broaden their outlook, if something they indulged in was made irrationally illegal – tea, perhaps. They'd soon pick up on the joys of the sub-culture that accompanies illegal substances. They'd soon be enjoying surreptitious afternoon tea-parties, sniffing the leaves before placing them lovingly in the pot, but complaining that the stuff these days is cut with tanning powder, not like the pure stuff that blew your mind 20 years ago.

Then they could all tell stories: "You know Martha, from the top of the crescent. Well, she came back from Morocco last month, smuggling 40 bags past customs by keeping them up her backside. Well, you never guess what; she was just getting off the boat, the bags burst, she absorbed the lot and she's been refreshed ever since."

Obviously dope is no good if you do it all the time, just like Daddie's Sauce or ginger beer. But if it makes people feel a little less angry, it must be for the good. For example, it's clear which side is smoking the dope in Northern Ireland. If Ian Paisley could be persuaded to try a puff, he wouldn't possibly be capable of continuing his line of "Yeah, but they haven't burned their balaclavas, have they?" Whereas the Republicans have evidently started smoking the stuff.

Now they'll have to get stoned once more and sit rewriting lyrics to their old songs. They could start with "We're all off to Dublin in the green, in the green, to explode all our weapons one by one. And in public view, pour superglue, down the barrel of a Thomson gun."