A Guest Post by J.M.
Virtually every prospective policy is too controversial to discuss while campaigning for a YES vote. During the period where ordinary Scottish people have been mobilized to incredible effect the policy makers in Holyrood are trapped in a state of pre-referendum stasis. The last big blow from the SNP before they dropped their shutters was the lopsided and backwards criminalization of football fans in what is the most outright damaging piece of legislation Holyrood has passed since devolution.
When we look forward to an Independent Scotland we look forward to a democratic country where the will of the people is represented and reflected in our parliament: a Scottish parliament with full legislative power over Scotland.
We look forward to the will of the Scottish people being heard and the people of Scotland affecting change in their own country.
The Scottish government’s approach to drugs needs to change. A Thousand Flowers have an excellent post about how this should happen with regards to cannabis, ecstasy and heroin. Both the Scottish and British government have been advised by specialist committees that they should soften their stance on drugs. If the goal of drug policy is to keep people safe clean heroin should be available to addicts through rehabilitation programmes. Working to eradicate the existence of bad pills by providing safe, regulated alternatives or providing free testing kits would keep people safe.
This A Thousand Flowers post is perhaps a little misleading when it suggests that cannabis use is largely ignored. Cannabis seizures are commonplace and the figures are rising. Cannabis accounted for 59% of ALL drug seizures in Scotland in 2010/2011, 62% in 2011/2012 and 67% in 2012/2013. The number of cannabis seizures in 2012/2013 was to the tune of 22,185. Following the creation of Police Scotland, Stop and Search was accelerated across the country and the spike in weed seizures and therefore Class B seizures as a whole can be attributed in no small part to the fact that the demographic most likely to be carrying weed and the demographic most likely to get stopped and searched are identical. While the police may not be kicking in the doors to home grows on daily basis cannabis users in Scotland are under constant threat.
The criminalization in principle of cannabis users and the refusal to allow (terminal) patients medical access is outdated and abusive. It is a matter of cold scientific fact that cannabis is less harmful than tobacco. New medical uses are being discovered on what feels like a daily basis. Scientific reports implying that the line of legality between cannabis and alcohol and tobacco is unrelated to the actual risks and effects of the substances are ubiquitous.
The problem is that no one wants to listen.
We have judges in this country who are telling cannabis users that if they don’t renounce the drug they will be thrown in jail with the drug dealers. This would be laughable were it not so oppressive, damaging and outmoded. This judge told the accused that cannabis had affected his brain and stopped him from thinking right, citing a social work report that described him as ‘egocentric, obstinate and not likeable’. The dangers of cannabis, everybody!
Aside from the obvious negative effects of criminalizing, stigmatizing, socially excluding and in some cases institutionalizing cannabis users, there is an extremely strong economic argument for legalization in an Independent Scotland.
Legalization would create a thriving new industry virtually overnight. Out of the blue Scotland could create a new job market, new entrepreneurial opportunities, increase tourism, and generate a six figure tax income for us to spend as we see fit: on education, on healthcare, on support and rehabilitation programs for addicts, on lowering taxes to ease the cost of living and improve the quality of lives.
In 2012 three US states voted in referendums on legalizing cannabis for recreational use: Colorado, Washington and Oregon. Colorado and Washington voted in favour of this and Oregon voted against it. At this point in time in both Colorado and Washington it is legal for licensed vendors to sell cannabis for recreational use. Both states have been reaping the benefits, despite initial overestimations of how much revenue it would create.
Recreational cannabis sales were allowed in Washington beginning July 7th, 2014 and with only 18 licensed stores open for business in that first month $3.8m worth of cannabis was sold returning over $1m in state taxes. The marketing in Washington is still in its infancy and these figures were affected by transitional issues like shortages and stores not being open on time. Colorado on the other hand benefited from their existing medical cannabis system which they were able to adapt quickly to respond to legalization. Colorado allowed recreational sales in January 2014 and that first month saw $14m in sales and a state tax revenue of around $3.5m generated.
Now, six months after legalization, Colorado has collected over $25m in cannabis taxes. A State of Colorado budget proposal predicts tax revenue for the fiscal year 2014-2015 to the tune of $98m (approx. £60.5m). Colorado has already devoted $40m of this to public school construction. To put that figure into perspective, free prescriptions in Scotland costs the government £60m.
