A popular joke in California is that while they may not have voted for Donald Trump, they can at least spend the four years of his presidency stoned out of their minds.
On the same day the U.S. delivered the White House to Trump, voters in California legalised marijuana for recreational use. Three other states did the same, bringing the total to eight.
That political meddler Nick Clegg is leading the charge to force the legalisation of cannabis on Britain, too.
His cross-party cabal of MPs have cited what they say is the success of the law change in parts of the U.S., along with a claim that legal marijuana in Britain could be worth £1 billion to HM Treasury every year in tax revenue and savings in the criminal justice system because cannabis users no longer count as criminals and drug-dealing gangs are put out of business.
On the same day the U.S. delivered the White House to Trump, voters in California legalised marijuana for recreational use
Police forces in some areas of Britain have admitted they have virtually given up on enforcing the laws against cannabis use.
Yet before Clegg and friends become too light-headed about a pot-puffing nirvana, they might like to read the bleak warning from Mitchell Morrissey, the District Attorney of Denver, Colorado, to anti-legislation campaigners in California two months ago about the dangers of legalised cannabis.
In what was a dispatch from the marijuana front line — Denver is the biggest city in the first state to legalise it — Morrissey warned that Californian voters were being seriously misled by claims that legalisation would see a drop in the crime rate.
He produced an array of statistics that should give anyone who thinks legal cannabis is a good idea serious pause for thought.
Since marijuana became readily available in Colorado — which largely legalised pot in January 2014 — crime had gone up, not down.
Traffic-related deaths have increased 48 per cent; marijuana-linked emergency visits to hospitals by 49 per cent; and marijuana-related calls to the state’s ‘poison centre’ by 100 per cent.
The state-wide murder rate in 2015 rose nearly 15 per cent on the previous year. In some towns it more than doubled in a year. Robberies, thefts (especially from cars) and even sexual assaults had risen. In Denver, the number of crimes has grown by 44 per cent since legalisation.
Police forces in some areas of Britain have admitted they have virtually given up on enforcing the laws against cannabis use
Morrissey stressed he was not saying these shocking statistical spikes are all down to marijuana, he was simply anxious to highlight the ‘disturbing’ figures that ran contrary to the impression that legalisation has been a glittering success in Colorado.
(In August, the respected research group factcheck.org confirmed the tenor of Morrissey’s message, saying pot-related traffic deaths, hospital visits and school suspensions in Colorado had increased ‘substantially’ since legalisation).
California voters, Morrissey added, were also being told a lie about how legalising cannabis would free up police to go after other criminals.
Marijuana can only be taxed and policed if it is regulated with licensed producers and retailers. However, determining what is legally produced marijuana and what isn’t has proved a nightmare for Colorado police.
While Clegg airily claims the legalisation of marijuana will ‘finally take back control from the criminal gangs’, the reality in Denver is that the criminals are profiting more than ever.
Police in the city have had to deal with a huge increase in their marijuana-related workload, including coping with a 99 per cent increase in illegal distribution, Morrissey revealed.
The quantity of illegal pot seized by police has risen on average by 3,424 per cent per criminal case, the total no longer measured in pounds but in tons.
Denver police, said Morrissey, ‘are busier enforcing marijuana laws and investigating crimes directly related to marijuana, including murders, robberies and home invasions, than at any time in the city’s history’.
That political meddler Nick Clegg is leading the charge to force the legalisation of cannabis on Britain, too
Morrissey’s devastating letter predictably caused a storm in Colorado. Financially at least, the state has been doing very nicely out of becoming America’s pot capital — so much so that few in authority want anyone to rock the boat.
With drug tourists flocking in from across the world to get stoned, the state’s marijuana industry is worth $1 billion annually. Last year it produced $163 million in taxes from marijuana sales, though critics note it imposes so much tax on legal pot that it has encouraged a soaring black market in untaxed marijuana.
But that’s a problem for the long-suffering local police to sort out. That and various other issues that Morrissey didn’t specifically mention in his letter.
Drug-driving in Colorado is proving a nightmare to deal with because there is no quick, reliable check to see if drivers are too stoned to drive safely, as there is for blood alcohol levels.
As for Mr Clegg’s demand it is time in Britain ‘for ministers to start writing the rules for this legal market, including age limits and health warnings’, he might like to see how little these supposed restraints matter in Colorado, where the biggest market is in cannabis-laced sweets that look and taste just like the traditional variety.
Coloradans should be 21 to buy marijuana, but doctors have seen a significant rise in admissions from children who have fallen ill after eating marijuana-infused food, including chocolate, cakes or sweets laced with THC, the psycho-active ingredient of cannabis.
Just last week, the American Surgeon General issued a report on drugs that highlighted how marijuana use can lead to mental health problems
Even if children don’t get their hands on the drug, state officials admit they are worried about how cannabis is being ‘normalised’ for youngsters.
‘What happens to people over the long term, especially kids, as they see marijuana normalised, as they see people advertising for marijuana, and as accessibility becomes greater and greater?’ asks Andrew Freedman, director of the state governor’s Office of Marijuana Co-ordination.
‘Kids who are right now saying, “No thanks” — will that change over time?’
Misty-eyed nostalgics in Britain — some of whom may be in the House of Commons — who remember getting gently stoned in their youth will get a sharp reality check if they were to visit a Colorado pot dispensary.
There they will be pressed to try scientifically engineered marijuana that is many times more powerful than the weed of the Sixties and Seventies.
Indeed, everything has changed. As an opponent of legalisation ruefully observes, there is a consumer market worth tens of billions that could be tapped by ruthless firms waiting to exploit the legalisation of cannabis in America.
As soon as the federal government declares recreational marijuana legal nationwide, it’s said that tobacco giants such as Philip Morris could flood the market, employing the same cynical marketing tactics, slick advertising and dodging of regulations that they managed for years with cigarettes.
It would be impossible to stop them employing the same tactics in the UK if marijuana were made legal.
The scientifically engineered marijuana is many times more powerful than the weed of the Sixties and Seventies
For all the claims of Mr Clegg and his allies, the U.S. is not nearly so smitten by legal pot as he likes to make out.
Just last week, the American Surgeon General issued a report on drugs that highlighted how marijuana use can lead to mental health problems, permanent loss of IQ, stunted intelligence in younger users, increased risk of traffic accidents and schizophrenia, as well as increased addiction in states that are legally selling the stronger strains of the drug.
Even Vermont, clogged with hippies and one of America’s most liberal states, rejected legalising pot after its health department released a damning report about its health dangers.
More than half of U.S. states allow marijuana for medical purposes, encouraging a popular perception that it is actually good for you.
But while its medical benefits are largely unproven, there is growing concern about marijuana’s long-term effects, especially on the developing brains of young people.
If you want to know the sort of person who is investing in legalised cannabis, it’s not some harmless flower child, but Roger Jenkins, the man once described as Britain’s richest banker.
He is backing a fund that has bought huge swathes of California land to set up a marijuana-growing empire, which means the decision this month to legalise it must have been music to his ears.
Nick Clegg may think he’s on the right side of this argument. But if he wants to know the truth about legal cannabis, he should get on a plane to Denver and see for himself the reality of what a marijuana free-for-all in Britain might look like.