Looking across the pond, it would seem as if the war on one particular drug is grinding rather rapidly to a halt: cannabis. It’s the plant on everyone’s lips as the green tide floods through North America. This THC tidal wave has long since made landfall on the western seaboard of the USA as Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California have all legalised cannabis not just medically but for recreational use- and they’re not alone. 29 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws broadly legalising marijuana in some form (which is over half of the massive nation). Nevada is the latest of the growing group of recreational cannabis states, priming Las Vegas as a lucrative ‘weed-tourism’ haven to rival the likes of Amsterdam.
And it certainly can be lucrative. Forbes reports that by 2020 the cannabis industry is expected to have created more than a quarter of a million jobs in the states: more than the manufacturing industry. The medical marijuana market in America has ignited, bringing jobs, investment and green bucks pouring in. There was even a moderately successful sitcom on Netflix set in a dispensary, a sure sign of the evolving cultural acceptance of the substance.
‘dispensaries across america are simultaneously licensed retailers and brazen federal criminals profiting from narcotics.’
Driven at breakneck speed by homegrown American consumer capitalism and rising popular support, the reefer revolution ushers in an untapped market but can also highlight a unique set of challenges for these pioneering states.
One of the many new challenges is due to the paradoxical duality of American legislature. Although U.S. states have a degree of autonomy in creating state provisions, they are ultimately subject to superior federal laws and the might of federal agencies like the D.E.A (drug enforcement agency) which classes cannabis as a schedule 1 (equivalent to class A) controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. This legislative conundrum means that thousands of dispensaries across America are simultaneously licensed retailers and brazen federal criminals profiting from narcotics. The ‘Schrodinger’s drug dealer’ situation has manifested itself in states like California as the IMCC wellness centre of California, open legally under state law since 1999 was raided and closed in 2013. These indispensable dispensaries can get their full stock and the contents of their safes confiscated as evidence at federal agent’s discretion; such are the convoluted politics of pollen and plant.
‘History was made the first mainstream UK party to put a legalisation policy in their manifesto.’
Furthermore, there are issues with assessing the impact of the drug on and ascertaining a person’s limits when compared with substances like alcohol. In the case of Colorado, there is a clear-cut limit of 0.08% blood alcohol content that makes a driver guilty of driving under the influence according to the State’s DMV website. However, when it comes to cannabis the Colorado department of transport website gives a figure of 5 nanograms of THC in the blood as qualifying a person for the crime, irrespective entirely of how much blood they have in total. It goes on to reveal that the amount of THC in the blood is irrelevant anyway as a person with any trace of THC will be arrested if found behind the wheel, based on an officer’s judgement.
The technology simply isn’t there to take a blood reading on the spot like there is with breathalysing for alcohol and the relative criminality of a suspect if being left to the topically questionable judgement of American police officers. If a cancer patient in chronic pain is prescribed medical weed and medicates a night or so before driving into work then he or she could be liable for prosecution in a system struggling to keep up with tumultuous new age of legal taboos.
But how is this controversial plant fairing closer to home? In terms of regulation, Britain is decades behind our cousins across the Atlantic but for some the winds of change are blowing and they bear a very recognisable scent.
History was made in the 2017 general election campaign as The Liberal Democrats became the first mainstream UK party to put a legalisation policy in their manifesto. It called for legal providence for the sale of Cannabis to British adults and predicted a £1bn boost to the economy based on data from Colorado and Uruguay.
This manifesto mandate was a startling moment in UK politics and something that legalisation campaigners have been fighting towards for generations. However, it didn’t exactly turn out to be a resounding success.
The centrist party failed to make back any significant progress into the swathe of seats they lost in 2015 and former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg lost his seat in Sheffield. So why didn’t a revolutionary policy revolutionise the party’s fate? Is Britain immune to the green rush? Arguably the answer lies with the party not the policy. The idealism of The Liberal Democrats was once a beacon of hope for many in the dreary gloom of indistinguishable U.K. party politics but the youth demographic seems to have given up on the Lib Dems when the Lib Dems gave up on them back in 2012 vis-a-vis tuition fees. The party knew this and the legalisation pledge can be seen as nothing more than a tokenistic gesture from the (frequently twitter memed) ‘centrist dads’ at the Lib Dem HQ to appeal to the youngsters through the supremely edgy medium of doobies and quite frankly it went up in smoke. It is palpably apparent that young people in Britain feel as if they’ve been fooled once already.
And where does that leave the illegal leaf? The Lib Dems’ drug policy may have been a last-ditch attempt to beguile the disenchanted youth but one party with a consistently laid-back approach to cannabis regulation is The Green Party. That party of dreamers has found sustained success in one constituency, the county therefore becoming the stronghold of all things Green and that would be the environs of Brighton pavilion. Brighton is well renowned as a progressive and pioneering city liable to push boundaries and dissolve social conventions in a forward-thinking fashion and it’s dedication to liberal representatives may give an insight into the cities views on national drug policy.
Despite the cautious timidity of UK law makers on regulating cannabis, members of the Brighton community are finding ways around legislation in the pursuit of partaking. A lofty organisation by the name of The Brighton Cannabis Club is blossoming in the south coast city regardless of the prohibitions. This Club is refining solutions to its members needs and its website boasts the second biggest pro-cannabis event in the country (surpassed only by 420 in London’s Hyde park) called ‘Green pride.’ Far removed from the shady underworld of backstreet drug deals, club members enjoy exclusive three course meals infused with oils and herbs. The BCC’s Instagram features gourmet dishes of smoked Grapefruit Diesel & Confit Chicken Terrine Dutch Kush & Dandelion Salad Pedro Ximenez dressing and a delectable looking ‘medicated Vegan Duck leg’ for the discerning ethical stoner.
‘brighton is well renowned as a progressive and pioneering city liable to push boundaries.’
The Brighton Cannabis Club is not alone in its endeavours but part of the wider U.K. Cannabis social club. As a national body, it lays down rules for its divisions within the country and has a rigid structure of cultivating plants which are tagged and given serial numbers to ensure that it is a ‘closed loop system’ and stays above board to the possible extent that a shady, pseudo-legal pot club can. In this manner, cannabis users continue to strive against authorities and the hard-line drugs policies in place that are conservative in more ways than one.
It’s a tumultuous time in the history of this herb and the dawn of cannabis legalisation is ever-present on the horizon. On both sides of the Atlantic and indeed world-wide there has been a shift of opinion brewing since before the turn of the century. It has steadily shifted from grass-roots campaigns to documented law and nowhere is it more noticeable than from those hardy pioneers in the home of the brave. Seeing through the haze of smoke and mirrors can be difficult as medical patients and recreational users alike shelter from the artillery of the war on drugs in inconsistent legal loopholes, yet ultimately it is evident that culture has changed even if legislation isn’t quite there yet.