Regardless of the specifics of prescription medical marijuana the figures speak for themselves and the Scottish government would be creating a wedge of tax revenue to be spent for the betterment of Scotland. Colorado has approximately the same population as Scotland (5.188m compared to 5.295m) but has two distinct advantages. Firstly it can draw weed tourism from a larger population than Scotland can. Secondly, the pre-existing structure of medical cannabis allowed the state to quickly implement licensed vendors. Scotland could expect a much slower transition comparable to Washington. What isn’t up for debate, however, is that cannabis is an already thriving, growing market that is going from strength to strength. Cannabis sales in the U.S. are forecast to exceed $7.4-8.2 billion per year by 2018.
In addition to tax revenue collected directly from sales, and jobs and wealth created by the new medical and potentially recreational marijuana supply infrastructures there are benefits for Scottish agriculture and the environment to be gained from the cultivation of hemp in Scotland. A side effect of the criminalization of marijuana and resulting misconceptions is that despite being a profitable and sustainable crop industrial hemp (low THC cultivars) is highly controlled and not widely grown. Fast growing and not requiring intensive pesticides and fertilizer, hemp is an excellent crop for crop rotation which is a particularly significant benefit in a climate where economic pressures such as supermarket price wars continue to keep farm-gate prices painfully low. Established demand worldwide for hemp fibre for industrial applications such as the automotive industry, greater calls for eco-friendly and ethical fabrics and the growing wholefood industry all mean that the commercial value of hemp continues to rise.
With the SNP boasting that Scotland is already leading the UK in agricultural innovation and our existing reputation for high quality agricultural exports, to not be producing what is widely considered a supercrop because of outmoded drug laws and misinformation seems nonsensical. Increasing interest in the use of hemp as a bio-fuel, a building material, a sustainable alternative to cotton, a health food and many other applications make this an area where research and development could prove highly lucrative. Likewise as the movement for legalisation grows and research into the medical applications of marijuana and sustainable growing gathers pace we have two areas where Scotland’s strong agricultural science and medical research base could make a significant contribution and despite what Better Together would have us believe to maintain the trend of increasing global scientific collaboration and ability to attract research funding post-referendum.
If you think that cannabis is not already readily available in Scotland you are living in a fantasy world. People are going to smoke whether it is legal or illegal. Cannabis users are currently criminalized, forced underground, and under constant threat of stop, search and seizure. The quality of weed can be inconsistent for those who haven’t taken the time to cultivate connections with good quality sources. Police time and energy that could be spent elsewhere is wasted on this backwards witch hunt: protect and serve is now search and destroy.
The big negative for cannabis users who rely on the black market to source their weed just now is that they can expect an increase in price when the government starts triple-taxing weed. They can also expect a greater range and more consistent quality. They will no longer need to dress up in their smartest clothes when they go out to pick up for fear of their Celtic top drawing unwanted attention from the police. Perhaps more importantly though are two phenomenon from Colorado. Firstly, the black market sale of cannabis continues illegally and people will not necessarily have to abandon their current supply set up to benefit from legal recreational vending. While this is to some extent a roadblock for cannabis tax gathering in Colorado, the taxes returned are still sizeable. Secondly, the price of cannabis in Colorado reportedly varies but is seeing a drop in price at the moment due to healthy market competition between stores: an eventuality was it to be legalized over here.
Even though the black market won’t be totally eradicated overnight, one has to ask themselves how much money dial-a-booze makes each weekend compared to a city centre pub. The reason the underground market exists is prohibition and those stunted few who cite a ‘black market’ operating with impunity as an argument against legal sale have got it backwards. Prohibition is the problem, not legalization. Furthermore, the perceived status of cannabis as a ‘gateway drug’ to harder substances (LOL) is something that, were it to be a real thing, would be combatted more by legalization than by any number of Police Scotland witch hunt initiatives. If people are attracted to this ‘gateway’ regardless of legality, and you have the ability to change what is on the other side of it, why wouldn’t you?
The will of the people of Colorado and Washington was heard in referendums on the legalization of cannabis for recreational use and in an Independent Scotland we could see the same thing happen.
Independent of the neo-right-wing direction of English politics, cannabis legalization feels like an eventuality rather than a dream. History will fix her gage with judgement and condemnation upon these damaging, backwards, oppressive times.